Hospitalfield, Day 5

The last object that we looked at yesterday was a red Jasper table that was made specifically from a large piece of Jasper found on the shore.  This room with its magnificent marble fireplace and piano is the largest room on the second floor.  It is the table in front of the window – one solid piece of Red Jasper.  On the walls, you will notice lots of pictures.  Patrick Allan-Fraser, who you will recall was a member of The Clique Art Group, wrote to his fellow members and friends and said that he would pay them 100 GBP if they would send him a portrait they had painted.  At the time, the average wage for a Headmaster (considered one of the highest paying positions) was 70 GBP.  Allan-Fraser was well known for helping artists to further their training.  He even paid for some to attend art school in Edinburgh.

One of only two members of the group, Edith Ballantyne, sent the portrait below. She was active as a painter for only seven years, 1880-87.

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The title is Afternoon Tea.  The parrot makes reference to Allan-Fraser’s wife, Elizabeth, who was a member of the Parrot family at Hawkesbury.  It was her inheritance that bought this grand property.

One other portrait is D O Hill of Hill and Adamson.  They were pioneers of Scottish photography.  Hill supplied the picture, The Old Mill.

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This room contains a number of paintings and ceramics.  Sadly, Allan-Fraser had no interest in ceramics! Tomorrow I will talk about the use of bitumen to darken the oils and the subsequent unstoppable deterioration on these 19th-century pictures because of it.

One other picture from the group is A Bell Middleton, Portrait of A Bell Middleton.

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Turning around and to the left is the room that for a better title I will call the Harp Room.  Hospitalfield recently held a fundraiser to restore this 17th-century harp and they have harp concerts during the year.

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There are several other curiosities in this room.  One is the large cedar cabinet with its camphor wood drawers.  Inside, after Elizabeth died, Patrick had some of her clothes kept including the dress she was wearing in the portrait he painted of her earlier in this blog.

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There are also two other cabinets that hold collections of shells and rocks as well as flora.  These were typical hobbies during the 19th century.

Every day Simon bakes homemade bread for us and there is a growing interesting in using handmade wooden breadboards.  The one below was carved by John Hutchinson who also did other fine wood carvings in the house.  One of his pieces is encased in a glass frame in the Harp Room.

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Also in this room are several marble groups and a number of pictures.

W. Calder Marshall carved the beautiful figure of Psyche.  Marshall was born in Edinburgh (1813) and attended Edinburgh University before he became a student at the Royal Academy in London in 1834.  There his tutors were Francis Chantrey and Edward Hodges Baily.  Two years later, in 1836, Marshall travels to Rome to study classical sculpture.  He returns to England in 1836.  At the age of fifty-one, he was commissioned to carve the allegorical group, Agriculture, for the Albert Memorial.  In that magnificent work, a female figure symbolizing Agriculture directs the attention of the farmers to the benefits of the latest farming technology including a steam cylinder, cob, and a retort.  Marshall was the most accomplished and prolific sculptors during the Victorian era.

Also in the room is a lovely group, Hen and Chicks, by Longbardi.  I have yet to find information on this sculptor.  If you know, write to me!

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And right as you exit, to your right, is a lovely genre picture by Alexander Bell Middleton’s (1829-1860), The Evening Guide Sir!  It is one of three or four pictures by Middleton in the Hospitalfield collection.

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It is such a privilege being at Hospitalfield House.  When I was reading for my PhD, I wished that I could transport myself back into the lives of the people in the 19th century.  Decades later that wish has come true!

And now, my project.  I came with the anticipation of casting 54 ovoid bottles and placing them along the coastline.  Two problems:  too damp to dry that many bottles even with mechanical assistance (heat lamps and lights) and you cannot actually get right down to the sea because the railway is there.  So they are being placed among the plants in the kitchen garden.

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The forecast is for snow tomorrow.  It is Saturday and I am due to take a day off and drive up through the Scottish Highlands.  More images to share with you!

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.