Hospitalfield, Day 4

It is 10 degrees C with bright sun in Arbroath this morning.  Hospitalfield House is cosy and inviting.  The light streams through the windows warming up the entire area of the building on the east side.  I had a lovely walk in the gardens this morning after breakfast.  I am so impressed with the staff at Hospitalfield and the friendliness of the Scots.  I feel completely blessed being here and while I came to do ceramics my interest has been consumed by the objects in the collection and some of the books in the library, such as The Art Journal, from the 19th century that are not available to me in Winnipeg.  In talking with one of the other residents, Allan, who had ten new creative ideas yesterday, I am not allowing my academic identities collide.  That said, having done graduate work in the history of sculpture, several of the pieces in the collection of Hospitalfield have caught my interest.  Thank goodness that pouring my moulds allows me the time to pursue both interests – history and art and that I have given myself permission to slide back into the historical.  Often students struggle with their course projects because they have a ‘fixed’ idea of what they want at the end.  Hospitalfield is a place that allows you to take a different path if you find yourself on it.  That is one of the other reasons that I am thrilled that this is not just a ceramics residency.

It is fabulous getting e-mails from some of you that read my blog.  It is difficult to know if anything is of interest to anyone, so thank you.

We are slowly moving through Hospitalfield House now that more information is becoming available about the contents and uses of the rooms.  The next room down the hall on the first floor is the anteroom.  This is where Patrick Allan-Fraser met with his clients to discuss commissions.  According to our guide, ‘it was cheaply done’.  In 1877, the walls were covered with the first commercially available wallpaper.  To make the embossed designs to try and replicate the 17th century embossed leather that we saw in the dining room, the manufacturers mixed woodflour and linseed oil and applied it to linen which was then adhered to the wall and could be painted.   The wallpaper is still made in Lancaster; it is used for renovations to the walls of these stately homes.  The arrival of cheap wall coverings completely wiped out the plaster industry in England.

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This room also had gasoliers at each side of the fireplace.  A gasolier is typically a chandelier with gas burners rather than light bulbs or candles.  In some cases in Hospitalfield, they are wall-mounted or there is one, designed like a torch, on the grand staircase.

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The anteroom also contains an unusual sculpture carved in marble by George Simmons.  The title is Cupid with a Panther.  There are pictures of Cupid Riding a Panther on 1st-century Roman walls but I have come up against a wall trying to find out about the artist, George Simmons and this particular piece.  If you know anything at all, please write and let me know.

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Behind the door in the anteroom is a picture by Francesco Francia of St Lucy with Madonna and Child.  Francia was from Bologna.   St Lucy has a very interesting legend.  She is considered to be very brave.  She grew up in Syracuse and lost her life during the early 4th century when Christians were being persecuted.  She is well known as a defender of the Christian faith.  One legend says that Lucy wanted to give her life to the service of the Church but her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan.  Lucy learning of this devised a plan to get her mother to change her mind. She prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha who told her that her mother was ill and that her sickness would be only cured through having faith.  Lucy was to try and persuade her mother to give her dowry money to the poor and allow her to become a nun.  Lucy’s mother was grateful but the bridegroom became very angry and reported Lucy and her strong religious convictions to the local governor, Paschasius.  He ordered Lucy to be defiled by the guards.  But the guards could not move her when they came to take her.  They even tried hitching her to a team of oxen and dragging her.  But it was to no avail.  Then they tried to burn her.  At last, they took their swords and put out her eyes.  That was how she died.  When her body was prepared for burial, everyone discovered that her eyes had been restored.  In pictures, she is shown holding a dish containing her eyes.  You can see it in this painting.

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The ‘real gems’ of the house are the two rooms in the west wing.   We will look at one of those today.

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The central feature of the largest room is a marble fireplace carved by James Christie.  The three allegorical figures, from left to right are Peace, Plenty, and Prosperity.  Other details include strawberries and parrots from the coat of arms of the two families.  The central figure, a cupid with both hands under his chin,  was a later addition.  Can you see the parrots and strawberries?  The fireplace still works today and provides warmth to a room that does not start being warmed by the sun until later in the morning.  Because of all of the wood and the tapestries in the house, in addition to all of the pictures, the blinds are generally pulled.

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There was a huge interest in fossils and stones.  A large piece of Jasper was found on the shore near the house and was turned into a table.

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Tomorrow we will talk about the woodwork above the arches, the picture commissions in the room, and then we will take a tour of the harp room with its many curiosities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospitalfield, Day 3

Each of us, at breakfast, seemed to have settled in.  Everyone has adjusted to keeping warm and many of us threw off covers during the night.  The wind off the North Sea subsided and we woke to glorious blue skies.  Today, was an opportunity to stop thinking about being creative and to enjoy a tour of the library and the house with Alasdair Sutherland.  I learned so much that it was impossible to keep track of everything but today, I will begin writing about the ‘true’ history of Hospitalfield and not that contained in many accounts.  Alasdair gave us insight into the reasons for the carvings, the history of the pictures in the collection as they related to the Fraser family, and showed us some amazing books including the account books of the woodcarver whose work decorates the house.  To not overwhelm you, this will be done in instalments!  The house is the history of the Parrot family from Hawkesbury Hill in Coventry and the Fraser family.

The original building was called Hospitalfield but it was because it was a place to receive pilgrims arriving to go to St John the Baptist Abbey. — ‘hospitality’  A statue on the front of the house is original to the medieval era.  It was only later a place for those ill with leprosy and the plague.

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Patrick Allan’s family did not really want him to be an artist.  Not much different today, parents afraid their children wanting to be artists will be impoverished all of their lives.  His family did apprentice him with his grandfather who was a very skilled draftsman.  He then goes to art school in Edinburgh where he specialises in portraits.  From there he went to Rome where he made a very successful career selling drawings and pictures to people on the Grand Tour.  It is in Rome that he will meet some other painters and sculptors who will become his lifelong friends and will supply work for the rooms here at Hospitalfield.  In 1841, he set up a successful portrait business in London and traveled back and forth to Paris.  Patrick Allan becomes one of the founders of a group of artists, The Clique, in the late 1830s.  The group was known for their rejection of academic art and embracing genre scenes.  They also had a great disdain for the Pre-Raphalite Brotherhood, more of that later this week!

In 1842, Patrick Allan was approached by Robert Cadell, an Edinburgh publisher, who wants him to produce illustrations for Walter Scott’s Antiquity, which I mentioned the last post.  Patrick Allan did create the work but, according to our guide, not that enthusiastically.   Our guide today also said that there is no shred of evidence that Scott’s novel was based on people and places in Arbrough or that Hospitalfield was Monkbarns.  It is a myth that has been perpetuated (even by me yesterday).  While he is in Arbroath working on this series, he meets a widow, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1843.  Elizabeth will inherit all of the Hawkesbury estates in 1883.  Below are three large oil portraits painted by Patrick Allan-Fraser on the left, Elizabeth, his wife, on the right, and her mother in the middle.  The bottom picture is an image of Elizabeth holding her favourite cat painted by Patrick.

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I would like to draw your attention to the material on the wall behind the portrait of Elizabeth.  It is the most beautiful 17th-century Dutch embossed leather and was all the rage when the couple were renovating the house.  The room that these images are in was the original entrance hall of the James Fraser House.  One other curiosity about this room is the installation of gasoliers, gas lighting.  It was trendy and a status symbol, just like the imported leather wall panels.  They, however, did a lot of damage to the ceilings and objects in various rooms within the house with the fumes.  This was compounded by the soot from the candles and the coal that was used.

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The fireplace was shown at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations of 1851 at Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851.  The models of all of the various items that could be purchased could also be bought.  That is how the fireplace wound up in Hospitalfield.

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The beautiful wood carving through the original Hall and then the dining room was done by a local carver, James Hutchinson.   His work can be seen throughout the house including the framing of the triple portraits.  Below is a detail.

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The Drawing Room features two 17th century tapestries that Patrick acquired in Bruges.  The Room was decorated in 1870 when cedar was used to cover all of the walls to protect the fabrics from moths.  The room is the earliest example of the Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement.  The intent, through the subjects of the tapestries, was to link the inside of the house with the outside environment.  The ceiling has 197 different plant carvings found on the property.  It was done by a local carver, David Maver, who was paid seven pence an hour.  Hospitalfield has the complete book of his accounts.  Some of the ceiling carvings took up to one hundred hours.  Maver later moved to New York where he made a name for himself carving for the grand houses along the Eastern seaboard.

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Other images of the tapestries in the Drawing Room.  Because of their age, the light from the windows is curtained off.  The brilliance of living a room with cedar to protect artworks at that time was quite impressive. Other cabinets within the house are made of solid cedar and lined with camphorwood to safeguard the beautiful clothes of the women.

Tomorrow I will give you a tour of three more rooms in this great house.

The winds are still down, and the sun is shining brightly in Arbroath.  Any artist seriously looking for a place to do a residency should seriously consider Hospitalfield.  They have a small dedicated staff.  The costs are reasonable and if you take public transportation – and not rent a car – you will really only have to bring your supplies.  For some of the writers this March, that has meant only pens and paper!