Townend is a National Trust property in Troutbeck, between Ambleside and Bowness.  that was occupied by the same family, the Brownes, for over 400 years. It’s a very typical Lakeland farmhouse built of rendered stone with a slate roof. It has the very distinctive, large, round chimney stacks that we saw all around the south Lakes and which were a way of showing off wealth (a bit like having a BMW parked on the drive these days – swanking off to the neighbours)


It has a very pleasant, small, cottage style garden



with an interesting wooden gate


Across the road there’s a traditional Lakeland Bank Barn.


It’s still a working farm building so isn’t open to visitors.

Access to Twnend is by guided tour in the morning – you collect a coloured clothes peg from the front door to book your place on the tour, if they’re all gone the tour is full. Visitors can self tour during the afternoons. It’s not a big property. Although it was the home of a relatively prosperous family of yeoman farmers it’s not exactly a manor house.

The original house was extended in the 1620’s. The extension, called the “Down House” because it’s lower down than the main building, is on the right when facing the front of the house. The older, main, part being known as the “Fire House”.


It was quite dark inside. These houses had thick walls and small windows and relied on expensive candles for lighting. And the furniture was dark oak. One of the later Brownes was, to say the least, a rather enthusiastic carver and has made his mark (literally!) throughout the house.







The Brownes were very well read and self educated and collected an impressive library which is being preserved by the National Trust



Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Britain

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs final weekend web banner

This has been the big blockbuster for the summer at Tate Modern. I managed to get to see it during my latest trip down to London after I’d finished work for the day. It was quite busy but there was no problem seeing the pictures. There were plenty of families with young children and with the bright colours and simple shapes this was an exhibition which was going to appeal to that audience.

Matisse was one of the greats able to create great works in all of the different styles and media he adopted throughout his long career. He turned to making his cut-outs towards the end of his life. Originally he used them as a tool to try out ideas or paintings, but they soon became works in themselves.


I was familiar with Jazz, the artist’s book that is quite well known and a copy of which which I’d seen at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool a couple of years ago, and posters of the “Blue Nudes” adorns the wall of many a bedsit and student’s bedroom. but in this exhibition I was able to see the originals. The three dimensional nature of the cut-outs became evident as some of the individual pieces of paper were layered upon each other.

Icarus, plate VIII from the illustrated book, "Jazz"

As he developed his mastery of the technique he created some large scale pieces which were displayed in the exhibition including The Parakeet and the Mermaid, Large Decoration with Masks, The Sheaf, The Snail and Memory of Oceania.

Henri Matisse The Sheaf 1953

A video playing in one of the rooms showed how he worked on these larger scale works, cutting out shapes with scissors and then getting his assistant to pin them onto the all in accordance with his instructions, moving them around as he felt necessary to obtain the desired result.

Many of the works are certainly very beautiful with their bright colours and simple forms. And it was a fantastic opportunity to see so many of the works which would otherwise be scattered in collections across the globe. As an exhibition I felt it appealed more to the emotions rather than to the intellect. The exhibition was much less challenging that the Malevich retrospective two floors up which I’d seen the previous day.

The cut-outs have a lot of similarities with stained glass which also uses relatively coloured shapes to produce more complex images and patterns. Matisse used cutouts when planning his stained glass for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence. and one of the rooms in the exhibition were devoted to this. But cutouts are no substitute for the stained glass themselves and to me this was demonstrated in the culmination of the exhibition. The final room had his cut-out prototype on a Christmas theme for a stained glass window commissioned for the Time-Life Building in New York together with the glass itself, illuminated from behind. The cutout looked dull compared to the realisation of his design.

matisse stained glass

A walk to Tarn Hows

I really wanted to walk up the “Old Man”. I’d spent a good part of the week staring at it and it was challenging me to make the ascent. But a combination of factors, the weather, lack of practice and uncertainty about how I’d manage my sugar levels, (especially the weather), put me off. So towards the end of our weeks holiday, desperate to get out for a walk, and despite the weather, I decided to put on my boots and take the easier option of walking up from our cottage on the northern shores of Coniston Water to the “beauty spot” of Tarn Hows.


The walk took me through pleasant wodland


up to  the large tarn. It was actually created by James Garth Marshall, the wealthy owner of the Monk Coniston Estate in the mid-19th century. There were originally three small tarns which were dammed to create one larger one. Today the estate is owned by the National Trust and there are car parks close by making access to the easy walk around the lake (almost 2 miles).

The tarn itself is very pleasant but the views of the surrounding mountains are what makes it such an attractive spot for visitors.






When I arrived, while stopping to admire the view and refuel (I was surprised at how much my blood sugar had dropped) I could see the rain passing over the Coniston fells. Afterwards when I was part way round the tarn the heavens opened. I was very glad of the bargain waterproof over trousers I’d bought  in Ambleside a few days earlier!



Yet, even as I was standing in the pouring rain having circumnavigated the tarn I could see the Langdale Pikes, only a few miles away, lit up in bright sunshine.


My route took me through the Monk Coniston Estate. On the way back I chose a route that took me through the the grounds of the Monk Coniston Hall which itself is not accessible through to the public but the public path went through the old wakked garden that has been restored by the National Trust



and this old “gazebo”


and then down through fields of Herdwick sheep back to the lake




Malevich at Tate Modern

The Tate seem to have a thing about artists whose names begin with M at the moment. The main temporary exhibition at the Liverpool Gallery features the work of Piet Mondrian and Nasreen Mohamedi, while the Tate Modern in London is showing major exhibitions by both Matisse and Kazamir Malevich. during my trip to London last week I managed to find some time for a couple of visits to the Tate so I can now tick all the M’s off my to do list.

Kazimir Malevich Black Square 1913

Of the exhibitions in London, although the Matisse had some beautiful works on display, the Malevich was definitely the best of the two. A retrospective covering the whole of his artistic life with a comprehensive selection of paintings and drawings and a room of contextual items – photographs, lesson plans and the like.

The exhibition traced his development as an artist – his rise and fall – in the context of the social and political upheavals in Russia during the first half of the 20th Century. Born during the reign of the Tsars he lived through the First world War, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the rise of Stalinism. And his art reflected what was happening around him.

His early works in Room show how he was immersed in French Modern Art from the early years of the 20th Century through access to the art collections of two rich merchants in Moscow. His pictures show how he absorbed the influences of the Impressionists, Post_impressionists, early Picasso and Matisse and the Fauves, which can be detected in the paintings on display. Some of the paintings also show influences of traditional Russian religious art.

Self-Portrait (1908)

The second room showed how he built on all of these influences to develop a Russian Modernist style which concentrated on depicting Russian subjects. After 1910 he changed tack as Malevich and other Russian artists came under the influence of the Italian Futurists, absorbing their ideas but going on to develop their own interpretation of the Futurist approach, more radical than the Italians

What came next, however, was without precedent. At a time when the workers and peasants of Russia were struggling to overthrow the old, repressive order, and would go on to try to create a new society based on new ideals, Malevich was in the vanguard of a revolution in art that would overthrow all the established ideas and approaches.

Although I knew it was coming, it was still something of a shock to walk into the room where the Black Square and a small number of other, similar works were displayed. The complex cubo-futurist patterns had gone, replaced by canvases with only simple blocks of colour. This was Suprematism, “the painting of pure form” and “the supremacy of pure feeling”.

It is difficult for us today to appreciate just how revolutionary and shocking this reduction of painting to simple form and pure colour was in 1916. To understand how it came about we need to understand the tremendous upheaval taking pace in society in Russia at the time and view this art in that context. Malevich and his circle were revolutionaries in terms of their art but also their politics. Society was being turned upside down with the old structures and ways of doing things being overthrown and this is exactly what Malevich was doing. Malevich wrote in 1919

‘Painting died, like the old regime, because it was an organic part of it,’

I think this aspect is underplayed in the Tate’s analysis and explanation in the exhibition. Many of the avant-garde artists at the time were active particiapnts in the Revolution, producing posters and decorations for anniversaries, pageants, street theatre and agit-prop trains.

Malevich and the Suprematists continued to produce these works as the Russian Revolution progressed. This culminated in the paintings displayed in Room 8 – The End of Painting – my favourite room in the exhibition. The culmination of the approach was the creation of paintings with white on white such as White Suprematist Cross (1920-21). This room also contained a number of paintings where simple blocks of colour are starting to “dissolve” at one edge, perhaps representing how society itself was dissolving and disappearing.

Suprematist Composition- White on White, (1918)

But Suprematism could only go so far. I think it was inevitable that the Suprematists would take their art in new directions, building on what they had learned. That’s progess. Art like society doesn’t stand still. Unfortunately Russian Society started to move towards dictatorship culminating in the rise of Stalinism. Avant-garde art started to be seen as elitist. Malevich returned to painting figurative works, but they were were complex and semi-abstract. But in the 1930’s, under attack from the Stalinists who favoured “Socialist Realist” art, he returned to painting true figurative works, particularly portraits and there are many examples of these in the final room. But even then he stamped them with his own approach with many of them looking like Renaissance figures, so he was subverting Stalinist art in a subtle way.

Worker - Kazimir Malevich

His earlier works were too much for the Stalinists. They were banned and hidden away after he died in 1935. But his followers made a last stand, mourners at his funeral paraded with images of the black square.

malevich funeral

This was a marvellous exhibition I’d love to visit again. There was too much to absorb and digest in one sitting. But it demonstrated that Malevich was a great artist who could produce great works in whatever style he chose to work and was also responsible for creating a new style.

I went to see the Matisse cut-outs exhibition showing on the Second Floor the next day. That was good but the Malevich exhibition was by far the more interesting, thought provoking and exciting of the two.

The Gondola


Well, I’ve never been to Venice, but I have been in a gondola – a steam Gondola anyway. It’s a restored boat, owned by the National Trust that operates on Coniston Water. Of course, we had to take a trip on it even if it isn’t free to National Trust members.

The boat was originally launched in 1859 having been built for the Furness Railway company who had a line that run into Coniston. The line was originally intended to convey materials from the mines and quarries in the area, but the company opened it up to passengers with the boom in tourism in the Lakes. The Gondola was an added attraction which no doubt made a few extra pounds for the company. The Gondola ran on the lake until 1936. It was converted to a houseboat in 1946 but eventually fell into disrepair. It was restored in the late seventies and came back into service in 1980.


Trips on the lake leave from Coniston pier, a short walk from the village centre and the 45 minute “cruise” goes half way down the lake and then calls at Brantwood and Monk Coniston before returning to its departure point.


Inside it’s origins as a vessel run by an Edwardian railway company are evident with it’s First and Second class lounges.






Looking down on Liverpool


Yesterday we went over to Liverpool for a day out on a reasonably sunny Sunday on a Bank Holiday weekend. While we were there, we decided to go up the St John’s Beacon (or, Radio City Tower as it’s known these days). The tower, which was built in the late 60’s, originally had a rotating restaurant at the top and the observation deck was in the open air on top of that. It was closed in 1983 and was unoccupied for a number of years. It was refurbished between 1998  and 2000 adding an additional floor where the outside observation deck used to be, re-opening as the studios of Radio City, the local commercial radio station. An indoor observation deck was opened to the public in 2012. On a good day like yesterday it affords great views over the city.


I’d been up before – 37 years ago when I was at University in the city. It was a bit different in those days. I remember stating outside in the open air and looking over a city that was much more depressed than today. there’s been a lot of development since then when the Albert Dock was deserted and dilapidated, Liverpool One wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of the Duke of Westminster and the new buildings to the north of the city centre and near the University didn’t exist.

This is the view of the tower from St John’s Garden behind St George’s Hall. For a short while the sunlight was illuminating the bottom half of the tower making it appear to glow against the grey sky. The photograph doesn’t fully capture the effect.


Some views from the top of the tower.

Looking down over the developments during the city’s “golden age” during the Victorian period – St George’s Hall, the “World Museum”, Library, Walker Art Gallery ad Crown Court.


A couple of shots out over towards the pier head and the “Three Graces” and the Albert Dock



The Catholic cathedral with my old University behind.


The Anglican Cathedral


Looking over the city out towards the sea


Hepworth at Abbot Hall

Barbara Hepworth - At work on the plaster for Oval Form (Trezion)

Barbara Hepworth – Within the Landscape is the latest exhibition showing at the Abbot Hall gallery in Kendal. We called in to see it on the way back home from our recent holiday in the Lake District. As the Gallery’s website tells us

Apart from Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective at Tate Liverpool in 1994, this is the first significant exhibition of her work in the North West for over sixty years

A large number of her works, mainly sculptures but also some prints, were displayed in the rooms on the first floor which are used for the gallery’s temporary exhibitions, but there were also three larger sculptures  on the ground floor. There was also a display of photographs of and related to Barbara Hepworth in another one of the rooms upstairs.

2012-04-12 11.38.20

Oval Form (Trezion) 1961-3

Abbot Hall doesn’t allow photography but they do have a number of photographs of the some of the works on display on their website. Some of the pictures used in the publicity for the exhibition show sculptures outdoors and this made me expect that some would be sited at Blackwell, as was the case with their exhibition of works by Lynn Chadwick last year, but that isn’t the case. they’re all indoors at the gallery in Kendal – except for the sculpture owned by Abbot Hall which stands on the lawn in front of the entrance to the Gallery (picture above- nothing to stop me snapping that one!). A pity, as the larger works, in particular, would be enhanced by being located outdoors in changing, natural light, rather than in the stark light of the gallery. And on the lawn at Blackwell it would be possible to observe the work from all angles, a problem with some of the works indoors and I noticed that a number of visitors had commented on this in the Visitor’s book. I have to say I agree with them, but a relatively minor quibble as I enjoyed the exhibition very much. It had a good selection of works, many of which I hadn’t seen before as they had been loaned by private collections.

This later work, Summer Dance (1972) greeted visitors to the Gallery as it was located in the entrance hall. It’s a very typical Hepworth work with large “curvaceous” pieces “punctured” with large holes. At first I though it was carved from wood, but on closer inspection it was apparent that it was cast in metal. The surface treatment was particularly attractive. A light silver on the front, but a darker bronze colour on the back.

Barbara Hepworth - Summer Dance, 1972

There were examples of works in other media – stone, wood and thin metal plate, the latter sometimes twisted and manipulated into complex shapes, such as Forms in Movement (Galliard) (1956), made from a single copper sheet.

Forms in Movement (Galliard)

This is another one made from thin sheet metal, but in this case incorporating the strings which are a common feature of her work.

BH 225

Stringed Figure (Curlew), 1956

I rather liked this simple work,  Disc with strings (Moon) from 1969

Disc with Strings (Moon) 1969, BH484

From a private collection, one of the loan conditions probably accounted for it being displayed in a perspex box. This led to some interesting effects due to light being refracted through the joins in the box and illuminating parts of the sculpture.

The smooth, curved forms of many of Hepworth’s sculptures, like this one carved from Nigerian wood, are crying out to be touched and caressed – strictly forbidden of course!


Configuration (Phira) (1955)

There were several stone sculptures too, including this one, a large piece carved from a distinctive two-tone coloured Ancaster stone


Rock Face (1973)

It stood out for me as it’s large rectangular form was rather “masculine” and rather different from the curvaceous works she typically produced.

There were also a number of prints which we’d seen before as they were on loan from the Hepworth in Wakefield who had them on display until recently (and where I snapped some photos).


Porthmeor (1969)


Genesis (1969)

So another excellent exhibition at the Abbot Hall. a good survey of Hepworth’s oeuvre, showing works in all the main media she worked in with a good number that are not normally on display to the public, so there was something new even for someone who is very familiar with Hepworth’s work. It is manageable too. A good number of works, but not too many to take in during a visit and enough to make me want to go for another look in the near future. I understand that the Tate are to hold a retrospective of Hepworth’s work next year. I’m sure that will be good too, but it’s likely to be much larger and more overwhelming. That’s one of the things I like about Abbot Hall – good exhibitions which leave you feeling satisfied but not overstuffed and overwhelmed which is often the case with the “blockbusters” in London.