Pretty as a picture - Essex landscapes inspire artists
PUBLISHED: 13:13 26 February 2013 | UPDATED: 17:30 26 April 2013
The beautiful landscapes of Essex have long been an inspiration to artists, and continue to be so today and art lovers will find both its vistas and its galleries captivating...
The beautiful landscapes of Essex have long been an inspiration to artists, and continue to be so today art lovers will find both its vistas and its galleries captivating
Thanks to a thriving cultural scene, our county is an ideal destination for those who appreciate artistic excellence whether youre looking to retrace the steps of famous landscape painter John Constable, visit the home of equine portraitist Sir Alfred Munnings, or explore the places where early 20th century artist-illustrators Eric Ravilious or Edward Bawden lived and worked, then youll find yourself in just the right place.
Probably the most famous artist to capture the beauty of the Essex countryside is John Constable (1776-1837), who was born just over the Essex/Suffolk border in East Bergholt.
Among his well-known works are oil paintings depicting picturesque rural scenes from the area, including perhaps his most famous painting, The Hay Wain (1821), which shows the River Stour at Flatford a scene that is very similar today, although without the horse and cart!
Willy Lotts House, seen to the left on The Hay Wain, is today owned by the National Trust, so do try to catch one of the scheduled tours around it. Alternatively, head down the lane to Bridge Cottage (also owned by the National Trust) to see their Constable exhibition, or join a guided tour to find out more about the artists association with the area. If you feel in need of a sit-down after exploring the beauty of the Dedham Vale, then pop in to the tea room at Bridge Cottage, which offers a light menu based around seasonal, local produce. Those keen on following further in the footsteps of Constable will be interested to hear there are several other sites across Essex where he set up his easel for example, Wivenhoe Park near Colchester (1816, now owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, USA), and Hadleigh Castle (1829, now owned by the Tate Gallery, London).
There must be something about the Dedham Vale, because, believe it or not, Constable wasnt the only well-known artist to live and paint in the area. Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), famed in particular for his depictions of horses whether on the battlefield, at the racecourse, or just at rest under a tree in a field, lived at Castle House in Dedham for much of his life. Today the property has become a fitting memorial to his work and life, housing the single largest collection of his paintings, drawings and sculpture, The Munnings Collection. Not only can you see his works in the most fitting setting of his own home, but also his artists studio left much as it was during his life is also open to the public, and you can take a turn around his gardens too. For those looking for refreshment, a recently opened tea room serves light lunches and snacks.
Two of the early 20th centurys most revered artist-designers also made Essex their home for many years. Edward Bawden (1903-1989) was born in Braintree, and during a career spanning 60 years, he produced some of the most recognisable designs of the period, including advertising material for Shell, Twinings and Fortnum & Mason. His home in later life, Brick House, is an early 18th-century red brick building that can be seen on the north-west side of Great Bardfield High Street. After the death of his wife Charlotte in 1970, he moved to the pretty town of Saffron Walden, and its in this town where you can see a significant collection of his works, at the Fry Art Gallery.
A contemporary and friend of Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), followed Bawden back from London to rural Essex in 1932. After a short spell staying in Great Bardfield, he moved to Bank House in Castle Hedingham where a blue plaque can be seen commemorating his life there. He was an eminent painter, designer and illustrator who also undertook commissions for murals and ceramics (his designs for Wedgwood being a case in point). The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden holds a collection of his works, along with those of his wife Tirzah, a talented artist in her own right.
Its almost hard to believe that so many eminent artists made Essex their home and often their inspiration, although as you start to explore the beautiful countryside around where they lived, you will start to understand...
At the cutting edge
If your artistic tastes are more modern, then head to the new Rafael Vinoly-designed firstsite gallery in Colchester (www.firstsite.uk.net), which boasts exhibitions, workshops, film showings, talks and other events designed to make contemporary art relevant to everyone. Check out the latest exhibition (for free!), and then enjoy a bite to eat in MUSA, the venues onsite caf. Alternatively, why not explore the latest exhibition at the Gallery In The Garden in Great Saling (www.galleryinthegarden.co.uk)? With previous highlights including such greats as Matisse and contemporary ceramicist Jim Malone, theres bound to be something to pique your interest and you can enjoy a lovely afternoon tea in the garden, too.
Bricks & Mortar
After all that art, why not also marvel at the works of great architects and master builders by visiting a historic or contemporary property or two?
Built in c.1140 by Aubrey de Vere II, the son of one of William the Conquerers most favoured knights, Hedingham Castles architect was the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Still owned by a de Vere descendent, the Norman keep is the only remaining part of what was once an enormous medieval edifice. It boasts an impressive banqueting hall and minstrels gallery, and is well worth a visit you might like to time your trip to coincide with one of the fantastic special events held throughout the year. For more information, visit www.hedinghamcastle.co.uk
Cressing Temple takes its unusual name from the medieval monks of the Knights Templar, who founded the two vast wooden barns that form the centerpiece of this rural estate. The barns themselves are open throughout the season, and a varied programme of cultural events includes craft shows and food fayres, as well as traditional building skills courses and seminars. Dont miss the Tudor Walled Garden, which has been painstakingly recreated following an archaeological excavation. Please visit www.cressingtemple.co.uk for further details.
The oldest wooden church in the world and the oldest stave built timber building in Europe, Greensted Church is something very special. The 51 timber planks youll see there date from around 1060, although excavations done in the mid-20th century revealed that there were two earlier timber structures on the site, dating from the 6th and 7th centuries around the same time as St Cedd began his work to convert the Saxons to Christianity. The Church is open every day of the year and welcomes visits from those of all faiths and religions, whether purely for historical interest or for religious reasons. Visit www.greenstedchurch.org.uk to find out more.
Designed by eminent architect Norman Foster (also of the Gherkin fame), Stansted Airport challenged all the accepted rules of terminal design when it was built between 1981 and 1991. Energy efficient, light and airy, and discreet within its rural setting, the design has since become a benchmark for airport planners and designers globally. If youre entering or leaving Essex through this iconic building, make sure you take time to appreciate its beauty!
Billed as one of Englands grandest stately homes, Audley End demonstrates a number of different period styles for example the Great Hall is decorated with early 17th-century carvings, while the chapel is a whimsical confection of 18th-century ornamental Gothic, and a suite of eight ground-floor rooms was designed by Robert Adam in neoclassical style. Theres also a restored Victorian service wing to explore, plus beautiful formal gardens and a working organic kitchen garden. To find out more, visit www.englishheritage.org.uk/audleyend
Waltham Abbey Church
Waltham Abbey was originally founded in 1030, although the majority of the church building you see today dates from its c1120 rebuilding in the Norman style. In the 16th century, Henry VIII was a regular visitor, and indeed it was a conversation between two of his bishops and a scholar staying in Waltham Abbey about Henrys marriage problems that eventually led to England breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. For further history and visitor information, log on to www.walthamabbeychurch.co.uk
Layer Marney Tower
Layer Marney Tower was built during the reign of Henry VIII as the grand gatehouse for an even grander house but the latter was never built, as following the death of John, son of Henry 1st Lord Marney, there were no male heirs to continue either the family line or their family seats construction. Climb the tower for magnificent views across the Blackwater estuary, learn all about the buildings fascinating history, or simply enjoy the pretty gardens and then indulge in coffee and cake at The Tearoom. Visit www.layermarneytower.co.uk for further information.