Hidden Quantock treasure

blue-anchor-cooke

Triassic Cliffs, Blue Anchor, North Somerset, by Edward William Cooke (1811–1880)

The Friends of Quantock have been posting images of outstanding period paintings of West Somerset and the Quantocks on their Twitter site. A few are by artists who have lived and worked in the area, such as J W North, friend of Richard Jefferies, one of my favourite Victorian country writers. Others are surprise delights by painters of the calibre of Tristram Hillier, Edward William Cooke and William Henry Hopkins.

In some cases it is not clear whether the images have been sourced from private collections or public galleries. If they are held in public galleries, are they on permanent display or squirrelled away out of sight in storage?

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Steep Holme, looking over the Bristol Channel, by George Frederick Harris (1856–1924)

It would be wonderful if some of these (plus other paintings with local significance wasting their sweetness in storage) could be drawn together for exhibitions at regional galleries, museums, town halls, public libraries or civic centres. There would, of course, be difficulties. One constraint is the sheer cost of curating exhibitions. Specialised transportation is expensive, and insurance cover often prohibitive for a small cash-strapped gallery or museum. Curators rightly talk about risk, and if works of art are transported hundreds of miles across the country and displayed for weeks on end in small regional galleries and other venues, there could well be damage or the odd random act of vandalism. As a consequence major galleries and museum trusts can be reluctant to enter into lend or loan agreements, their primary responsibility being to protect and conserve the works of art in their care.

Yet surely it is a risk worth taking? Every time we cross the road and drive our car we accept risk. We are not talking Rembrandts or Michelangelos. Most are ‘minor’ paintings with a distinctive local and regional interest, and I firmly believe the benefits of allowing them out on public display outweigh any risk. There would surely be enough responsible volunteers prepared to give their time to help staff an exhibition.

quantoxhead-hillier

Quantoxhead, by Tristram Hillier (1905–1983)

It seems to me that issues of security and the balance sheet have usurped the public good. I wonder for whom these works of art are being so painstakingly protected. For posterity? Who will, eventually, if ever, benefit from this meticulous safeguarding? Posterity is defined as ‘future generations, those who come after us’. Yet if our generation is unable to experience and enjoy these paintings, is it likely that the people who come after us will? Who will be there to inspire them, if not us?

The internet has allowed us to view works of art we would not normally be aware of. Will art end up as something to experience on a screen? Surely a thumbnail image can never be a substitute for the experience of standing in front of the real painting, viewing it at its actual size, and with the time and opportunity to appreciate its brushwork and true colour.

Below is a list of some of the paintings on the Friends of Quantock Twitter site. Unless there is a change of policy it seems likely that paintings such as these will have little lasting artistic legacy, acting merely as figures on a balance sheet. Do visit the Twitter site, they are well worth a look.

Quantoxhead, by Tristram Hillier (1905–1983)
A calm day at Burnham Beach, 5 August 1856, by William Henry Hopkins (1825–1892)
A walker on the Quantocks in 1873, by J W North
Pergola at Bicknoller church gate in 1860s, by J W North
The Quantock Hills, by J W North
Porlock, 1913, by Francis Abel William Taylor Armstrong (1849–1920)
Exmoor & Porlock, British Railways poster artwork by Jack Merriott (1901–1968)
A Somerset Farm, by Norman Macbeth (1821–1888)
Steep Holme, looking over the Bristol Channel, by George Frederick Harris (1856–1924)
Triassic Cliffs, Blue Anchor, North Somerset, by Edward William Cooke (1811–1880)

PS. I find it equally frustrating when I am unable to inspect books in the libraries of National Trust properties, the argument being that many of the older volumes are fragile – and, more importantly, of significant monetary value. The shelves of books act as little more than historical wallpaper.

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About Terence Sackett

I am a writer and designer. I live in Nether Stowey, which is on the borders of the Quantock hills. I am a committee member of the Friends of Coleridge, and wrote and designed the booklet/visitor guide for the National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage. I look after the website for the Friends (www.friendsofcoleridge.com). My novel about Siamese twins titled ‘Riven is now on Kindle. It can be read with a free downloaded Kindle app for an iPad, smartphone, tablet, or computer. The book is available from Amazon. What’s it about? Brief blurb below: It is the story of the Victorian painter Thomas Tait Genoa and his desperate flight through the West Country to save his conjoined twin daughters from the surgeon’s knife. This was before the era of anaesthetics. A 5-start bAmazon review: 'A masterpiece, truly deserving of the five star rating I have given it. The very human experience described so eloquently could not fail to tug at the heart of any parent who has ever gazed on a poorly child in the dark hours of the night and anguished over what to do for the best. This novel might be set in a very particular time and space but the heartfelt emotions of the protagonists are timeless, I have no hesitation in recommending this wonderful work to anyone who has a heart.
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