Hospitalfield, Day 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.

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Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?

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Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.

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And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…

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And then there are the mushrooms…

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All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.

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So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.

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And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.

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There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Hospitalfield House, Day 2

Another introduction to this amazing ‘house’.  There are nine of us in residence at this amazing artist centre in Arbroath, Scotland.  This morning we spent some time in the study introducing ourselves and our projects to find that our interests were, as one of my colleagues noted, intertwined together.  It is going to be a very productive time.  That said, Simon, the cook has continually pulled off amazing meals.  We were happy to find out tonight that the idea of a Hospitalfield cookbook is in the works.  He has managed to juggle each of our needs into amazing meals made with local produce.  Not to say it too loud but we could all leave having gained a wee bit of weight.

Hospitalfield House has a long history.  It was built by a group of Tironesian monks in the 13th century.  At the time it was the Hospital of St. John the Baptist and was home to those persons with leprosy and the plague.  I have mentioned that before.  In 1665, the Fraser family took over the property.  Wikipedia informs us that Walter Scott stayed here in 1803 and again in 1809.  The beautiful stone buildings inspired the model for his Monkbarns in his novel The Antiquary which he finished in 1816.   In the middle of the  19th century, Hospitalfield House came into the hands of Patrick Allan-Fraser, a son of a local weaving merchant, who seems to have enlarged the property.    {He acquired the property through his marriage to Elizabeth}, He was a major patron of the arts and a painter himself had studied in Edinburgh.  He was held in high esteem and was elected to be President of the British Academy in Rome.  It is well known that he did a series of paintings to illustrate a volume of Scott’s The Antiquary.  He refurbished rooms, hired some of the best local artists and craftspeople, gave enormous commissions and acquired more objects for the collection.  A five-storey bartizan, which is a type of cantilevered turret,  and another large wing.  It is described as an Arts and Crafts House.  In the collection are objects including desks with the most exquisite inlay, ceramics, tapestries, and books.

 

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We will get a real tour of the library and the collections later on.  The priceless objects are locked away but we are allowed to access them for study.  I am really keen to see the other ceramics as the ones scattered about indicate a keen interest in Japanese work.

For now, the thing that brings us here today is the fact that he set up the Patrick Allan-Fraser of Hospitalfield Trust to support young artists.  The couple had no children and when Allan-Fraser died, he bequeathed the entire property and its contents “for the promotion of Education in the Arts” on the death of Allan-Fraser in 1890.  Here is an image of the outside of the studios and a few into the interior of the one I am sharing with my new friend, Lucy Barlow from London.

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Today, Hospitalfield is internationally renowned as a centre for the arts.  The Trust has spent its money wisely refurbishing various rooms and many of the original musical instruments in the building including the harpsichord and the harp.  There is an annual harp festival and I am told that there are Jazz musical events in the building periodically.  Indeed one is coming up next week!

Like every other arts centre, money needs to come in to support this as a place of contemporary ideas in the arts.  The staff is small but energetic and passionate.  The beautiful gardens outside my window are getting ready to be levelled.  A new garden designer has been hired and in May the place will be in full bloom.  There are also greenhouses to be refurbished and a new very modern residence with ten bedrooms and kitchenettes will be built.  At the same time, they plan to restore the Victorian walled gardens and the glass house.  They will also restore the fernery.  It is an 18th-century feature and is the only one of its kind on the east coast of Scotland.