Tuesday 31 July 2018

Wightwick Manor: A Pre-Raphaelite Dream

Last Christmas I was lucky enough to be gifted something utterly glorious by one of my oldest, kindest friends, National Trust membership.

Ever since we have endeavoured to visit as many places as possible, and I’m always on the look out for anywhere in striking distance that poses a potential day out. Looking through the guide book I spotted something which looked incredibly appealing; Wightwick Manor and as soon as I read the words ‘Pre-Raphaelite Art Collection’ I knew it was a must.

As soon as I walked around the exterior I immediately knew this was it; my favourite property to date. I felt something deep within me stir. The exterior was yet another example of Victorian perfection. With its Tudoresque timbered structure marrying brick, wood and render in perfect harmony. The details across the exterior were nothing short of perfection. Exquisite brick chimneys dotted the roof line adding splashes of red amongst the black and white and complimenting the block base. The once jet black fumed oak now aged hint of brown and silver with time, twisting and turning forming almost mesmerizing patterns against the white lime render. Intricate carvings lurk here and there, faces looking for a viewer, barge boards with impossibly delicate detailing and layered window frames nothing short of exquisite. The house was no vast mansion, no lavish pile, but its aesthetics were what I consider the pinnacle of British architecture and style. In that uniquely Victorian way the Manor marries the medieval, Gothic and Tudor in a way which is utterly believable, totally respectful and considered and entirely perfect.

Once inside it felt as if someone had looked deep within me and created my ultimate Pre-Raphaelite dream. The interior felt dark and gloomy, with an incredible atmosphere that weighed heavy. The lower ceilings of the the entrance hall, study and corridors gave the building a cosy feeling which I felt was utterly unique of any building this size I'd ever visited. The endless wealth of textiles, Morris wallpaper, rugs, paintings, stained glass and so many beautiful objects gave the Manor a homely feeling which instantly warmed my heart. It's eclectic nature struck a chord with my own excessive, magpiesque traits and indulged them to the nth degree.

The entire Manor was a feast for the senses from beginning to end. Dante Gabriel Rosetti paintings and drawings hang here and there, above piano's, in dark hidden corners, against deep wood panelling which only serve to accentuate the decadent nature of this glorious place. I wander down the dull corridor and beams of light strike out at the giant potted plants which give a pleasant scent of foliage. All of this is a prelude to the great hall, where a woman plays the piano filling the house with a dreamy lull that easily transports you back to the Victorian heyday of the home. Blue and white china glint out from the dressers and shelves while vases of wildflowers give the impression that Morris's furnishings have come to life and taken over the room in which they sit. A Pre-Raphaelite beauty waters her plants by the piano in a large painting by George Fredrick Watts. Illustrations of Ravens, Hares and Lions linger in the shadows and a Burne-Jones painting waits for you at the end of the grand double height space, beckoning you forth to the rest of the house. 

The entire Manor is a temple to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement. Paintings from the great names of the movement including; Millais, Rossetti, Ford Maddox Brown, but also lesser known artists, including the more prolific females within the group; Lizzie Siddal, Evelyn De Morgan, Emma Sandys all grace every nook and cranny of this utterly unique place. No detail or object feels unimportant in this Victorian wonderland where everything has its place and even the tiniest trinket would be missed in the gloriously eclectic ambiance of this honest, comfortable home.

Wightwick Manor is a must see for all obsessive Victorian enthusiasts like myself, especially if the Pre-Raphaelites is your passion. I confess the place thoroughly bewitched me, and the moment I left I began pondering my return. Only the most special places in the world leave you feeling that way. I've been more lucky than most to have found just a few of them in my life so far. Until next time Wightwick.

Tuesday 3 July 2018

HR Giger Museum 20th Anniversary Celebration

From the moment I read about the 20th Anniversary celebrations to be held at the Giger Museum in Gruyeres - I knew I had to be there. This exciting celebration, though I had no real idea what it would involve, felt special. And indeed it was.

Many months before when the celebration was announced we were planning a European road trip, which had been discussed for a few years, but after breaking my ankle last summer (less than a week after returning from the Giger exhibition in Nantes) all holiday plans were on hold until I had recovered. Almost immediately the road trip's dates were set and the entire journey was quickly built around the celebration.

True to my militaristic planning, I had thought it prudent to arrive in Gruyeres the day before the celebration, firstly to secure a parking place (as I anticipated the village would be extra busy due to the celebration), and also to enjoy the calm before the storm as it were. This turned out to be stellar planning, as it gave us an extra evening in the Giger bar and the chance to meet with my old friend and fellow Giger collector Dave Julian, who kindly invited me to his home 10 years ago as a wide eyed 17 year old desperate to see some Giger work up close. Also to finally meet Les Barany, Giger's agent who was essential in setting up my meeting with Dave, and who gave me important and unforgettable advice 11 years ago when I needed it most, something I have never forgotten. A man of great kindness indeed. And to meet Tom Fischer - an integral part of Giger's life and world, co-director of the museum, kind supporter of my artwork, all round nice guy, along with his super girlfriend Michelle whose passion and enthusiasm is truly infectious!

Having shared a few beers with friends old and new, and after a sleepless night listening to the fountain in the square gurgle away I embraced, as fresh faced as possible, what I knew would be a glorious day I would never forget.

The day began at a steady pace with a nice quiet lull in the museum and I took the opportunity to see every piece on display before things got busy, as I predicted they would. One added bonus was the wonderful surprise that we could take photos for one day only. As you might imagine, I was unstoppable. To be back beside such true masterpieces with more depth and detail than most will ever know, was a privilege and an honour. The atmosphere throughout the museum was one of quiet excitement. Everyone I passed had a friendly word to say or seemed cocooned in anticipation, and rightly so.

In the garden the happy, relaxed vibe was endless, with cocktails, beer and wine flowing freely and many a sausage put away. In a marquee in the corner, a human canvas was being  prepared for many intensive hours of body painting, the result of which was beyond stunning. I confess that more than once, it crossed my mind that I could never stand statue still for 7 hours in less than a thong to undergo such a transformation, and great kudos to the model Elisa and artists Fiorella Scatena and Udo Schurr for their incredible determination and skill.

Carmen Giger welcomed us all to the museum and the day's celebrations, followed by talks by Bijan Aalam and Andreas Hirsch who talked about their experiences and friendship with Giger and reflected on his life. The attic room was then filled with performances of modern dance and music throughout the day,  surrounded by Giger's beautiful personal collection of art.

The entire day was a haze of great conversation, building friendships with some fantastic people, and with a few little surprises thrown in. The celebration was, in my opinion, a resounding success paying homage to our hero with a touch of absinthe, surrounded by the most magnificent art of our age, all in a stunning medieval village. Could you really ask for more? I doubt it.

As the day drew to a close, we were treated to the magnificent spectacle of seeing Fiorella and Udo's body painting creation come to life as a stunning biomechanoid queen wielding a facehugger staff, and coaxing a great chained Xenomorph towards a captivated crowd of adoring fans. Not something you see every day and not something any of us present are likely to forget any time soon!

A most fitting end to my time in Gruyeres and this leg of the trip was to make the pilgrimage to see Hans Ruedi's grave, and the beautiful tomb which has been added since I was last in Gruyeres. The polished black stone looks mysterious, with its glistening flecks of silver and striking matte Giger design it is appropriately alien and striking in the quiet, quaint Swiss graveyard. A fitting monument to a man utterly unique in this world.

Many thanks to all the amazing people I shared this day with and helped make it an utterly precious, incredible celebration, especially; Kev, Dave Julian, Les Barany, Carmen Giger, Tom Fischer, Michelle, Carlos Arenas, Kerry and Roger all the way from Australia to name but a few. I think it speaks volumes about how respected, loved and adored Giger and his work are that so many people travelled from every corner of the globe to mark this occasion and pay homage to the artist of our age, my hero; Hans Ruedi Giger.

Author and Photographer: Alice Durose