A Walk Around Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle

I had a guest visiting me this weekend and since it was a bit too breezy to hang out and sunbathe on the beach, I took her to Herstmonceux Castle instead.  We were very lucky as there was a tour of the castle, which isn’t always the case, and which lasts about an hour.

Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and his sense of humour made what could have been an extremely mind numbing tour into something that was very pleasant and made the time pass very quickly.  He was a good storyteller.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died in the middle of the tour, so I wasn’t able to take many photographs.  Fortunately photographs are allowed and I will most likely come back again as the building is very interesting and I would like to explore the grounds more.

Courtyard and Water Lillies on the Moat

Herstmonceux Castle has a very interesting history and has had some colourful owners over the centuries.  The castle was built in the 15th Century by Sir Roger Fiennes.   It is of a brick construction (English bond) which was very rare for the time.  Although it looks like a mediaeval castle, it is not a castle in the traditional sense.  The building is in a poor position to defend itself and the gun ports are too small for the guns that were used at the time.  The walls would not have withstood bombardment by cannon balls for very long.  However, it was a stylish country house to look like a castle.

The interior of the building has changed dramatically over the years.  At one point, for many years, only the outside walls were standing.  The building has had some lovely renovations and is now owned by Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario and is used as a study centre, which is why it is not generally open to the public.

Elizabethan Staircase

Because the castle had been practically dismantled and items such as staircases, fireplaces, etc, sold off and the brick used from the inner sanctions to build a property in the area by one of the owners, most of the restoration is not replicated as the original.  However, there are some very interesting details.  I would happily sit through another tour just to have a look at the Grinling Gibbons staircase and doors in more detail.

After the castle tour, we had a lovely stroll through the gardens around the back.  The rose garden actually contains some beautiful roses that have a scent.  I certainly did stop and smell them.  I can’t help it.  Occasionally there are special outdoor events and you can even get married here.  The wedding room looked lovely and was set up for a wedding taking place that afternoon.  There is also a tea room on the premises.  The food looked good and although we didn’t eat there, we did have a very nice coffee.   There is a picnic area if you wanted to bring your own food.   Oh, and the loos were ok and clean.

We didn’t have time to visit the Science Centre, so I will definitely have to come back.   One can so easily spend a whole day here, especially if the weather is nice.

A couple of blonds


John Piper@The Towner Gallery

John Piper in Kent & Sussex

2 July – 25 September 2011

Today I went to see the John Piper exhibition at The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne.  The Towner is virtually around the corner from me and as part of my homework is to go see as much art as possible (which I would do anyway!), I went to have a look.

Usually the exhibitions are free.  However there are two exhibitions a year that you need to pay to get in and this is one of them.  The entry fee is £5.50 / £4 concession / under 16s free.  I expect a lot when I have to pay to view art, and this exhibition did not disappoint me.  In fact, I would pay to see it again. I highly recommend going.  Really, this is a rave!

I have come across John Piper’s works before but really didn’t know much about him.  There is a documentary film about him and his work that you can watch and listen with headphones.  I found it very interesting although a bit dated.  I learned how an aquatint was produced and was surprised how complex the procedure was.  It is very time-consuming.  I also learned that Mr. Piper would take liberties in his sketches and not always draw what he saw but would draw an impression of a place.

I found most of the works on display to be quite inspiring in that his early works were not necessarily technically skillful, but interestingly composed.  In fact, many artists at that time produced work that contained an air of naivety about them.  There were similarities of some of his collage work to that of the piece created by Christopher Wood that is in The Rugby Collection that I really liked.  In researching these artists for my blog posts, I have discovered that there were quite a few that have associated with each other at the time and must have been influenced by each other in some way.

I am particularly drawn to artists who were active from the 30’s-50’s.  Although some of the work could be quite abstract, most of it was recognisable and the composition and style is quite distinctive.  I felt a sense of excitement while viewing this exhibition.  Although some works didn’t particularly appeal to me, one can’t be everything to all people, I enjoyed most of them and found the Architectural paintings and aquatints to be quite spectacular, especially as I had more information on how they were produced.

This particular exhibition mainly focuses on work produced in the Kent and Sussex Counties.  There are some lovely works of the Brighton Pavillion.  Piper also designed a stained glass window at St. Peter’s Church in Firle, East Sussex.  You can see the photo I took here.  I am assuming that he was acquainted with Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell who resided at Charleston, which is near to Firle, and who were artists at the same time.  The painting for the stained glass window is on show at this exhibition.

The free exhibition is on the ground floor and entitled Compulsive, Obsessive, Repetitive and runs from 2 July – 18 September 2011.  It is interesting, as is any type of conceptual art exhibition with installations.  You will either like it or hate it, or find it interesting.  I leave that one for you to decide.

The Rugby Collection 2011

Part of my homework this summer for the Art Foundation course is to watch as many Art programs as possible and visit Contemporary Art Exhibitions.

Rugby has an Art Gallery and Museum within the new Library.   If you are in the area, it is well worth visiting for a couple of hours and is free to the public.  You can’t get it better than that.  The current display is The Rugby Collection 2011.  The space is not large and is over two floors.  There are some interactive works and interpretations by some  schoolchildren which are interesting and some are quite inspiring.

There were five bodies of work that I was particularly taken with.  Although I was allowed to take photographs, I had to sign a release not to publish them.  However, I have found photographs of two of them on a BBC website which I will link up here as they are already in the public domain.  I will also attach links about the artists so you can learn more about them.

Christopher Wood (1901-1930), Entrance to Harbour, Pencil and Gouache .  I couldn’t find any images of this painting, however there are similar harbour scenes if you Google him.  What I particularly liked about this image was that it was of something we could all recognise – a harbour, boats, people sunbathing – but all put together in an abstract way.  The colours are muted pastels with the centre of the picture a pink beach where the sunbathers are in full view of the boats.  I am not aware of what the symbolism is here, however I do not think it is as innocent painting as it first appears.  Either that or I have a dirty mind.  The simplicity of the drawing inspires me to try to focus on the bigger picture and free up my mind and hand in my own painting.

Jennifer Palmer (b.1935), Old Rectory Garden, Oil on Board, 1958


I really can’t find anything about Jennifer Palmer.  I like the moodiness of this painting.  Autumn is one of my favourite seasons mainly because we get such lovely skies in the evening and whatever colour left in the garden looks so vibrant compared to the barren ground around.

Valerie Thornton (1931-1991), White Church, Oil on Canvas, 1958


Although simple and naive in design and of the style of many paintings of the 40’s and 50’s, I am particularly struck by the texture of this painting.  The colours are muted neutrals, mainly white and grey, without conveying a sense of grimness.  It reminds me of winter, but in a good way.

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997), The New Window, Indian Ink, Watercolour and Gouache, c. around 1946

Here is a link to a similar painting as I cannot find this one online.  At least you will be able to get a sense of his style.  Rowntree was one of the  Great Bardfield Artists, which included Eric Ravilious as a member.  The style to Ravilious is similar.  I particularly like paintings from this era and in this style.  The subject matter is not outstanding, just a house, with a tree and a ladder against the house.  However, the colours are harmonious and it is easy to see that some work has been going on.  Just one image of normal life in a slightly stylised way.

Humphrey Spender (1910-2005), In a Suffolk Village, Lavenham, 1948, Gouache on paper laid on board

I couldn’t really find anything similar online to compare with, except the style is similar in outlook to the one above.  It is just a few houses on a street with a lamp-post and a figure of a man in a hat, as would depict the era.  As stated earlier, I am particularly drawn to architectural paintings.  The colours in this painting are fairly neutral with muted orange and yellow ochre that give it some atmosphere and make it less gloomy.

There were other works in the collection that I found interesting, however these five were the ones that stood out for me and give you an indication of my taste, which is quite eclectic actually!  What makes this exhibition particularly special for me at the moment was what I was able to learn about some of the artists while researching this project.  There is no jargon or mumbo jumbo to decipher about the work as the work speaks for itself, more or less.