Archive for Landscape

The Grotto, Stourhead

Posted in Caves, Fountain, Gardens, Grotto, History, Landscape, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2016 by mysearchformagic

In the autumn I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire. With its pretty lake surrounded by wooded hillsides dotted with follies of all shapes and sizes, Stourhead has a dream-like quality about it, an eighteenth-century recreation of an ancient Roman paradise. It’s got its own version of the Pantheon, complete with grand portico, dome and marble sculptures, a medieval cross, and a even a quaint ‘Gothic’ cottage with rustic windows and a thatched roof.


The beautiful Georgian landscape of Stourhead, Wiltshire

But surely the most atmospheric spot at Stourhead is the Grotto, constructed in 1748 for then owner Henry Hoare, and designed by Henry Flitcroft. Wealthy Georgian gardeners, it seems, had something of a taste for magic, and a dark and creepy underground cavern was an important element in any grand garden of this period.

From a distance the Grotto at Stourhead, which sits right of the shore of the lake, looks like nothing more than a huge pile of mossy rocks. On closer inspection, however, a set of twisting steps can be seen leading down to a shadowy doorway.


The twisting staircase down to the Grotto at Stourhead

Beyond lies a dark – very dark – underground passageway, the only light coming from small apertures in the roof and the side, the latter offering wonderful views over the lake outside.


Looking out onto the Stourhead Lake

Lined with flint, pebbles and tufa, the interior of the Grotto is constructed to resemble a rough natural cave. Since Henry Hoare was rather taken with ancient Rome, the grotto is inspired by the poetry of Ovid and Virgil, both of whom wrote numerous tales of magical, poolside caverns, which were often home to nymphs, monsters or even gods and goddesses. Neo-classical sculptures in the Stourhead Grotto add to the atmosphere of ancient mystery, with a gushing spring and pool decorated with a water nymph and some poetry inscribed into the floor:

Nymph of the Grot these sacred springs I keep,
And to the murmur of these waters sleep;
Ah! Spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave,
And drink in silence, or in silence lave.

Further along, hiding out in a gloomy, water-filled cavern, sits a dramatic bearded river god, a spring from the River Stour pouring noisily from his urn.


The river god in the Grotto at Stourhead

I may have visited the gardens at Stourhead a little to late to see the amazing autumn leaves which attract thousands of visitors every year, but in a way I was glad to catch it at a quieter moment. Wandering alone through the tunnels of the Grotto, the weak November sun setting over the damp Wiltshire hills, it really was possible to experience the sublime wonder of this magical place, and feel the thrill that has been enjoyed by visitors to this place for over three and a half centuries.


The magical Grotto at Stourhead


The Wilmington Giant, Eric Ravilious

Posted in Art, Sussex with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2015 by mysearchformagic

This week I visited an exhibition dedicated to the short life of mid twentieth-century artist Eric Ravilious at the rather lovely Dulwich Picture Gallery. Ravilious spent much of his life in Sussex, and many of his best works are views of the South Downs and the charming countryside that lies around them. Images of winding country lanes, travellers’ caravans and rolling hills recall a magical rural England, reminders of a time now long past.

, Eric Ravilious

I particularly loved his painting of the Wilmington Giant, which can be found on Windover Hill just outside the village of Alfriston.  While many things may have changed since Ravilious painted this scene in 1939, the Wilmington Giant, also known as the Long Man, remains steadfastly the same. He’s been there since time immemorial, and will not doubt still be there for centuries to come; huge, silent and mysteriously magical.

Dream No Small Dreams, Ronchini Gallery

Posted in Art, Landscape, London, Photography, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by mysearchformagic

This week I stumbled across a rather intriguing exhibition at London’s Ronchini Gallery, entitled Dream No Small Dreams. The show features the work of three artist; Adrien Broom, Thomas Doyle and Patrick Jacobs. All three share an obsession with small-scale fantastical worlds, each using different techniques to create their own miniature, magical alternative realities.

An installation view of Dream No Small Dream, Ronchini Gallery

An installation view of Dream No Small Dream: The Miniature Worlds of Adrien Broom, Thomas Doyle and Patrick Jacobs, Courtesy of Ronchini Gallery

Broom’s Frame of Mind photographs portray imagined landscapes inhabited by tiny ‘Borrowers’ style figures. They are cinematic in their scope, if teeny-tiny in their execution.

Left Over Things, Adrien Broom, 2010

Left Over Things, Adrien Broom, 2010, digital C-type print, 60 x 40 in, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Thomas Doyle’s sculptural scenes of destruction, disaster and mayhem are intricately detailed and beautifully executed, all of them housed in elegant glass domes. They present a bizarre, unsettling world where typical suburban homes are swallowed up by sink holes, lifted off the ground by hurricanes or smothered in overgrown Cinderella-esque vines. Meanwhile, the pint-size protagonists who inhabit them seem blithely unconcerned by the strangeness that surrounds them.

Beset, Thomas Doyle, 2013

Beset, Thomas Doyle, 2013, mixed media, 17.5 x 14.5 x 14.5 in, Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

My favourite exhibits in Dream No Small Dreams were without a doubt the hyper-realistic sculptures by Patrick Jacobs. Embedded into the wall and viewed through tiny ‘fish eye’ portholes, these glowing landscapes have more than a hint of the fairytale about them. Jacobs’ teeny weeny dioramas feature sublime vistas of trees, meadows and rolling hills, and are created from an unusual selection of media, including styrene, acrylic, ash, talc and hair. The skill involved in creating these unfeasibly realistic scenes, with each leaf and blade of grass perfectly and fully formed, is astonishing. It isn’t an overstatement to say that I could almost feel with warmth of the summer sun on my face as I gazed through the tiny windows into these magical, miniscule panoramas.

Stump with Curly Dock and Wild Carrot Weed, Patrick Jacobs, 2013

Stump with Curly Dock and Wild Carrot Weed, Patrick Jacobs, 2013, Mixed Media, Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Check out Patrick Jacobs’ website here for more wonderful works. It’s hard to get a true impression of their impact from photographs, so if you ever get the chance to see his sculptures in person I recommend you take it. You won’t be disappointed.

Stump with RedBanded Brackets and English Daisies (detail) , Patrick Jacobs, 2013

Stump with Red Banded Brackets and English Daisies (detail) , Patrick Jacobs, 2013, Mixed Media, 77 x 123 x 80cm, Courtesy of the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Dream No Small Dreams, curated by Bartholomew F. Bland will be at Ronchini Gallery London from 6 September to 5 October,