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Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Two Talks in February

It's easy to miss what's going on at the moment, so here's a reminder about our two February talks. The first one is next Wednesday 17 February at 7.30pm when we are very pleased to say that our Friend's Patron, Dr Desmond Morris will talk about various things, including:

My family history in Swindon, the start of the local newspaper and the Swindon Museum. 1930s - my early childhood in Swindon (1933-39) the Swindon cinemas

Wartime in Swindon – my private lake, now Queen’s Park, Groundwell Road bombed.

My discovery of surrealism in 1944

Diana Dors and my painting of her in 1946 (now in art gallery)

First solo exhibition in Swindon in 1948

Chiseldon Army College and the Bomford Collection

London show with Miro in 1950

Leave Swindon in 1951

After Swindon- The Naked Ape and body language

 Today at the age of 93

A reminder of the paintings we have of his in the Swindon Collection:

This 'Girl Selling Flowers' painted when Desmond was 18 and going out with Diana Dors.The painting below is called 'The Mysterious Gift'
This promises to be a very special evening, a Zoom link will be sent beforehand to all members of the Friends.

Our second talk, a week later, on 24 February at 7.30pm, is by Dr Stuart Prior of Bristol University, well known as Co-Director of the Berkeley Castle excavations from 2004-2019.

This Zoom Talk will investigate the 15-year-long University of Bristol excavations and landscape research at the Berkeley Castle estate in south Gloucestershire. The excavation project aimed to build up a detailed picture of the history and archaeology of the castle and the associated settlement of Berkeley. The focus for the project can best be described as ‘Minster, Manor and Town’. By combining the results of detailed archaeological fieldwork with information contained in the castle’s impressive collection of 20,000 historical documents, the project adds to the knowledge and understanding of the early medieval period and the subsequent changes in landscape and society that occurred with the coming of the Normans and the erection of a castle on the former minster site. Dr Stuart Prior will cover many aspects from the excavations around Berkeley Castle and town and will also include a look at the trenches excavated in the Jenner museum garden as well as aspects of Community Archaeology undertaken with the Berkeley residents.

Spreading the Word

 There are still lots of people who don't know Swindon Museum and Art Gallery exists, and if they do are unsure where it is located. During the Covid pandemic, it has been difficult to advertise somewhere, like many other venues, which cannot be open at the moment due to lockdown. The Friends have been looking for ways to publicise this fabulous place to a wider audience, and one of our newer committee members, Angela Atkinson, kindly agreed to put an entry onto the great We Are Swindon site, so here we are, please take a look, I think it's an excellent piece:

 For a flavour of the art in our Collection of 20th Century art, please take a look at Art On Tour led by Katie Ackrill and Mags Parker, this aims to share the collections wile the venue is closed.

I've included 'Winter in Pendlebury' by LS Lowry, it seemed apt in the freezing cold weather, although we haven't got the snow.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Evelyn Dunbar: War and Country

We were very fortunate to have Dr Gill Clarke for our January talk on Evelyn Dunbar. The talk was entitled War and Country and it wouldn't surprise anyone who attended the talk to know that Gill has written a book entitled just that, and is an absolute expert on Evelyn Dunbar. I've just looked up 'War and Country' by Gill Clarke on Abe books and found even second hand copies are fetching £45!

I love Evelyn Dunbar's work, thoroughly enjoyed the 'Lost Works' exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, and bought the book, so I was really looking forward to this lavishly illustrated virtual talk on 13 January. Gill met almost everyone associated with Evelyn Dunbar in researching her, and visited all the places where she'd lived, stayed or worked, apart from Evelyn herself who sadly died in 1960 aged just 54. Gill also visited the Imperial War Museum where there's a collection of Evelyn Dunbar's letters.

Evelyn Dunbar went to Rochester Grammar School which was a progressive school where I think members of the Royal Drawing Society came and taught the students and she learned to 'see, remember, reproduce' and trust your eyes. She was the youngest of five children who were keen gardeners; from school she went to the school of art at Rochester and then got a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. At the time she went, William Rothenstein was the principal when she went, he employed practicing artists to lecture to the students. Evelyn Dunbar was romantically linked with Charles Mahoney, her tutor, and in 1931 won a prize awarded by the Times newspaper.

She is well known for the Brockley Murals which she worked on from 1933-36. They were based on fables and were the most important creations of the age. There's a great blog post here about the making of the murals. They can still be seen at Prendergast School

Above one of the panels in the mural, the fable referred to is don't cry over spilt milk, and below, The Cock and the Jewel is one of Aesop's fables.

I've taken that photo from the computer, hence the strange effect. Gill also showed us illustrated letters Evelyn had written to people:

In the late 1930s, Evelyn and Charles went their separate ways, Evelyn produced quite a few garden paintings, and exhibited with Edward Bawden. In 1939, she joined the Womens' Land Army and worked at Sparsholt Farm. Evelyn Dunbar was the only female second world war artist.

 In 1942, she met Roger Foley who lived from 1912-2008. Gill knew Roger quite well before his death.

Here is Roger Foley photographed with a portrait Evelyn made of him.

They moved to Wye in 1953 where Roger was a taught at Wye College. Sadly with Evelyn's premature death, they only had 8 years of married life. I'm now going to include some of my favourite paintings, from the Womens' Land Army days and gardens she loved. This one below is 'Womens' Land Army Hostel' c1943, it can be seen at Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth.

This is 'The Fish Shop' 1943 with Roger Folley making an appearance on the bicycle!
This looks like back breaking work, it's entitled 'Sprout Picking in Monmouthshire'
Below 'Milking Practice with Artificial Udders'

And 'Canning Demonstration' 1940

The painting below is called 'Women's Knitting Party' 1940

 I love this one 'Land Army Girls Going to Bed' 1943, it reminds me of the Ravilious' 'Attic Bedroom' painting

This painting is titled 'The garden' and is a good example of Evelyn's depiction of a personal space around a house.

Not so easy to see here, but 'Winter Garden' is a wonderful depiction of her garden with her house just visible to the right of the painting.

 You can find many more examples of Evelyn Dunbar's work, the Art UK website has many of those featured here and more: 

We were going to visit the Bournemouth Arts Club celebratory 100 years of existence in July 2020 at Russell-Cotes, this exhibition 'A Mirror of Our Times: 100 years of British Art' . This exhibition, curated by Dr Gill Clarke and including some 9 works loaned from the Swindon Collection has been postponed until the 14 July-11 October. More details here.

I do hope we can visit this year, and thank you Gill for giving us such a fabulous insight into Evelyn Dunbar.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Desmond's Day in the Guardian today

 There was a lovely piece in today's Guardian's Culture section reminding us that while we are missing being able to visit art galleries during this third lock down, the Guardian are doing what they can to bring art from collections around the country into our homes. Today was the turn of Desmond Morris's painting 'The Mysterious Gift' presented to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in 1965, Katie Ackrill, engagement officer wrote the lovely article which can be found in full by clicking on the link below:

Excellent publicity for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and of course our Patron, Desmond Morris.

A reminder about the 3 works we have of Desmond's work we have in the collection can be found here:

Above The Mysterious Gift 1965, and below 'Girl Selling Flowers', reputedly a painting of Morris's one time girlfriend, Diana Dors painted in 1946 when according to my calculations he was 18!!

and here's a recollection of collecting our latest work which Desmond Morris gave us as a Christmas present in 2019:

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Congratulations Sir Christopher Le Brun

 Congratulations from the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to Sir Christopher Le Brun who was awarded a Knighthood for services to the Arts in the New Years Honours 2021. Well done and richly deserved.

His fabulous painting, Hyperion, entered the Swindon Collection 35 years ago, and was part of our 'Big Hitters' online exhibition on the Art UK website 

 We aim to have some sort of connection between our talks speakers and the Collection, and so were thrilled when he agreed to come and give us a talk, almost 4 years ago. Knowing we would need more audience space than available in the current gallery at Apsley House, we hired the hall at Swindon Dance for the occasion. The Curator at the time, Sophie Cummings, interviewed Sir Christopher Le Brun. It was wonderful being able to talk to the great man before the in conversation with Sophie, when I learned, among other things, that when Hyperion was acquired, it was hung in the stairwell of Swindon Dance, the great hook which held it is still in the wall!

The evening was documented in a blog post of course, please click here to read it.



Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Our December Talk by James O. Davies

 We were very fortunate in having James Davies giving us a virtual talk in December, beginning with his early interest in photography, and talking about some of the projects he has been involved in over the years. The actual title of the talk was: 'The Photographer, the light, the building and getting it',  I did take some photographs of the computer screen during the talk, including some fascinating ones taken inside Silbury Hill in 2007, inside prisons, power stations and at Stonehenge. I don't think I should use these photographs, but will include some James sent me to advertise his talk to give you an idea of what he means by photographs:

Above is Tokyo Cathedral designed by Kenzo Tange
This is a photograph of the 12th Century archway round a door at St Andrew's church at Great Rollright
Above might be a photograph inside Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye
Above is a photograph of an Angel sculpture from Whitehall Palace in 1686 now at Burnham on Sea in St. Andrew's church and below the font is from a church in Roche, Cornwall

Above Landfall, Poole regarded as one of the finest Modern Movement buildings by one of the finest architects of the inter-war period, and below Malator at Druidstone, Pembrokeshire built in the earth house architectural style.
I'll continue with some information I found by looking up James Davies, and adding the 'O'

 'JAMES O. DAVIES has been an architectural photographer for English Heritage  for twenty three years. He has contributed to many books in that time and his work has been widely exhibited and published  throughout the world. He is also a portrait photographer, twice exhibiting in the National Portrait Gallery and having received various awards, including Nikon Independent Award, Ilford Award, and Jane Bown Portrait Award. He has taken the official Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen Mother, as well as the first ever photographic survey of English Prisons, published in two books. He is currently working on a book about post war buildings in Britain.'

 I then found information about James's book on Stonehenge which I have now bought:

'More than 4000 years old, the true meaning of this ancient, awe-inspiring creation and the secrets of its construction have been lost in the mists of time. Surrounded by mystery, Stonehenge never fails to impress. 

Over the last five years James Davies has been photographing Stonehenge at all times of the day and night, and all through the seasons. With privileged access to the stone circle he has built up a unique portfolio. A Year at Stonehenge brings together the best of his work, while a short expert text summarises our current understanding.

Published to coincide with the opening of a new environmentally sensitive visitor centre and the restoration of the surrounding ceremonial landscape, this is the most visually stunning book available on this most fascinating world heritage site.'

I took notes throughout the fabulously illustrated talk, which I'll include here in an abbreviated form. Keeping verticals true is important, as is waiting for the light to be just right, although it might take all day, with ambient light being particularly important in churches and cathedrals to give the right atmosphere. Moving clutter from the scene you are about to photograph, particularly bags, and making sure the scene is as you want it before photographing it is important. James talked about what makes a great photograph, and showed us examples where he thought he could have done things differently to improve the photograph. James is currently recording the last coal and oil powered power stations, and had some fascinating shots inside them. 

I've got a final note about getting low when taking photographs, and luck = readiness + opportunity there's also a mention of Tom Denny who made a fabulous tryptych at The Chapel of St.Thomas, Gloucester, do click on this link to see them, they were photographed by James O. Davies.

I also found a list of things to remember when taking photographs of buildings, please click on this link  below for a more informative list than mine. A final thank you to James, and a recommendation to follow his Twitter feed @JamesODavies where we find out how James spent New Year's Eve and the photograph he took by moonlight.