As it is Thanksgiving in Canada today, it is a good time to remember the achievement of connecting Europe with North America through cable technology. The small Newfoundland town of Hearts’s Content was the location of the emergence of the cable from under the sea all the way across the Atlantic from Ireland.
The cable was laid in 1866 and in arriving in this small place on Bay de Verde, Newfoundland it turned the village into a unique community. Most places along the coast were fishing villages but the people who came to work and live here worked in communications. People came from across Canada and England to work in the hub on the route from Britain to the United States of America.
In 2017, artist Padraig Tarrant created twin sculptures, one for Valentia Island, Ireland where the cable entered the sea and the other for Heart’s Content in Newfoundland, Canada. I got to see the Canadian version weeks after it was unveiled but still need to make it to Valentia Island to see the companion piece.
The rooms may have been elegant, full of beautiful objects and of huge historical importance but I was most impressed by the corridors of Osborne House. The bronze statues were great with Fredinand Barbedienne’s statue of Silenus and the infant Bacchus a favourite. This was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.
The head of Prince Alemayehu of Abyssinia fascinated me. I read Elizabeth Laird’s fictionalised life of the young boy who was taken into exile by the British when the empire was at its height. Yet again we have a young man, supposedly taken under the wing of the Queen when he should have been ruling in his own country. In this case the bronze by Francis John Williamson was commissioned by Victoria after the death of the prince at a young age.
To be surrounded with such opulence must be an assault on the senses but maybe you stop seeing them after a while.
I have long been a fan of David Wynne’s work as a sculptor. There are so many London landmarks improved by the siting of one of his sculptures. Other places, too, have benefited from his talent, including Newcastle, but it is London I know best and it was here that I first put the name of the artist to the work I most admired: Boy with a Dolphin.
This book, which takes its title from his most famous work, is actually a review of his career. Published before his death in 2014, the book includes photographs of him working as well as of the final pieces in situ. There are still places I need to go to see his sculpture and some are in the hands of private collectors or private companies so will possibly be beyond sight unless there is a retrospective at a major gallery.
The best aspect of the book is the insight into the creative process. There are quotes from interviews with Wynne himself as well as excerpts from newspapers and magazines. David Wynne was friends with people in high places and many of his commissions came from someone who knew someone. As an essentially self- taught artist, though, the fact that so many pieces are on public display is the best outcome for me.
This book with its extensive illustrations is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In London at Tate Britain to see an exhibition so I took the opportunity to re-visit some of my favourite works of art on display in the ‘Walk Through British Art’ galleries. The room I love most of all, in this chronological arrangement, is Room 1900 where the end of the Victorian and start of the Edwardian age is celebrated.
There are many works here that I admire but, on this occasion, I was keen to see a sculpture by James Havard Thomas, a sculptor active from the 1880s onwards until his death in 1921. The particular work is called ‘Lycidas’. It is a life-sized nude sculpture of a young man. His model was Antonio, his Italian servant from the time when the artist lived in Southern Italy. The work was rejected in 1905 by the Royal Academy as being too life- like and ordinary. What Antonio made of this rejection is not known!
In London, so off to Tate Britain to see the exhibition ‘Queer British Art: 1867- 1967’, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of legislation to partially decriminalise homosexuality. The gallery was heaving with visitors heading for the major David Hockney show; somewhat telling that a gay artist drew bigger crowds than this attempt to show how being gay influenced the art.
I had a few problems with this exhibition, the largest being that not all the artists featured were known to be gay. The suggestion that he or she might have been is just a posh version of what the awful tabloid newspapers do when they want to ‘suggest’ a person’s sexuality.
Having grown up in the 70s when being thought to be gay by others was enough to bring around the abuse, it was a bit disappointing to see the same (but more refined) approach being used on people who are long dead and cannot speak for themselves. Lord Leighton’s work is here which seems to be enough to decide he must have been gay. I take the point, made by the curator, that many paintings were coded to convey messages that would have been picked up by gay people but that does not mean that all the Victorian artists here were gay themselves.
The two paintings I loved rose above the rest, with only the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Prison of equal poignancy. Lord Leighton’s ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ and Henry Scott Tuke’s ‘The Critics’ were stunning.
My recent visit to London to hunt down another David Wynne sculpture reminded me that, last Summer, I did a similar thing in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I wanted to see his 1968 sculpture ‘Swans in Flight’ at the Civic Centre. One very quite Sunday morning, I walked to the area to see it and had the whole area to myself. I imagine, being council offices, that they are very busy in the working week but on this Sunday the area was deserted.
The swans represent Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland as recognition of the links between this north-eastern city and Scandanavia. Wynne’s inspiration came from a poem by Hans Hartvig Seedorff Pederson called ‘The Swans of the North’.
In London, so off to find the David Wynne sculpture from 1971 called ‘The Dancers’. I have walked along Sloane Street many times and I knew the piece could be seen in Cadogan Square Gardens but I was not sure how public or private it would be.
I was pleased to see it easily from the street.
The sculpture of David Wynne is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?