Archive for category Publisher: Sansom & Company

Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art 1760-1870 || Christiana Payne

One of the first things you notice from a cursory glance at this is that the painting of trees has gained a lot more life in recent years. Maybe it’s the speed of travel and the reduction in afforestation, but a modern painting will show the tree as much more heroic than many historical examples. Today, we travel at 70 miles an hour on open roads, with trees as part of a distant view or flashing by. This is a far cry from the days when the fastest thing around was a galloping horse and many thoroughfares were little more than tracks, with trees often towering over them. Then, trees obscured the light, harboured footpads and wild animals, as well as impeding the way. They were things to fear rather than love.

It’s quickly apparent that, in the period covered by this really rather magnificent book, tree drawings and paintings fall broadly into three camps: the detailed, almost botanical study, gloomy clearings, or incidental growths whose precise species is not always apparent. Trees were so commonplace that an artist would assume that all their viewers knew what they were looking at without being told in any detail.

This doesn’t mean that trees were unremarked – as the illustrations here make amply clear – or unrevered. Writing in 1792, William Gilpin observed that a tree was “the grandest, and most beautiful of all the productions of the earth” and John Ruskin asserted that “if you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world”. And, of course, trees have been seats of learning, points of devotion, meeting places and waymarkers since the dawn of time.

This book accompanies the exhibition A Walk In The Woods at the Higgins Bedford and the launch of the Woodland Trust’s Charter For Trees which celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter (effectively, the commoners’ Magna Carta). Christiana Payne includes history, folklore and art as well as looking at the role of trees in the country-house culture of the time and issues relating the felling of trees to provide timber for navy ships. It all makes for a fascinating and complete study.

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Also available from the publisher: http://sansomandcompany.co.uk/shopping/silent-witnesses/

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Albert Reuss in Mousehole || Susan Soyinka

The experience of Albert Reuss was not dissimilar to that of many European Jews in the 1930s. Fleeing Austria in 1938, he lost many members of his family and his possessions, as well as the reputation he built up in his native Vienna. This book is the story of how he re-established himself in a new country. If the name is not familiar, the tale is gripping as well as moving and stands as representative of what happened to so many in the middle of the last century.

After his arrival, Reuss continued to work and held exhibitions throughout England, moving to Cornwall in 1948. The choice of Mousehole is a slightly surprising one and the full story is recounted here. The actual arrival is not unlike that of other artists who moved to the area – they seem to have arrived with their suitcases almost out of the blue.

Reuss’s career bloomed and he established the ARRA gallery locally as well as holding one-man shows at the O’Hana Gallery in London. His work is now held at the Newlyn Art Gallery as well as the British Museum, the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It is perhaps telling, however, that a quotation that accompanies the press release for the book refers to “the painter whose work fills [the Newlyn Art Gallery’s] store” – not all this work is on permanent exhibition.

This is not a heavily illustrated book and, as an introduction to the artist, is more of interest for the story it has to tell. However, those illustrations (a colour section includes 52 works) that are included show a considerable talent as well as reflecting the emotional harshness and sense of loss at the heart of their creator’s life.

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The Drawings of Roger Hilton || Adrian Lewis

Not so long ago, I reviewed a retrospective account of Roger Hilton’s wife, Rose. The significance of this is that her life informs our opinion of her husband’s work. He was twenty years her senior and a dominant, perhaps domineering, figure who seems to have wanted more of a personal assistant, perhaps even a reflector of his own greatness, and forbade his talented bride from pursuing her own career. Knowing this, it is hard not to view Roger’s drawings of the human form – which form the bulk of what is included here – as belittling and maybe even abusive. There is no sense of beauty or respect.

What there is, however, is a strong sense of line and of form. Get past the initially dismissive quality of the drawings and there is a clear indication that their maker understands the techniques and processes of drawing as well as the use of space on paper. Hilton’s biographies tend to gloss over his teaching career, but he was at Central St Martins in the late 1950s and it becomes easy to imagine him as a charismatic instructor – which, indeed, could be how he acquired a bride twenty years younger than himself.

This is not, however, a book about psychology, interesting though that is, but about the life and work, particularly the drawings, of an important member of the St Ives School whose reputation was international. Influenced by Matisse, Picasso and Klee, Hilton was a master of the balance between abstraction and figurative drawing. Adrian Lewis also looks at how Hilton’s personal life and sexual desire became integrated in his visual expression (something hinted at above). The book is comprehensive and analytical and does much to enhance the reputation of Hilton as a draughtsman. It is perhaps a shame that some of the illustrations appear to have been reproduced from less than perfect transparencies, but sometimes you have to go with what’s available and the results are by no means unacceptable, and better included than not.

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Stanhope Forbes – Father of the Newlyn School || Elizabeth Knowles

Victorian painting included a style that one might describe as “sanitised reality”. That is to say, scenes from the life of working people who, when you look at them more closely, live in houses that are in slightly too good repair and wear clothes that are suspiciously clean and unworn. It was a romanticisation of labour that led, amongst other things, to the Arts and Crafts Movement and the impossible futurology of William Morris’s novel News From Nowhere.

Stanhope Forbes is best known for his plein air foreshore paintings of Cornish fisherfolk, and there are plenty of these here. However, there is also a good selection of the artist’s other work that shows him capable of tackling a wide variety of subjects, from rural landscapes to portraiture and industry. In these, he seems more comfortable with the true reality of his subjects – the portraits in particular are sensitive and insightful. Only once does harsh reality creep in, in the very last painting in the book: Their Ever Changing Home, where a traveller family are on the move, the mother’s expression suggesting that this is not, perhaps, entirely voluntary.

Stanhope Forbes was an important figure in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and this book, published to accompany an exhibition at Penlee House Gallery and Museum, includes 50 well-reproduced illustrations that cover all periods of the artist’s life and aspects of his work.

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Roger Cecil – a secret artist || Peter Wakelin

If you haven’t heard of Roger Cecil, you couldn’t be accused of ignorance. Even if you had, you might never have seen any of his work. He was a legendary figure among curators and you can almost imagine travellers’ tales of the fabulous works that remained inaccessible to most.

Cecil was a recluse. Those who knew him regarded him as one of the greatest abstract artists of his generation, but he was intensely private and exhibited only rarely. When he died in 2015, his body was only found after a police search.

This collection should cement Cecil’s posthumous reputation. Peter Wakelin has amassed a remarkable number of works and facts and presents an account of the man and his life in South Wales that has been painstakingly researched. It becomes immediately apparent that Cecil was indeed a major figure (or would have been if he had been more widely known) and possessor of a very remarkable talent. His understanding of form and colour, and especially of the figure, is truly remarkable and, now that he is gone and his privacy cannot be intruded on, the time has come to shine a light on his output.

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Capture the Castle – British artists and the castle from Turner to Le Brun

“Everyone”, it says here, “loves a castle”. That’s a broad, bold statement, but I for one wouldn’t disagree. Not my place, not my pay grade, I’m just here to write about books.

As with a lot of Sansom books, this accompanies an exhibition. I like that because I get to see a lot of paintings I otherwise wouldn’t – I can’t get to everything. It also provides a lasting record after the show has finished and, while the works are all collected together, there’s an opportunity to do some quality origination, as well as a captive market for the initial print run, making the whole thing an economic possibility. It’s a neat, virtuous circle.

Subject-based exhibitions provide an opportunity for a varied and eclectic choice of works: you’re not limited by artist, style or period. Here, we have watercolours, oils, etchings, drypoint, casein, linocuts and anything else I’ve missed. The castles don’t even have to be real – there’s one of Gormenghast. The choice of works is right up to date, the most recent being 2016 (more recent than Le Brun, by the way).

As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s even a potted history of the development of castles as well. If you’re interested (and, as the blurb hints, aren’t we all?), but not so interested to want a whole book on the minutiae of the subject, this will do nicely.

The arrangement of the book is topical, with each chapter introduced by a different writer: a historian, art historians and an archaeologist. Each illustration is reproduced at a good size and has an extended caption explaining both the subject and the image; some of these are by the artists themselves.

There is much to like about this book, from the subject matter to the curating and the standard of production and reproduction. It’s also very reasonably priced, another thing Sansom are rather good at.

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Zawn: Walking West Penwith/Cliff-edge painting by Paul Lewin || Paul Gough

Helpfully, the back cover blurb provides an explanation of the enigmatic title. “Zawn: a coastal inlet in a cliff face, with steep or rocky sides. Often the result of a roof-collapse in a littoral cave.”

This is useful to know, as it defines the content of this beautifully illustrated book, which exudes a sumptuous feel in spite of its relative slimness and soft cover.

The paintings themselves, some already existing, others produced especially for the book, are a superb evocation of coastal landscapes and of the weather that inevitably assaults a West-facing peninsula. I haven’t traced the chronology on a map, but there is a sense of a journey, as opposed to randomly-selected landmarks and that sits well with the idea of a coastal path.

The text is an account at once of the book, of Paul Lewin’s working methods and of the creative process as a whole. Whether you feel you need it, or whether these three things sit altogether comfortably together, is a matter of personal taste. Although what Paul Gough writes is firmly grounded in the work it accompanies, there is still a slight disconnect due to the tendency to expand and generalise. You might feel, though, that it adds to, rather than detracts from, the book’s appeal.

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