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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!