I'm currently working on text panels and labels for this exhibition, which opens at the end of September. I'm working with the Keeper, Victoria Partridge. It's an exciting project as the Higgins, Bedford (formerly the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery) has a wonderful collection of British watercolours and prints. There will be about 40 works in the show, including some of my favourite artists: John Constable, Samuel Palmer, Francis Towne, John Sell Cotman, Peter De Wint, Richard Redgrave, George Price Boyce, Edward Lear, Paul Nash and John Nash. There are also some stunning works by Lucian Freud and Graham Sutherland which are growing on me!
We have a whole section entitled (provisionally) 'Magical Trees' - it's actually the largest section - including all those works in which the trees are imagined, or dreamlike, or possessed of magical powers.
I think these two watercolours are my favourites: by John Nash and Edward Lear. I can't get over the delicacy of John Nash's painting of the dead trees with their drooping? draping? branches? twigs? (I'm having trouble finding the right words to describe them). And the Lear studies of Bassae fascinate me because he was there in the winter - as he records on this watercolour, there was snow - and he comments in his Journal that it would be so much more beautiful if the oaks were in leaf - yet all his studies show trees with lots of foliage. Is he imagining the oaks as they would be, or are these the smaller ilex (evergreen oaks) he also saw there?
When he came to paint a large oil, based on these studies, he put a large, mature oak tree in the foreground and painted it painstakingly from nature - but in Britain. This painting is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
(I'm also fascinated by these studies as I've been to Bassae and the temple is now under a huge tent for reasons of conservation - I would love to see it as Lear saw it - though perhaps not in a snowstorm!)