Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Mountain That Had to Be Painted

Contemporary artist Iwan Gwyn Parry tackling Arenig in
'The Mountain That Had to Be Painted'

This week I've been unable to do more than collapse in front of the TV after long days at work, so I have appreciated the fact that BBC4 has been showing a Landscape Season.  There has been a lot of outdoor stuff - lakes (Wainwright), mountains (Munro), the golden age of canals and even a documentary on the A303 ('Highway to the Sun').  They repeated Alice Roberts 'titillating middle-aged men' (according to The Guardian) with her wild swimming, and in 'The Great Outdoors' they took 'a nostalgic look at life for campers, twitchers, ramblers and metal detectors'.  I missed the programme on R. S. Thomas (on too late...) but caught another one set in the Welsh landscape, 'The Mountain That Had to Be Painted'.  This was an account of the time Augustus John and James Dickson Innes spent in the Arenig Valley painting 'a body of work to rival the visionary landscapes of Matisse.'  Whilst it did little to dispel the impression that Auguston John's life is more interesting than his art, the programme provided a valuable introduction to the work of Innes, who died (like some old country singer) at the age of 27 from a mixture of TB and wreckless living.  For more on Innes and the Arenig school, see a recent post on the Footless Crow mountain writing blog. 

Earlier in the week there was an hour-and-a-half long history of English landscape painting, 'This Green and Pleasant Land.'  The programme discussed a sequence of paintings from the time of Charles I (Rubens and Van Dyck) down to World War Two (Paul Nash and the patriotic posters of Frank Newbould), with a final leap forward to David Hockney's recent iPhone sketches. As it started we wondered who the extraordinarily plummy-voiced narrator was - Brian Sewell my wife thought, but it turned out to be Simon Callow.  Fearing a rather conservative survey we nevertheless ended up enjoying the eclectic mixture of people they had invited to talk about each painting - from the 'editor at large' of Country Life, who suggested that Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews could easily be imagined in his magazine today, dressed in Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies, to a foundry manager who said he had a reproduction of Coalbrookdale by Night hanging up at home in the hallway.  It was worth enduring Peter York explaining his fascination for Atkinson Grimshaw in order to see John Virtue discussing Constable and sketching the sea. Will Self was on amusing form recalling the horror of growing up, as the son of a theoretician of garden suburbs, while actually living in a garden suburb ("that'll do things to a child!").  The programme generally covered the key works you would expect, although I was surprised they missed out Samuel Palmer and spent so much time on Stubbs (who I see I've never mentioned here).  All in all, well worth watching if you have access to the BBC iPlayer - available for 6 more days as I write this...
 Will Self discusses William Ratcliffe's

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