Last Friday Collections Manager at the museum gave a free talk on our collection of Kate
Tryon oil paintings and how these reflected Swindon as it was 100 years
ago. During last week, conservators from
Brick House Conservation cleaned these wonderful paintings to
help restore them to their former glory. Here's Stef Vincent introducing us to one of Kate's paintings, firstly she gave us some background into the painter of these remarkable oil paintings which shed a different light on them, and explained why there were 15 at the Richard Jefferies Museum
Kate Tryon 1865-1952, was resident in the USA and a great follower of Richard Jefferies' writing, so thought she'd come and paint the land he wrote about, producing around 35 oil paintings, she took them back to the States when she returned there in 1912. They were donated to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery by her daughter in 1961, some have remained at Richard Jefferies Museum since then, and others have been in storage. Last week, they were brought together for the first time since then for restoration.
We were given fascinating insights into care of paintings, they should be displayed for only a third of the time, and rested in storage for the other two thirds of the time, so ideally the paintings that have been on display at the RJ museum, would be kept in storage for the next 150 years!
Apart from taking the paintings out of their frames, and sitting them on a strip of velvet, the backings have been examined and soaked to reveal layers of labels indicating different ideas in presenting the paintings. Below is an example of a painting with 5 labels on it.
At one time cleaning paintings used to involve scrubbing them with washing up liquid, the process is of course more refined now. Swabs are used to clean off dirt from coal fires, seen here as grey deposits, and tar from the copious amounts of smoke that would have billowed around them over the years.
There are also places on the paintings where the paint has disappeared, so another job is adding paint to these areas, but because this is conservation as opposed to restoration, the process is very gentle and doesn't involve a permanent change.
As you can see, we were right in there looking at the conservation in progress, what a privilege to be able to such at such close quarters what was being done to the paintings, and to be able to examine them.
Kate made many of her own frames, carving oak leaves and swirly patterns into the wood, we then had a look at some of the paintings
Above 'Cottage Bouquet', and below a 'Wiltshire Cottage'
An example of the carving of an oak leaf
I particularly loved this bouquet, Kate had collected wild flowers form the Downs to make 'Flowers of the Wiltshire Downs'
This one is 'Kitchen Garden at Burderop Park'
and this one 'Gamekeeper's Cottage, Hodson'
The paintings have a lovely quality to them, painted in the days when Swindon was a village filled with thatched cottages and floriferous gardens. How can you see these paintings? They will be on display on the the stairs in the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and 10 will be displayed at the Richard Jefferies Museum, and some will be 'rested' in storage.
I looked up Kate Tryon and found there's a book based on her writings and paintings available on the
Richard Jefferies museum website
Here's some of the information about the book:
Tryon visited ‘Jefferies Land’ six times in the early 1900s. She was an
ardent admirer of the nature writing of Richard Jefferies and followed
his philosophy of life. Having re-read his works many times, she wanted
to capture scenes on canvas that had inspired the author’s words set
around Jefferies’ birthplace and home – a small dairy farm at Coate set
in the foothills of the North Wessex Downs. Her first visit to north
Wiltshire took place in 1910. She wrote: ‘The lark, the nightingale and
Richard Jefferies – those are the three things that brought me to
England.’ Her ‘adventures’ are told through the third person of Eleanor
Hale of Boston, albeit that some of the events relate to Kate’s later
visits to the area.
'Adventures in the Vale of White Horse 'Jefferies Land' is a charming memoir – the writing is fluent, relaxed and often
amusing. She knows her Jefferies thoroughly and her quotes and allusions
are always apposite. As an American she takes a wry, oblique but deeply
affectionate look at English rural society just before the outbreak of
the First World War and dispenses much valuable information about the
people and places she meets. The artist’s grand-daughter, Kate Schneider, visited Coate in September 1997. She donated her grandmother’s manuscript. Sheila Povey,
who showed the American visitor around the Richard Jefferies Museum,
has documented the memoir and added photographs and pictures that only
enhance this delightful tale.
The memoir is published in a limited edition of 100 copies
one hundred years after it was written. There are about 100 photographs
and illustrations, mostly the work of Kate Tryon herself. 27 of her
original oil-paintings are reproduced in colour.
I've now got a copy of the lovely book, mine is number 80, so presumably there are 19 left, better get moving if you'd like one!!