The London Group at 100 at Mottisfont

19 Apr
Graham Sutherland, Welsh Landscape, 1948

Graham Sutherland, Welsh Landscape, 1948 Picture credit: National Trust Collections

The London Group at 100

Mottisfont, Hampshire
9 February – 21 April 2013

This weekend is the last chance to see The London Group at 100 exhibition at Mottisfont in Hampshire. Download a voucher from the Mottisfont website to enjoy free entry to both the exhibition and the house as well as the daffodil filled gardens and countryside trails this weekend only!

From its beginnings as a medieval priory, Mottisfont has evolved through the centuries into a Georgian country house that was to be the idyllic mid-twentieth century retreat of Gilbert and Maud Russell and their fashionable London friends, including many celebrated artists of the day. Painter and art collector Derek Hill was so enchanted by this place that he later left part of his twentieth-century art collection to Mottisfont. These wonderful painterly gems can usually be found dotted around the rooms of the house, sometimes in slightly out of the way places.

The London Group at 100 is a celebration of both the origins and the continuation of the London Group of contemporary artists. Created one hundred years ago by 32 artists, the London Group was formed with an exhibition-centred outlook as an alternative to the often conservative art institution. Many of the Mottisfont Derek Hill Collection paintings are by London Group artists, and these paintings have been brought together especially for this exhibition. Landscapes, townscapes and portraits are depicted in either pencil, ink and gouache on paper or oil on canvas or board. The founding and early London Group artists approached these traditional subjects and mediums in a variety of avant-garde ways. Drawings and paintings by Walter Sickert, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Graham Sutherland, and Michael Andrews among others hang in chronological order according to the date they joined the London Group.

The exhibition opens into a succession of gallery rooms filled with contemporary art by artists who are members of the London Group today. Paintings, sculpture, photography and film works by over 40 artists are placed throughout these rooms. The colours and imagery are overwhelmingly twenty-first century and reveal something of the transition from the relatively muted colours and subject matter of the earlier paintings which are so strikingly of their time.

In the gardens at Mottisfont are two mosaics created in situ by London Group founder member Boris Anrep including one portraying his lover Maud Russell as an angel.


Glenn Brown at Upton House and Gardens

28 Nov

‘Greuze does not hide the fact that her watery eyes and soft lips are made of nothing but quickly-applied paint.’ Glenn Brown on Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Head of a Girl, c.1790, in the Bearsted Collection at Upton House and Gardens. Continue reading

A story with an eye for the future

24 Oct
Anticipatory History cover, courtesy Uniform Books

Anticipatory History cover, courtesy Uniformbooks

Climate and environmental change is happening all around us. The worse predictions seem apocalyptic and terrifying, our most recent ‘end of the world’ narrative along with the immediacies of global terrorism, economic meltdown and well-armed superpowers.

Whether or not we can alter these environmental changes as we would like remains to be seen – but for those of us working within the conservation sector the methods of telling these stories of change, and our rationale for acting on them, is of great concern, particularly when accounting for how we spend public or charitable funds.

Given this complex preamble, what place can art have in all of this? Is it merely window dressing around edges of hard science or can it offer something more valuable?

I was privileged to take part in a series of AHRC funded workshops exploring these issues 2010-11, led by Dr Simon Naylor and Dr Caitlin DeSilvey of the University of Exeter, the focus being ‘Anticipatory History’. The idea, put simply, is researching and writing history with a view to future change. For example, Mullion Cove, a coastal site owned by National Trust (researched and written up elsewhere in detail by DeSilvey), at first glance appears to be the quintessential timeless Cornish cove, with a stone built breakwater and quayside protecting the cove from the harsh Atlantic Ocean.

The longer perspective, informed by both academic and community based research, reveals that it is a relatively recent (19th-century) intervention into the landscape, and one that was never successful either economically, or physically, often requiring repair in the face of weather conditions. National Trust has decided that it cannot repair the breakwater indefinitely, so in the long term, these structures will disappear into the sea. Can this story be told only as one of humans weakness in the face of awesome nature? Or is it a tale of the folly of trying to cash in on an industry while at its peak, and being left with assets costly to maintain thereafter?

Within this context – or indeed many others – art can be used both as process and thing to mediate these situations, leading to the text, as my contribution, below:

Art is both a thing and process, much defined and much debated. In its broadest sense, it is the process and product of making individual or group creativity intelligible to others in tangible form.

In the context of Anticipatory History art is both provocation against and solace towards newly contextualised, and rarely benign, futures. As a discipline that plots routes from past to future through the prism of our current understanding, anticipatory history shares much in common with contemporary art, which has its own research agendas and processes, distinct from, but not always unrelated to, those of science or other academic disciplines.

Landscape change is a subject that concerns many artists: the natural rhythms of time and seasonality can be found in the durational sculptural works of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Chris Drury; examples of journeys through landscape are explored by the extensive performances and documentation of Richard Long and Tim Brennan; and the material and political relationship to nature is explored by the installations, events and media works of, among others, Cornelia Parker and Simon Starling. Histories of contemporary art are doubtless being written that uncover how collective anxieties about change in landscape are being expressed by artists today.

Contemporary art offers ways to connect the concerns of anticipatory history to a wider public that reaches beyond the dense data of scientific research and the textual propositions of history and geography. Such artistic expressions may be intellectual, emotional and rigorous, honed by years of individual experience: but their punch could come through a honeyed scent, a raw texture, a haunting sound all set in uncommon juxtaposition.

The National Trust has worked with Red Earth (co-directed by Simon Pascoe and Caitlin Easterby) in creating site specific installations and participatory art events that directly engage with narratives of landscape change. In 2005, a programme called Geograph took place at Birling Gap (East Sussex) where the cliff line of fifty years ago was marked by a delicately traced line of chalk pebbles and boulders, while the predicted erosion line twenty years hence was marked by a procession and flags. These interventions provide creative markers of the dynamic changes within the landscape – and demonstrate how contemporary art can articulate them in powerful ways.

(Freshwater, T., ‘Art’, in DeSilvey, C., Naylor, S., & Sackett, C. (2011) Anticipatory History, Uniformbooks, p.23-24)

GUEST BLOG: Enchanted Garden Season exhibitions review at Mottisfont, by David Low Kok Kiat

11 Oct

As part of a new initiative, volunteer bloggers are being invited to review some of the many projects happening around the country. This week David Low Kok Kiat, currently studying at Central St Martins, explores National Trust’s Mottisfont, Hampshire, and their new programme and gallery.

The 12th-century Mottisfont Abbey, with its rich layers of history including the exciting life of the previous tenant, the late art patron Maud Russell, is the perfect setting for the current exhibition – Enchanted Garden: Flower Fairies and Dark Tales. The whole property, its tranquil garden, soft river and the enigmatic house, resonates with a magical sense of idyllic escape. It is of no wonder that the integration of early 20th-century fantasy illustrations and contemporary art into the space adds new character to this house of antiquity.

Mottisfont Abbey has a certain charm. Possessing the finger of Saint John the Baptist at the end of the 12th century, the Abbey has traditionally been a place for pilgrimage and miracles. On a sensory level, the passage of time seems to have little effect on it. The Abbey has a picturesque English country side garden, has also retained its medieval Gothic architecture and its interior still have the original foam marble and magnolia walls. However, the 19th century chandeliers and furnishing has an anachronistic relationship with Maud Russell’s collection of 1930s modernist art and portraiture. The confluence of styles from different period does not merely speak of the property’s rich history but also creates an enigmatic charm.

Complementing the current exhibition, artistic group The House of Fairy Tales custom designed the Mottisfont Enigma, a trail that interactively guides us through the history of the estate. It starts from the entrance through the garden and eventually to Maud Russell’s house and the art gallery. The trail blends in an interactive code breaking game which is ideal for children to immerse themselves with a world of fairies, spells and memory eaters. The game turned a dreary two hundred year old tree into an entity of solace, whereby visitors could commemorate their precious memories by hanging a ribbon on its branches. The abbey’s font is transformed into a well of memories as visitors whisper their recollections of childhood into it. Thus by this creative intervention, the Mottisfont Enigma trail gave a new magical realistic perspective on historic entities, in which fairies and memory eaters are as much as a reality as the stories behind each antiquity. Its innovative and transformative form of educating young people set the pitch for the exhibition.

The Enchanted Garden: Flower Fairies and Dark Tales exhibition opens with the work of Cicely Mary Barker, typically known for her flower fairies. Barker is an early 20th-century illustrator for many children story books. Her work has indeed touched many lives in their childhood. Evidently when we view her frolicking fairies in their carefree innocence, painted skilfully with the fluidity of watercolour, we are transported to our own nostalgic childhood and a yearning for an escape ensues; to be as liberated as the flower fairies. Barker had similar sentiments as she battles her bouts of epilepsy, and the realities of the industrial age, finding respite in painting flower fairies. In the same way we find ourselves seeking relief from our modern age in our childhood fantasies of fairy tales. The selection of 30 flower fairies corresponds with the flowers found in the estate’s garden, creating a strong evocative sense of escapism within Mottisfont Abbey.

Works from contemporary artists gave a fresh twist as they explore the theme of childhood memories, imagination, and fairies tales further. A work by Rachel Whiteread, ‘Storytime’ (2008), is an example. It is a haunting image, where doll-like figures are gathered to hear a story and behind them sit three bogeymen. In another room, there is also Adam Dant’s ‘Bogeyman’ (2008), an installation of repeated lithographic prints of an old-fashioned wooden child’s bed with different incarnations of the nightmarish bogeyman in each print. The works speak to our childhood fear of dark tales and the fear of something lurking in the unknown. Confronting one of our earliest fears of the dark and the more sinister side of fairy tales, the exhibition plays on the aged appeal of the abbey, creating an unnerving sense that contrasted with the apparent existing peaceful atmosphere.

However the centrepiece of the Enchanted Garden exhibition lies in the last room set in a secret cupboard. The unique piece by Tessa Farmer, ‘Skullship and the Galls’ (2011), was specially commissioned for this exhibition. Being sensitive to the magical peaceful sanctity of the abbey, Tessa uses only materials that could be found in the Mottisfont Abbeys’ lawns and gardens. The work features a mixed media of taxidermy (squirrel), insects, bees and galls. According to Tessa, the grounds of Mottisfont are inhabited by skeleton fairies. These fairies set out in their ‘skullship’ to explore the unknown, collecting new species from the field. The miniscule skeleton fairies command our attention to examine their skilfully sculpted details as they are simultaneously investigating new species. Tessa’s fairies are not the impeccably beautiful creatures as are our traditional conceptions but are skeletal, evoking their dark tendencies. The installation is a clever intervention within the Mottisfont estate. The act of exploring new species from the Skullship by the skeleton fairies, correspond with the new relationship between contemporary art and old country houses.

The Enchanted Garden: Fairies and Dark Tales urge us playfully to save the fairy denizens of Mottisfont Abbey from the memory eaters. In a real sense this exhibition not merely transports us to our precious childhood imaginations and fantasy but also urges us to preserve the Mottisfont Abbey as an object of our heritage. Visit Mottisfont Abbey and be enchanted by a magical world of fairies and dark tales.

Back on the scene

11 Oct

There has been a hiatus in the upkeep of this blog owing to challenging personal circumstances this earlieryear.

These are resolved, so let the blog continue: there is plenty to report!

A roundup of Trust New Art 2010

21 Dec

As the year nears its end, this slide show (c.2 minutes) shows a selection of images from projects that took place this year.

Over 500,000 visitors to National Trust places had the chance to see contemporary art. The Trust New Art team would like to thank the many people who make this possible: artists, curators, funders, visitors, property teams and volunteers.

2011 will be an exciting year, and we look forward to seeing you then.

All seasonal good wishes to our supporters.

Trust New Art team

Introducing the new at Ham

15 Nov
Tessa Fitzjohn talking to staff and volunteers at Ham House

Tessa Fitzjohn talking to staff and volunteers at Ham House

Last Friday saw myself and Tessa Fitzjohn speaking to a packed Orangery at Ham House, in Richmond. Tessa was appointed project curator to develop a programme of artistic activity to celebrate the history and richness of Ham using its garden spaces in 2011.

We were pleased to have a large turnout: 75 staff and volunteers came to hear about Trust New Art, before Tessa spoke specifically about the approach and artists that she will be using.

It is vital that contemporary art projects are ‘owned’ by the teams running the National Trust places where they happen. This means staff and volunteers understanding why art projects are happening, taking responsibility for their success, and advocating positively for them to other staff members and visitors.

In many National Trust properties, volunteers are at the front line of visitor experience. From car parking to room guides, and at many other levels, they can be the main points of contact while visitors experience a place. It can be a big step for a contemporary art installation to arrive in a space that is familiar and well-loved, even if only for a short while.

What we have learned from projects in the past and over the summer of 2010 is introducing the idea to people well in advance is vital. At Kedleston Hall, working with Susie MacMurray, only volunteers who felt positive about the project were asked to be on duty in the room during visiting hours. Some property volunteers had helped install the work, met the artist and the other project volunteers (mainly art students) over a period of a few weeks running up to the opening. This gave an appreciation for the project, and helped them speak about it to visitors. For some volunteers, it was not a project that they felt they could support. The property team appreciated this, and asked only that they explained the thinking behind it to visitors, even if they themselves did not like the art installation.

At a number of properties, including Ham, we will be working over the months – and sometimes years – leading up to project to ensure that the team of staff and volunteers at least know what is happening, and at best gain a positive appreciation and involvement with the work. This could include articles in volunteer newsletters, using volunteer noticeboards, getting project curators and artists to speak at volunteer meetings, inviting volunteers onto project steering groups, and (my favourite) working with artists to introduce some artwork behind the scenes of a property over a period of time to give a preview and an opportunity for discussion about what it happening.

Site-responsive contemporary art takes place within a complex web of relationships and opportunities. To ignore the perspectives of those we charge with presenting National Trust properties to the public will only compromise the success of a positive experience of the art for our visitors.

Tom Freshwater

Contemporary Art Programme Manager

Want to develop your artistic practice? Based in South-West? Read on…

29 Sep

Finding Your Way Day

An opportunity for artists to widen networks, share feedback and get advice on practice and projects

Louise K Wilson (excerpt)

Louise K Wilson (excerpt)

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Barrington Court, Somerset

Organised by Reveal partner Somerset Art Works (SAW) as part of SCION – the sixteen-month contemporary art programme at Barrington Court curated by Beacon Art Project in partnership with the National Trust.

‘Finding Your Way Day’ is designed primarily for emerging art practitioners in Somerset – but all are welcome!

Image:Louise k Wilson

Features presentations from SCION’s curator, John Plowman and exhibiting artist Louise K Wilson.

Louise K. Wilson’s artwork takes the form of installations, sound pieces, live events and videos.

Also features recent graduates from the University of Lincoln, Amelia Beavis-Harrison and Alan Armstrong

Presenting together they will share their experience of establishing their practices and various projects since graduation three years ago.

Plus, there is an opportunity for artists to take part in a special Pecha Kucha! – a simple Power Point presentation format where each artist show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images forward automatically and the artist talks along to the images, in this way each artist will be able to present their work for 6 minutes 40 seconds.

There will be an hour for lunch and networking, breakout workshops and the day will finish at 1600.


£15 each, £10 for students , £20 on the door,

Cost includes lunch and refreshments.

To book a place contact


Telephone: 01458 253800

To submit proposals to take part in the Pecha Kucha

send:  A CD of 20 images, each no more than 20 seconds long. In an envelope marked Pecha Kucha to:

SAW Office

The Town Hall, Bow Street, Langport, Somerset TA10 9QR

By Tuesday 12 Oct.

Successful applicants will be notified prior to the event.

‘Finding Your Way Day’ has been programmed to coincide with ‘Artist Led’, an exploration into artist led initiatives, enterprises and activities in Somerset. The exhibition at The Brewhouse in Taunton runs from Saturday 16 Oct – Saturday 20 Nov.

This event is supported by Arts Council England and Local Action for Rural Communities (LARC).

Trust New Art visits ‘Extraordinary Measures’ at Belsay Hall

21 Sep

Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens, owned and managed by English Heritage, is used to visitations from contemporary art. Judith King has been the independent curator working with English Heritage since 1996 developing their extensive exhibition programme at Belsay. The National Trust is also benefitting directly from Judith’s experience through her role on the Advisory Group to the Trust New Art programme.

Judith King speaking about the work of Slinkachu

Judith King speaking about the work of Slinkachu

The current exhibition ‘Extraordinary Measures‘ responds to the site through ideas of scale. That 58,000 people have already visited, and that the site has achieve its entire annual budgeted income in 6 months alone is testament to its success. To share the learning of the experience, a day conference was created.

The programme of the day included very useful in-depth and open accounts from Judith, as curator, then the project manager, the fundraiser, the outreach specialist, the educational specialist, and finally the operations manager. Essentially this was a ‘how to’ session about ‘Extraordinary Measures’ from start to finish. This reveals what an achievement it is to create such seamless interventions into historic landscapes and buildings with such strong impact – which ultimately will leave no trace after next week. It is clear that current and future trends in public and corporate support for the arts may well have an impact on what Belsay can do in the future. We wish them well!

Castle at Belsay Hall

Castle at Belsay Hall

I was pleased to see National Trust colleagues from the East Midlands regional team, Kedleston Hall (Derbyshire), Mottisfont Abbey (Hampshire), Wallington Hall (Northumberland) and Cragside (Northumberland) attending the day. In fact, there are other training opportunities for staff through upcoming events with Museumaker and the Crafts Council as well, and the East Midlands took several of our curators to see the Tatton Biennial last week.

Walking through the work of Mariele Neudecker

Walking through the work of Mariele Neudecker

The impact of the work at Belsay is a testament to its careful curation: there is a blend of lesser and better known names, but the quality is always high. The placement within the site is well considered to respond to or resonate with (or against) the historic context.

Slinkachu at Belsay

Slinkachu at Belsay

The work of Slinkachu has been seen most in the world of advertising. Tiny, centimetre-high models, are given life through staged scenes. The artist records this in a photograph – and then abandons them to their fate. Ephemeral, captivating, beautiful. This was his first rural project.

Mariele Neudecker, 'From Here to There is Not That Far'

Mariele Neudecker, 'From Here to There is Not That Far'

At the other end of the scale, Mariele Neudecker’s work dwarfs the people that walk through it, enclosing the open quarry garden entrance. The added reflective film creates a mirror to the light and sound within this space.

Scalesdale by MGA

Scalesdale by MGA

Scalesdale is an interactive project commissioned for the exhibition from architects MGA. Starting out as a bare board with the glowing castle and outbuildings (see image below), visitors were asked to vote on improvements to the settlement. Over the months of the exhibition, a democratically-determined conurbation has grown up. It works as a playful modely village, but also explores the real large-scale concerns of urban development that affect us all.

Scalesdale by MGA

Scalesdale by MGA

It is not possible to show you images of the works by Ron Mueck and ‘The Garden of Unearthly Delights’ by Mat Collishaw owing to copyright issues – but see here for images. Both are good artists, and the work fits well into the exhibitions.

The fabulous work of Tessa Farmer is well worth seeing, and her dark video piece ‘Den of Iniquity’ (a collaboration with Sean Daniels) marks a new area of work for her that has much potential.

Thanks to Judith and her colleagues for a very stimulating day, and the warm welcome we had. The work at Belsay has set the standardfor work of this kind.

Tom Freshwater

Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust

Last chance to see ….

9 Sep

Tell it to the Trees at Croft Castle…


Ancient woodlands, a mysterious picturesque valley, an intimate walled garden and a Gothick Castle have been the setting for ‘Tell it to the trees’, a year long exhibition of contemporary sculptural installations and paintings at the National Trust’s Croft Castle in Herefordshire. It began last July and ends with sustained applause next Tuesday 14th September. Really, don’t miss it! It’s like nothing else.

Commissioned by Meadow Arts, nine artists have been involved in the project showing work that is inspired by man’s relationship to trees. They are Mariele Neudecker, Philippa Lawrence, Brass Art, Laura Ford, Juneau / projects and Clare Woods.

Take a look at our pictures and then go and take some more for yourself…

Philippa Lawrence 'Bound, Croft' Cotton wrapped deceased oak, Commissioned by Meadow Arts 2009

Brass Art 'Witness Tree,' Selective Laser Sintering, nylon prime part. Meadow Arts Commission, 2009

Brass Art 'Witness Tree' 2009

Philippa Lawrence, Croft Bound, 2009

Do you have any photos from a trip to Croft? Email them to us ( and you might see it up here on the Trust New Art blog…..

See the Croft Castle website for more on openning times and directions

And Meadow Arts for information about their work and the artists involved at Croft.

Lotte Inch

Thursday September 9th 2010