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.