Symbols of past glory, of empire and and global reach, caravels and carracks still sail in Lisbon, woven in Persian 17th century carpets, painted on Japanese screens or even depicted in pavement cobblestones. All reminders of nearly six centuries of empire, for good or for bad. Seeing these emblematic ships at a moment when the Brexit furore is reaching a crescendo in England made me ponder the parallels of the erstwhile Portuguese and British Empires.Read More
I am sure that many people feel a sense of wonder and amazement when they realise that they have become serious artists and that it has happened despite there not being any artists in previous generations of their family. That little question, "Where does it come from?", pops into the mind.
This certainly happened to me when I began to get more and more involved in art, long after I had trained in other disciplines and ventures. However, despite the fact that none of my immediate forebears were painters, I was aware of a keen sense of artistry in my mother and her father, both skilled and successful photographers. So I assumed that I had simply chosen another form of expression.
Nonetheless, I found myself excited and gratified when I realised that one of my great-grandfathers had done beautiful renderings of sailing ships, simple and elegant. They seemed gentle messages of encouragement from the past. Then, just before the turn of this year, I discovered with a jolt of delight that I had another art link with the past. My great-great-grandfather, William Carmalt Clifton, was a landscape painter and draughtsman, as well as being the P & O Shipping Company agent in Mauritius and, later, in Albany, Western Australia, from 1861-1870. His last panoramic painting of Albany, done from his yacht in King George Sound, is now in the Western Australian Museum.
Interestingly, we have had in my family various miniatures of him as a young man and a larger oil on canvas painting of William Carmalt Clifton as a 13 year old. The 1832 painting above is a copy of one by Jacob Thompson, a Penrith artist (1806-1879) noted as a landscape and portrait painter who had Lord Lonsdale as his patron.
Interestingly, we have had in my family various miniatures of him as a young man and a larger oil on canvas painting of William Carmalt Clifton as a 13 year old. The 1832 painting above is a copy of one by Jacob Thompson, a Penrith artist (1806-1879) noted as a landscape and portrait painter who had Lord Lonsdale as his patron. We also have this photograph of the same Clifton forebear.
It is indeed fun to find links - and thus validations - of one's choice of profession and passion that stretch back centuries into the past. Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même, as they say.
How do we value art? Each of us has a different scale of values and different definitions of art. But there are enough instances when everyone agrees on art being of great value and part of our cultural heritage. I was reminded of this when I heard a discussion on the BBC programme, Outlook, this week, during which there was an interview with Cori Wegener, Associate Curator of Decorative Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She was talking of the efforts to save artworks made almost immediately after the earthquake struck Haiti in January. Heroic efforts were made to rescue and protect the rich and diverse cultural heritage there and they have continued ever since to try and ensure there will be artwork for future generations of Haiti.
What impels people to risk their own lives and well being to go in and rescue artworks? It is almost visceral, I suspect, for those who have a respect and love for things of beauty, which are testimony to man's - and woman's - skill, passion, culture, need to create... The list of heroic actions to save artworks of all descriptions is long. When there was the huge fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, the works of art - Master drawings, paintings, manuscripts and books - and furniture, carpets, miniatures and other valuables were rescued. Another time when Cori Wegener became involved directly was after the Baghdad Museum was looted during the Iraqi invasion. Then an Army Reservist, she was sent to help assess the damage at the Museum and help restore the situation. Floods in Florence, Prague or Venice all evoke huge efforts to save art in past years, while an earthquake situation, in Aquila, Italy last year caused enormous distress at the lost of art and architecture.
The list goes on and on, but implicit in all the stories reported in the press is the message: people do care - very much - about art of all descriptions. They consider it important enough to save, even at risk of their own well being. Indeed, there is the Blue Shield organisation, which was set up to protect the world's cultural heritage by coordinating preparations to meet and respond to emergency situations, the cultural version of the Red Cross. Its existence is an interesting assessment of the value of art to mankind.
As the West remembers D-Day today on its 65th anniversary, my mind goes back to many earlier years along the Normandy and Brittany beaches and cliffs. As a young woman, I spent many hours in those impressive and eloquent cemeteries that spoke of such sacrifice.
It is heartwarming, however, to see reminders that even today, there is spontaneous gratitude in France, not just on 6th June. When I was in Brittany last October as Artist in Residence with Les Amis de la Grande Vigne in Dinan, I was drawing at the dramatic headland facing the English Channel called Pointe du Grouin.
It is north of Dinan and round the corner, going west, from lovely Cancale, home of such succulent oysters. While I was drawing in the biting wind, my husband was exploring the concrete fortifications and bunkers that remains from the German occupation. Inside, there was scrawled on the wall, "6 juin 44, merci" - "6th June, 1944, thank you". Simple, but telling.
While I was drawing, an elderly, distinguished-looking French lady came up to talk to me. After a long and delightful conversation (despite my watching the light disappear from what I drawing with dismay!!), her husband joined us. He told me of his work with the SAS for the British, remaining in France after 1940, because the British deemed him of more help in France than outside. Both Churchill and General De Gaulle decorated him for his valour after the war. Yet, as I stood up to bid him and his charming wife goodbye, it was he, the wartime hero, who thanked me formally and in most moving terms, for what the British - and Americans - did to save France.