Welcome to Montacute House and its brilliant bumpy topiary. An optical illusion (I'm sure) meant that all I could see were massive faces in these neat and tidy lumps.
I was really keen to see the portraiture at Montacute and in particular the room of fake Holbeins turned out to be more of a treat than I expected.
You can see more pictures from Mantacute House on my Flickr here.
Its been a a few months since my last post, my NT visits slowed down to nothing while work and practical matters took precedence. There has also been an inevitable period of reflection. But my first NT visit of 2016 was St Michaels Mount, Marazion,Cornwall.
Welcome to a place that is an Island (for much of its day), when it isn't an island you can walk along the causeway to the beach. Its worth the wait. On top of the island is a castle, beautiful gardens and bellow that, some homes.
I can tell its been a while since I have visited NT's, I am very out of practice, I didn't note down any info, read many, or any, information labels and generally got carried away with the scenery and the romance of the whole thing. A castle filled with art and history, on top of a hill thats cut off from the world twice a day (more so in winter) looks jolly good to me.
You Can see more pictures from my trip to St Michaels Mount on my Flickr here.
A group of paintings about mourning, memorial, portraiture and love, from NT visits, film and imaginary portraits. Meanwhile in Nottingham....
Portrait Of A Lady opens at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery 19 September 2015 - 17 January 2016
Welcome to Attingham Park, the house sits in a flat simple green landscape, cows graze and deer roam close to the building. My favourite mirror still-life scenes are here.
Along with lampshades, chandeliers and portraits, mirrors are my favourite things in the NT houses I have visited so far. They set up mini scenes of the rooms they inhabit and its a good way to surreptitiously watch the other visitors look around the room and listen in on conversations. In this room Sickert's 'Lady In Blue' invited Jack The Ripper comments.
I have been making small films, mostly around roses, architecture and interiors and posting them on my Vimeo here.
Several 'Unknown ladies' at Attingham, rather nice examples.
You can see more pictures from Attingham Hall on my Flickr here
I visited Waddesdon Manor recently, Voluptuous and French in design and stuffed full of art. It does have a feel of a museum rather than a home, some NT's do and thats perfectly fine, I like the broad experience from one property to another.
There was a special display about mourning with mourning jewellery, a very spooky model of Queen Victoria in the room she stayed in, stopped clocks and letters and personal objects belonging to the Rothschild family but outside there is a beautiful rose garden, almost blown to bits by wind and rain this said more about mourning than the display of black cloth and hair brooches inside.
While I'm writing this post I am also thinking about another bit of writing about my own painting and how much these 'Portrait Of A lady' paintings (particularly those of unknown women) have influenced them. Its mystery, wistful expressions and imagining their love and loss that is huge part of the allure.
I'm really into palm trees at the moment. No particular reason, I just really like looking at them. Particularly ones in cities. I want to go to L.A. I am not going to L.A.
You can see more pictures from Waddesdon Manor on my Flickkr.
Upton House has been transformed back to its 1940's life, so on my second visit to this NT property much of the furnishings have been removed and the Bearsted family Merchant Bank has been moved in, just as it had during WWII in an effort to protect its staff and assets. Lots of paintings were also moved out to safety.
Yelana Popova is current;y artist in residence at Upton House. These are beautiful paintings and feel so fragile and intangible. Hung in what was once the squash court, it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting and then, slowly the images on the canvas start to appear. They do bring to mind everything about a collection of paintings, particularly in NT houses. Restoration, instillation, what happens to them when paintings are removed and then there is the space that is left behind before i even get to the disappearance of those depicted in the painting, their eventual anonymity. The disappearance of paintings follows throughout the house while we are back in the '40's, in the faded wallpaper around where a panting used to be. At the same time Popova's work feels very contemporary, which is really interesting to me right now, the contemporary and the old, really old, together.
These small bathrooms in a cupboard were not open to the public on my last visit and are one of my favourite things about the house. Recreated with an intimate and personal touch...
You can see more pictures from Upton House and Yelana Popova's residency on my Flickr here.
I saw a peacock for the first time in real life just a few weeks ago, colourful and noisy. Now more peacocks, this time white and silent. Welcome to Newstead Abbey.
Lord Byron lived here and there is a lot of Byron to see. Portraits and personal belongings and cabinets full of objects including his uniform, about which every visitor remarked 'How small?!'. There was a rather long queue to visit Lord Byron's bedroom, naturally.
I was really interested in the paintings at Newstead Abbey and two of my favourites were of unidentified women. Both paintings are hung in the same room but these two women, from appearances, seem to have very different backgrounds, one with a rather chaste look and the other less so.
For some time now I have been thinking a lot about contemporary art in historic settings, the sharp contrast between new art and the very old. The new may be unconventional or even shocking to those used to visiting these stately homes or buildings of historic importance when perhaps, when new and bright, unfaded and undamaged by the passing of time, some of these properties and their art, objects and goings on, were once just as unconventional in their own ways.
Newstead Abbey is not an NT property but last week Radio 4 'Great Lives' featured Director General of the National Trust James Lees-Milne who worked for the Trust between 1936 and 1966. It was a very interesting listen
You can see more pictures from Newstead Abbey on my Flickr here.
Welcome to Calke Abbey, The Un-stately Home, or so the NT call this house. Here the demise of the stately home is presented with love, I think.
The family who once made this house their home were collectors of, well, everything and anything while paintings are crammed onto any spare wall space, my favourites of which are those of the family and particularly the female members. In the saloon the same female face appears again and again in a slightly different pose, a different coloured dress. There's something really interesting about this repeated 'likeness'.
This was a really good time to visit this property. I have reached the half way mark of a painting project which will be installed at Nottingham Castle in September 2015. Painting a large number of portraits, daily, has thrown up some unexpected issues, repetition is an interesting one, particularly when unintentional. Trying to visualise how a large number of portraits (all identical in size) has been tricky too, this visit to Calke has been helpful in that regard.
National Trust Houses are waking up after their winter hibernation and that means I need to get back into my visits before my membership runs out for the year. I still have loads left on my to see list, even though I have managed to get to a fair few. There are also a handful I want to re visit to retake photographs and make better films.
Welcome to Lyveden New Bield, my first NT visit of 2015. Its a bitterly cold, windy, muddy, swampy day, the perfect type of day to see this half finished Elizabethan lodge. I like to think of it as a miniature stately home.
There are lots of things I really like about this incomplete house, seemingly sitting the middle of nowhere, secluded and yet surrounded by so much space, it is unprotected from the elements and today it has a really eerie feel about it, I was thinking of Wuthering Heights a bit and dramatic love stories/death stories.
You can see more pictures from Lyveden New Bield on my Flickr here.
A paper Ruff, shoddy and held together with bull dog clips and staples, the ruff in a series of paintings I'm making at the moment are a direct response to dressing up at one of the NT houses I visited this year. During the winter break, rather than visiting houses, I've been reviewing photographs and thinking about the feelings of romantic disappointment that can accompany these visits.