On Thursday I took a day off work and we drove up the M6 to Kendal where we’d decided we’d visit the Abbot Hall Art Gallery. It’s an old Georgian house, built in 1759, which is situated in a very pleasant location on the river bank close to the centre of the old market town. The gallery opened 50 years ago after the house, which had been allowed to fall into disrepair, had been renovated by a group of local people who had formed a charitable trust to work to save the building. When the renovation work had been completed they had to decide what to do with the house, and came up with the idea of turning it into an art gallery. The next step was to get hold of some art to show in their gallery! Over the 50 years they’ve accumulated an excellent collection of works from the 18th & 19th Century and Modern and Contemporary artists. Their achievement just shows what can be done with commitment and imagination.
The main reason for our visit was to have a look at an exhibition of watercolours by Turner and other artists – Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection. I’d found out about it only a few days before and as it was due to close at the weekend we decided to travel up to the gallery. Its (normally) only an hour’s drive away, but, despite this, we’d never been before.
Downstairs the rooms have been restored and decorated in the Georgian style. The two main rooms are used to display paintings and furniture from the 18th century so that they can be viewed in an appropriate setting. These included paintings by George Romney (1734 – 1802), a fashionable portrait painter who was born in nearby Dalton in Furness. I’m not particularly keen on art from this period, especially portraits of wealthy people, but I liked some of the works on display, particularly Artist’s Brother James Holding Candle, Study: The Death of General Wolfe at Quebec in 1759 and Emma Hart as Miranda. Emma Hart was the maiden name of Emma Hamilton, who was well known as the mistress of Admiral Nelson. She was something of a muse for Romney as he painted several pictures of her.
Emma Hart as Miranda by Georg Romney Source: Wikipedia
Also downstairs there was an exhibition of watercolours painted by Edward Wilson who had accompanied Captain Scott on both his expeditions to Antarctica, and was one of the five men, including Scott, who died on that fatal journey in 1912. The paintings are all part of the Abbot’s collection and were being shown for the centenary of his death.
The rooms upstairs had been in a very poor state of repair before the house was renovated and so have not been restored in their original style. Instead they’ve been converted into a more modern gallery space with lower ceilings and plain walls. The main temporary exhibition, Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection, was being shown in three of the rooms. More modern art, from the 20th and 21st Centuries by a range of artists, were displayed in the remaining rooms.
We thought that this was an excellent gallery and really regret not having visited it before. We’ll certainly be going back there again. The entry fee is a little pricey, especially as parking isn’t free, but I guess this is their main source of income and I thought we got good value for our money.
I’m particularly keen to see a couple of forthcoming exhibitions. Abbot Hall at Fifty which is running between 27 April and 9 June 2012 and will feature 50 works from the Gallery’s own collection. They will also be showing an exhibition of works by the Manchester born contemporary painter Hughie O’Donoghue at the end of the year between 28 September – 22 December 2012. I previously saw, and enjoyed, an exhibition of his work in Dublin at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2009.