Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Hidden Painting Discovered in the Collections

Recent conservation as part of the work on upcoming exhibition, Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art, has revealed the discovery of a hidden painting in the collections at The Higgins Bedford.

For every art exhibition at The Higgins Bedford, staff check on the condition of the paintings to identify which will need conservation before going on public display. This exhibition celebrates artists’ views of Bedford and the surrounding area from the past two hundred years, with the artworks forming part of the local landscapes collection. Most of them came to The Higgins Bedford from Bedford Borough Council and many haven’t been on public display in several decades.

Seven artworks were selected and taken to the conservator to be removed from their damaged frames, mounted in museum board and have any foxing that had caused any discolouring corrected.

Whilst working on a watercolour sketch by Bedfordshire artist, Stanley Orchart, the conservator was surprised to discover another artwork hidden behind the frame. The artwork is a fully finished oil painting depicting a picturesque country cottage.

Hidden painting discovered in the back of the frame of a Stanley Orchart painting

No artist’s signature has been found but further investigation has revealed that two sides of the painting had been cut down to make it fit behind the frame. The signature was most likely removed in this way.

While the artist, date of the painting and the location of the country cottage remains a mystery, there will be a lot of fun in trying to finding out more.

Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art, said: “Having artworks conserved is always an exciting process. When works come back they are always so bright and fresh, but this is the first time that a new artwork has been discovered. I look forward to finding out more about it”.

Councillor Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, said: “The discovery of this new, hidden oil painting is really exciting and at the moment, shrouded in mystery. While we don’t know much about the painting at the moment, we’re looking forward to finding out more.

“Make sure that if you do visit The Higgins Bedford, you follow all guidance on slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ advice.”

Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art opens at The Higgins Bedford on Saturday 10 July 2021 and will feature artworks by JMW Turner, Dora Carrington, Thomas Fisher and Stanley Orchart, highlighting their fascination of Bedford and the River Great Ouse.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Turbulent Life of Marco Ricci

Marco Ricci (1676-1730), Apollo and the Musesc.1710 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

While most of the artworks in the Under the Same Sky exhibition are by Britain’s finest landscape artists, Marco Ricci’s Apollo and the Muses offers a taste of Italian Baroque splendour. For all of its serene heavenliness, the dramatically dark life of the artist could inspire the most brutal Caravaggio scene.

Ricci was born in Belluno, Italy, in 1676. His uncle, Sebastiano (1659-1734), was an eminent painter and trained a young Marco in his workshop. Despite receiving acclaim in Venice, Marco had to flee in his twenties after killing a gondolier in a brawl.
During his time on the run, he refined his techniques in Dalmatia (part of modern-day Croatia), the Netherlands, Florence and Rome. In the latter, he became a prolific maker of capricci etchings of ancient ruins, and vedute ‘views’ of cities, both of which were popularised by his famous contemporary Canaletto (1697-1768).
In 1708, Ricci began his two-year stay in England. Generally unexposed to the Italian Baroque style, English patrons admired his work. This popularity secured him a good living painting scenery for the Queen’s Theatre in Haymarket, London.
His talents also attracted many private patrons who commissioned him to decorate their homes Apollo and the Muses is an example of a ceiling design he may have done for a client. Its loose, light brushstrokes show his adoption of the styles from all the places he visited, resulting in a talent of quickly producing vivid yet ethereal scenes.
In 1730, he is said to have taken his own life dressed in a bizarre costume with a sword so that he could die ‘like a cavaliere.’
Despite achieving great recognition and patronage during his lifetime, art history has largely neglected Marco Ricci, preferring instead to celebrate his uncle. However, he has been described by contemporary critics as ‘one the most versatile eighteenth-century Italian artists’.
See Apollo and the Muses by Marco Ricci in the Under the Same Sky exhibition, on until Sunday 27 June. Safety measures are in place and you will need to book a FREE timed entry ticket to visit.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer 

Marco Ricci. (2000). A Capriccio with Horses Watering in a River outside a Walled Town, c. 1720. Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 26(1), 28-93. doi:10.2307/4104416
Leppert, R. (1986). Imagery, Musical Confrontation and Cultural Difference in Early 18th-Century London. Early Music, 14(3), 323-345. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3127106

Friday, May 14, 2021

David Cox: The Mill (1853)

When The Higgins Bedford reopens on Tuesday 18th May, visitors will once again be able to enjoy our current weather exhibition, Under the Same Sky, featuring works by the finest landscape artists in British art history. One of these artists is David Cox (1783-1859), whose pioneering blend of Romanticism and Impressionism results in such charming watercolour scenes as The Mill (1853).

Born in Birmingham in 1783 to a blacksmith father, he was considered too weak for manual work, and so helped out by decorating its products. After a childhood of artisanal painting and some formal drawing education, he moved to London aged 20 to work as a scene painter but gave up after very little success. 

David Cox, The Mill, 1853 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

A 24-year-old Cox then decided to spend the rest of his working life as a teacher, and was extremely popular as one. He published his Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Water Colours in 1813 due to high demand, and was often praised for his kind, honest character and willingness to help beyond his professional obligation. Meanwhile, he tried to establish himself as an eminent artist by exhibiting his work at the Society of Watercolour Artists. However, he was hindered by his dogged belief in his unconventional style; despite a close social circle that supported him throughout his career, he sold very few paintings. 

Most of his rivals painted in a style that appealed to a public who, according to biographer N. Neal Solly, ‘frequently disliked what was not smooth and highly finished’. Cox, however, despised ‘mere portraits of places’. He championed emotional effect over faithfulness to real-life, as is evident in The Mill.  According to the Dictionary of National Biography, he used ‘few colours and a full brush, disregarding small details in order to greater breadth and brilliancy of effect’. The soft, dream-like qualities can be attributed to his tendency to paint from memory. He disliked directly copying from nature or other artworks, advising in his Treatise that ‘the picture should be complete and perfect in the mind before it is even traced upon the canvas’. 

Cox felt that his best works were painted on a cheap wrapping paper known as Scotch paper. Its roughness allows it to absorb more colour than most surfaces, but leaves little black specks. When asked how he tackled this problem, Cox said ‘Oh, I just put wings on them, and then they fly away as birds’.  

Despite his lack of recognition among his contemporaries, history remembers David Cox favourably. Many consider his style, with its short brush strokes and loose forms, a precursor to the famous Impressionism movement. 

It is no coincidence that his works were fetching enormous sums at auction in the 1870s, a decade that saw the rise of Impressionists such as Claude Monet. From then on, Cox has been considered one of British art’s greatest figures, described by biographer William Hall as ‘second only to Turner… and in some respects, not even second to him.’

See The Mill by David Cox in the Under the Same Sky exhibition when The Higgins Bedford reopens on Tuesday 18 May. Safety measures are in place and you will need to book a FREE timed entry ticket to visit.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer


Cox, D., Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Water Colours, (London, 1813)

Hall, W., A Biography of David Cox: with remarks on his works and genius, (Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: London, Paris & New York, 1881)

Stephen, L., National Dictionary of Biography: Vol, XII: Conder-Craigie, (New York Macmillan & co., 1885)

Solly, N. N., Memoir of the life of David Cox, (Chapman and Hall, 1873)

Friday, April 23, 2021

JMW Turner - Norham Castle on Tweed, Sunrise (1798)

JMW Turner (23 April 1775 - 19 December 1851) Norham Castle on Tweed, Sunrise, 1798, © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, (The Higgins Bedford)

For JMW Turner's 246th birthday, I thought I would show you Norham Castle on the Tweed, Sunrise, painted by Turner in 1798. It is one of the highlights in our weather exhibition, Under the Same Sky. I don’t know when you will get to see it in the flesh, but along with the rest of The Higgins Bedford collection, it will be waiting for you when we reopen.

The exhibition is in two parts, one gallery is devoted to the local impact of weather and the other has artist’s depictions of the sky, drawn from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery collection.

The art gallery began to collect Turner’s watercolours in the 1950s. We now have nine works by him in Bedford, each covering an area of his output and life. When I first started learning about Turner, it was his oils, not his watercolours that I saw first. One of my Dad’s favourite paintings was The Fighting Temeraire in The National Gallery’s Collection. I don’t know what it was in particular that he liked about it, but I like to think it might be the same as me, not the ship being towed, but the coppery sunset that fills the right hand side of the painting.

When I started working with the Cecil Higgins paintings, I learnt about Turner’s watercolours and his legacy of turning watercolour from a simple tool used for topographical depictions and into an expressive and versatile medium, both equal to oil painting. Norham Castle in Bedford’s collection is an early example of this. In 1798 when it was exhibited at The Royal Academy, along with other northern subjects, it was described as having ‘the force and harmony of an oil painting’.

It is again, the sun that I am drawn to in Norham Castle. When Turner first exhibited the watercolour at the Royal Academy, he included in the catalogue five lines by the poet James Thomson (1700–1748):

But Yonder comes the powerful King of Day,

Rejoicing in the East. The lessening cloud.

The Kindling azure, and the mountain’s brow

Illumin’d with fluid gold — his near approach.

Betoken glad.

Thomson was born only a few miles from Norham, so would surely have seen the same scene Turner had risen early from his lodgings to witness, the mountains ‘illimin’d with fluid gold’. In the Tate’s collection there are studies which show how Turner experimented to get this brilliant effect of advancing light.

Bedford’s watercolour is from preparatory studies Turner made on his first trip to Norham Castle in 1797, as part of a tour of the North of England. The castle was to become a lifelong fascination that culminated in the blazing light of Norham Castle, Sunrise, 1845, again in the Tate’s collection

In 1831, Turner passed Norham again and was said to have taken off his hat and made a low bow to the castle. When asked what he was doing he said, “I made a drawing or painting of Norham several years since. It took; and from that day to this I have had as much to do as my hands could execute”. The painting Turner is referring to, is most likely to be Bedford’s watercolour, or is it? In fact there are two identical versions of Norham Castle. We think that the first one Turner painted is, in fact, in a private collection and that was the one that was exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1798. It was seen by an early patron of Turner, Edward Lascelles of Harewood House, who asked him to repeat the scene again resulting in Bedford’s work. Whichever version Bedford’s is, it is a truly remarkable work which hopefully you will be able to enjoy very soon.

Please keep an eye on The Higgins Bedford website for updates on a reopening date at www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk

Written by Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 3

On 5th August 1890, William Pritzler Newland went into partnership with Susan Nash (widow of W.J. Nash – see part 1). W.P. Newland wanted more outlets for sale in the immediate vicinity of his Brewery. He had partly compensated for this by specialising in sales to private customers, but he really needed public houses to be able to expand his trade significantly. The offer of a partnership with the Nash Brewery with a much larger brewing plant than his own in Duck Mill Lane and public houses in Bedford was a heaven sent opportunity for Newland.

Newland and Nash Ltd, Bedford, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.283, Chrystal Collection

In the years 1890-1900, W.P. Newland was the dominant partner of the firm, and masterminded the increased purchase of existing properties, and the development of strategic sites on the newly built estates as public houses.

Susan Nash died on the 12th May, 1895 and so W.P. Newland went into partnership on 9th October 1895 with her 4 sisters: Emily Cressy Nash (19 in 1871), Florence Mary (12 in 1871), Rosa Gertrude (9 in 1871) and Constance Eveline (8 in 1871). The new partnership bought extensively in the Bedford area, and in 1891 they bought 2 lots of the Queens Park Building estate on the corner of Fairfax Road and Iddsleigh Road. On this, they built the 'Globe'. In 1894 the Coventry-Campions to whom Newland was related by marriage sold off a building estate in Bedford and the partnership bought 4 sites from this.

Newland & Nash Ltd, Champagne Brandy Paper Label, BEDFM 1998.105.38

In 1895, they bought 'The Bell' in Sandy, formerly belonging to George Anstee's Brewery at Eaton Socon. By the late 1890's it was clear that neither family would be able to produce another generation of active partners. It was also clear that the steam brewery in Lurke Street was far too small, as it had since 1890 been carrying the business of two Breweries, the Duck Mill Lane having been sold off in 1889. The site of the future 'Bell' also had not been built on. A large injection for capital was therefore needed and so the decision was made to turn the partnership into a Limited Company called Newland & Nash. On 13th August 1897 the two families conveyed most of their joint property (except that in Pavenham and Stevington) to the new firm.

The report states that there had been a steady and yearly increase in sales since 1890, with 3000 barrels of beer and 1000 gallons of spirits made. The brewing plant had been designed to carry on one business and since 1890, it had carried two. In the past summer they had been unable to brew sufficient beer to meet requirements and the plant needed enlarging with new bottling stores, new cooper's and carpenters shops, and an extension of malting. The report stated that the Brewery had 21 public houses in Bedford alone.

The 'Bell' and the 1900-1902 improvements were certificated by H. Young, Architect of Bedford, who probably drew up the plans. The work on the Brewery was completed by 17th April 1900 at a cost of £1,980, 14s, 8d. In 1898 the 'Bell' was built at Westbourne Road and between 1900 and 1902 new offices and an engine room were built for the Lurke Street Brewery, as well as new stables at the Midland Hotel and rebuilding of the 'Chequers Inn' at Wilden.

Newland & Nash Ltd, Bedford, Fine Old Irish Whiskey Paper Label, BEDFM 1998.105.41

On 24th August 1900 William Pritzler Newland was buried at Kempston.

From 1900 to 1936 Newland & Nash continued as the company Director Richard Summers and Claude E. Clark, the Secretary to the Company, replaced W.P. Newland as the other Director. After Newland's death the property of the Brewery continued to expand, buying 9 public houses and other property during the years 1900 to 1914, including the important 'Greyhound' in Sandy.

The First World War naturally slowed this expansion down with only 4 properties being bought before takeover of Wells and Winch in 1922. For a short while, the Brewery at Lurke Street was mentioned. Soon, however, all brewing was done at Biggleswade and only an office remained to run the Bedford area of Wells and Winch property which included the Higgins Brewery (sold in 1927 to Wells and Winch). The name of Newland and Nash continued to be used until 1936 when full integration with Wells and Winch occurred. A number of properties were added during this time including 'The Swan', Bromham and the 'St. John Arms', Melchbourne.

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 2

This second part of the Newland and Nash story starts with F.T. Young and W.P. Newland running a brewery on Duck Mill Lane. Frederick Thomas Young was born c.1835 at 9 Elms in Surrey. By 1862 he was the manager of the long established St. Paul's Brewery, owned by the Newland family of Kempston House. In 1871 he employed 12 men, making it one of the largest breweries of the town. In 1873 on the death of Bingham Newland, the Brewery was sold up and bought by Thomas Jarvis, owner of the recently built Phoenix Brewery. He wanted the public houses as outlets for his own Brewery and always intended to sell the site of St. Paul's Brewery, which he did in 1875 to the Harpur Trust to expand the site of the school. 

F.T. Young & Co, Bedford, Large Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.275, Chrystal Collection

Being made redundant following the St. Paul’s Brewery land sale, F.T. Young decided to set up on his own. He leased an area north of the Duck Mill Lane, St. Mary's Parish, Bedford, from Anthony Tacchi a Carver, Gilder and Barometer maker on the High Street. Young pulled down the existing buildings and constructed a modern brick built steam brewery.

It was fully completed by February 1873. The Brewery formed part of a major development of the Duck Mill Lane area. A variety of tradesmen set up and developed their yards and factory sites there. Samuel Foster, the important Building Contractor, had offices built here at the same time. In 1870 the Island Skating Rink and Pounds for George B. Lincoln were completed. These years also saw the increased development of housing in the area.

On 29th December 1873 F.T. Young bought a small Brewery based on the 'Old Swan' at Eaton Socon from William Bowyer of Buckden for £3,200. The sale included 5 public houses in the Eaton Socon/ St. Neots area.

On 1st October 1874 ,F.T. Young went into partnership with William Pritzler Newland who was the brother of his former employer Bingham Newland. Because of the terms of his brother's will, W.P. Newland had not been able to inherit St. Paul's Brewery. Before going into partnership with F.T. Young William had already run his own malting on the west side of Elstow Road. F.T. Young  following the expansion of his brewery and holdings was short of ready money and struggling to keep up with his bills, so the merger presented many solutions.

Newland and Young, Brewers, Wine and Spirit Merchants, Bedford, Stoneware Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.259, Chrystal Collection

W.P. Newland gained the Kempston estate on the death of his brother. He used the estate as security for a loan and provided the necessary finance to start his joint venture with F.T. Young. They purchased a number of existing public houses but interestingly, they purchased nothing in Bedford, near to their Brewery. With 7 other Breweries (of which 4 were recently built or enlarged) the competition for any public houses for sale was keen in the Bedford area. Newland and Young starting a little after the rest were at a disadvantage. After building the Brewery they had little spare finance for developing building sites for public houses.

On 10th January 1878 F.T. Young transferred his share of the business to W.P. Newland. Whether Newland bought him out or there was a disagreement is unclear, as none of the documents relating to the transaction have survived. W.P. Newland expanded the business at a very slow rate. The scattered nature of the Brewery's holdings must have caused high transport costs and it seems as if the venture was not all that successful as the Kempston estate and the Brewery had to be mortgaged.

W P Newland, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.176, Chrystal Collection

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here. 

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 1

Newland and Nash is a story of several breweries coming together. The first is a brewery owned by Peregrine Nash brewing at St. Mary’s and later Lurke Street. His brewing legacy starts on the 6th and 7th May 1783 when he bought the Brewery site described as a 'Mansion house, with Malthouse and Kiln' in St. Mary's Bedford from Thomas Meacher of Barley End, Ivinghoe, Bucks. Meacher, acting as an agent for Peregrine, had bought the property from the descendants of Richard Bell in March. Richard's father, Robert Bell, held the property since 1697, certainly Malting and probably brewing had taken place on the site for many years before Nash took it on. 

Newland and Nash Ltd, Bedford, Green Glass Beer Bottle, BEDFM 2006.359

By 1819, Nash had renovated the brewery and converted the south of the Brewery from a bakehouse into the Windmill Public House. Peregrine Nash increased his public houses steadily by 2 in the 1780s, 5 in the 1790s, 4 in the 1800s and the site of the Peacock, St. Peter's Bedford (built by 1820). Of these 12 public houses, 7 were in Bedford itself and the rest in villages round Bedford, such as Pavenham, Oakley and Elstow, with Wilden and Marston Moretaine being the furthest away from the Brewery. Around 1810, Peregrine's only surviving son, George Peregrine, became a partner and from then on it is clear that George took over almost exclusive control of the Brewery. Almost at once, the Brewery acquired possibly the second largest Inn in Bedford: The Kings Arms on St. Mary Street, Bedford. They also purchased The Ship Inn on St. Cuthberts Street. Throughout the early 1800s, George continued to buy public houses around Bedford and the surrounding area. 

In 1842, George Peregrine I transferred some of his properties to his eldest son, George Peregrine Nash II, making him partner in the Brewery. However, by July 1843 George Peregrine II was living in London having moved there probably due to ill health, he died on 14th June, 1844. It appears that by 1849 although his father George Peregrine Nash was nominally in charge of the brewery it was William Joseph Nash, his younger son, who actually ran it. 

Nash and Son Bedford, Large Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.337, Chrystal Collection

William Nash saw early on the commercial prospects of expanding in the town of Bedford, buying many more sites, including that of the future Midland Hotel which benefitted from the station being completed in January 1859. In 1867 crisis struck. The bank, Barnard & Wing insisted on security for an overdraft in 1867, which resulted in William taking on a further loan at 3% interest. It was this loan that probably saved him from Bankruptcy. He seemed to recover surprisingly quickly, as in 1869 he purchased the Fox & Hounds public house in Kempston and on 29th April 1870, he paid back his creditors. 

W P Newland, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.176, Chrystal Collection

William was doing so well again by 1874, that he replaced St. Mary's Brewery with a much larger steam brewery at Lurke Street, Bedford in December 1875. By the 7th October 1876, the valuation of the brewery steadily declined and was reduced to zero. William died in 1884 aged 69. His widow, Susan, carried on the Brewery for the benefit of herself and her 5 surviving daughters until 1890. As she was 79 this could only be a temporary measure. She needed the help of an experienced businessman, preferably a brewer, to help her. She found him in W.P. Newland with whom she went into partnership on 5th August 1890. 

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here.

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Frosts and Flurries

With Christmas right around the corner, many of us are holding out hope for a sign of snow. The romantic ideal of waking up on Christmas morning to picturesque snow drifts, like the idyllic scenes on Christmas cards, is as synonymous to the festive season as decked out trees, turkey dinners, and large bearded men dressed in red. Despite the fewer hours of daylight and the increasingly chilly temperatures, a white Christmas is a rare treat for most people in Britain today.

The Higgins Bedford’s current exhibition, Under the Same Sky, showcases artistic interpretations of the skies above, this includes a variety of snow scenes, which demonstrate how snowfall alters our perspective of our surrounding environments. These works capture the chill of the blanketed landscape; the all-consuming white of snow drifts could have proved a challenge for some artists, but here we see how negative space and the absence of pigment has been utilised to portray snow drifts. Regrettably these works have all been “put to bed” for the third time this year, as Bedfordshire is now in Tier 4, so we will have to settle with a digital dose of festive snow scenes instead. 

Arthur Anderson Fraiser
Fenlake, 1889

Arthur Anderson Fraiser (1861 - 1904), Fenlake, 1889, © Cecil Higgins Collection (The Higgins Bedford)

Firstly we have a beautiful watercolour by Bedford born artist, Arthur Anderson Fraiser. Born into a family of landscape watercolourists, the Fraser family produced numerous scenes of the rural East of England, with Arthur having a specific interest in the tranquil, depicting many scenes along the River Great Ouse. Although he was self-taught, Arthur gained national acclaim for his landscapes, exhibiting works at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour.

Fenlake is a snow day that many of us would recognise, a scant blanket only hours away from being slush. Frasier’s snow scene shows the emergence of greenery beneath the frost, suggesting an oncoming spring. The grey sky above could be considered bleak in other conditions but snow fall always manages to add a picturesque charm to the scenery. 

Ker-Xavier Roussel
L’Education du Chien (Training the Dog), 1893

Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867 - 1944), L'Education du Chien (Training the Dog), 1893, © Cecil Higgins Collection (The Higgins Bedford)

Roussel was a painter and lithographer with links to Les Nabis, a French Post-Impressionist group whose work is often characterised by flat planes of colour and a simplicity of line. Their name was derived from the Hebrew word for prophet. There was a spiritual nature to the group’s principles, as they aimed to revitalise painting as ‘prophets of modern art’, believing that painting was the harmonious grouping of colour and line.

It is this simplicity of line and shape that it utilised in L'Education du Chien, with the negative space alluding to snow drifts, and loose lines depicting a chaotic path made by the unruly dog. With its block colour and stylised composition, this print is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, which were considered fashionable throughout Europe in the late 19th century, and comparisons can be made to the snow scenes by Hiroshige.

Much like Fraiser in his snow scene, Russell uses blue tones to suggest a sense of biting cold. In the blue faces of the women pictured, you can’t help but recall bitter winds and numb noses from venturing out into the winters cold. The Les Nabis were big believers in colours being instrumental in conveying experience.

Paul Nash
Snow Scene, c.1943

Paul Nash (1889 - 1946), Snow Scene, c.1943, © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

Paul Nash played a vital role in the development of British Modernism, primarily producing landscapes throughout his artistic career. He is perhaps most well-known for his symbolic war landscapes. His decorative manner of painting, which is present in the works he produced during the First World War, developed into the abstract style which can be seen in Snow Scene, and uses planes of colour and a limited pallet to represent drifts of snow and bowing branches of trees.

Snow Scene would have been painted towards the end of Nash’s life, when he was suffering from a decline in his health due to chronic asthma, a condition that resulted in his death. Although housebound, his love for landscape prevailed, working with a pair of field glasses to sketch the landscapes from his window. In this painting, I think we can share the comfort of viewing the cold weather from the warmth of the indoors.

Under the Same Sky will be on display when The Higgins Bedford reopens until 21st April 2021.

Written by Hannah White, Curatorial Volunteer



Saturday, November 28, 2020

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston – The Dauntless One

Father Trevor Huddleston by David Litchfield, 2011. It hangs in the Great Bedfordians Gallery at The Higgins Bedford. 

"If you could say that anybody single-handedly made apartheid a world issue, then that person was Trevor Huddleston."  Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Father Trevor Huddleston was born in 1913 in Bedford. He became an Anglican priest and monk, an internationally known Anti-Apartheid campaigner and a best selling author.

36 Chaucer Road, where Trevor Huddleston was born and lived until he was 4 years old.

Trevor was born to Ernest Huddleston and Elsie Smith on the 15th June 1913 at 36 Chaucer Road, Bedford. Ernest, Trevor’s father was an Indian Army Officer, who had been born in the Punjab, but educated in Bedford where most of his family lived, being one of twelve children. Ernest joined the merchant Navy at 14 and rose to Commander of the Royal Indian Navy, later serving in the Indian Civil Service. He married Elsie on the 4th August 1904 in St. Paul’s Church in Bedford. Elsie was from a prominent Anglo-Argentinian family, and they had met when they were just children both at school here in Bedford. They had their first child, Barbara in 1909, and then Trevor was born fours year later, but the family only stayed until Trevor was four when they moved to Golders Green in North London. Having completed his High School education, Huddleston became a pupil at Lancing College, Christ Church, Oxford University until 1931. He spent the next couple of years studying Theology at Wells Theological College where he was ordained as a Priest in 1937. In 1939 he joined the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican religious order, based at Mirfield in Yorkshire. He took his vows to become a monk in 1941 at the age of 28. Two years later he was asked to go to South Africa to assist the Communities mission there.

In 1943 Trevor was sent to Sophiatown, Johannesburg, South Africa as the Parish Priest where he served the community for 13 years. In 1949 Huddleston was elected Leader of the Community of the Resurrection in South Africa and was made Superintendent of St Peter’s School, known as the ‘Black Eton of South Africa’. He set up homeless shelters, schooling and feeding programmes and even an Olympic Sized swimming pool.

Shortly after he arrived in South Africa he met Desmond Tutu who was just a boy. Here is Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking about their first meeting and how they got to know one another.

Huddleston also met the famous Jazz musician and trumpet player Hugh Masekela – giving him his first trumpet and later one from the infamous Louis Armstrong as a gift to Hugh, which he played in the Jazz band created by Huddleston at St. Peter’s School. You can hear Huddleston tell the complete story in his interview on Desert Island Discs here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009mfpj

Here is video of Hugh Masekela singing and playing ‘Bring Him Back Home’ (Nelson Mandela)

With the passing into legislation of the Group Areas Act in 1950, Huddleston, along with Nelson Mandela, Helen Joseph and Ruth First became involved in protests against forced removals in Sophiatown.

The protests, along with Huddeston’s decision to close down St Peter’s School, rather than handing it over for government control under the Bantu Education Act, passed in 1953, brought him in regular conflict with the authorities. 

Here Huddleston speaks about when he first met Nelson Mandela:

“Nelson Mandela came into my life directly when the Government decided that all black spots that was areas occupied by blacks too close to the white areas must be removed and my parish was the first, so Nelson came to join the protest against what was known as the Western Areas Removal Scheme. I never had the chance to follow up a deep friendship with Nelson because he was restricted and banned, but it is marvellous to have known him and seen him in action because he was not a demagogue, he was not a man of violence, he was the first black lawyer to practice in Johannesburg”.

On the first day of removals on 9 February 1955, 2000 police officers ousted 100 families to Meadowlands. Trevor witnessed increasing persecution from Apartheid laws, and the injustice of 65,000 people being forcibly removed from their homes in Sophiatown. A new white suburb was built over the rubble and renamed Triomf (meaning Triumph) by the government.

Huddleston witnessed the razing of black communities in the African townships, and the arrest of Nelson Mandela and 155 members of the African National Congress in 1956. He appealed to the Community and the Anglican Church in England for help, but fearing he would be imprisoned or forcibly expelled from South Africa, they recalled him to England.

As a result Huddleston earned his South African nickname ‘Makhalipile’ or dauntless one, named after a bold warrior who adopted another people when their leaders were lost or captured.

Before leaving South Africa, Huddleston attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown, on the 26th June 1955. He was awarded the Isitwalandwe medal, the highest award given by the African National Congress (ANC) to people who have made an outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle of South Africa for his work in protesting against the removals in Sophiatown. This Congress also agreed the Freedom Charter for South Africa, on which Huddleston was included as an endorsement of the Charter.

Huddleston continued to campaign and published his book Naught for your Comfort in 1956 to raise awareness against Apartheid, selling a quarter of a million copies worldwide.

He was a founding member of the Anti-Apartheid movement, becoming Vice President and later President, when the international campaign against apartheid was at its peak.

On the 21st March 1960, 50 black people were killed when police opened fire on a "peaceful" protest in the South African township of Sharpeville. Huddleston and other campaign leaders called for people to boycott products from South Africa in protest.

Following the Sharpeville Massacre the ANC was banned and this led the African leaders to more extreme measures of getting their message across.

On the 12 June 1964 Nelson Mandela was jailed for life, at the court hearing he defended himself with the following words:

"I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites."

This was the second time Nelson Mandela had been tried for high treason - in 1956 he was charged but after a four year trial the case was dropped. At this trial Mandela was convicted of Treason and sent to Robben Island prison for life imprisonment.

During the many years of campaigning Huddleston continued his work as a priest. In 1960 he was able to return to Africa and became Bishop of Masasi in Tanzania, then in 1968 he returned to England and became Bishop of Stepney. In 1978 he was appointed Bishop of Mauritius and then Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean. Alongside this he continued his work as the President of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign.

Trevor had tirelessly campaigned for Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island prison, and finally saw him freed in 1990. The ruling National Party in South Africa realised that it was time for change and in February 1989, PW Botha was forced to step aside as prime minister in favour of the more liberal FW de Klerk. This saw the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island Prison on the 11th February 1990.

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston gave a speech at the 1990 Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute to Free South Africa concert held on the 16th April at Wembley stadium, London. This celebrated Nelson Mandela’s freedom after 27 years in prison.  You can watch Archbishop Trevor Huddleston’s speech that he gave to thousands of people at Wembley celebrating the release of Mandela below.

In 1994 Huddleston would see his friend Nelson Mandela become the first freely elected black President Of South Africa. Huddleston died in 1998, knowing that his life’s ambition to see the end of the discrimination of Apartheid had been achieved. He was Knighted for his work in 1998. 

Nelson Mandela honoured the passing of his supporter and friend by sharing the following about Huddleston’s life and work:

"He brought hope, sunshine and comfort to the poorest of the poor. He was not only a leader in the fight against oppression. He was also father and mentor to many leaders of the liberation movement, most of whom now occupy leading positions in all spheres of public life in our country. His memory will live in the hearts of our people. "

A bronze bust of Trevor Huddleston was crafted by sculptor Ian Walters and is on display in Bedford. Nelson Mandela officially dedicated the bust on 7th April 2000 in Bedford Town Centre and in his speech he said the following in tribute to Huddleston:

“I wanted to pay tribute to one of the greats of the liberation struggle against one of the cruellest ordeals of racial oppression our country has ever seen. I owe this debt to the Anti-Apartheid Movement and to Father Huddleston in particular. It is a great honour for me to be here to say to him, thankyou ”.

It is for his contribution to the Anti-Apartheid movement, as a freedom fighter, co-campaigner and activist alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela that Huddleston deserves to be remembered, not just by the people of Bedford, but across the world.

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Thursday, October 15, 2020

John Sell Cotman – Cain and Abel (c.1800-3)

The Higgins Bedford’s first post-lockdown exhibition, Under the Same Sky, celebrates the impact of weather on a range of watercolours, drawings and prints from our internationally renowned art collection.

Drawn by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) at a sketching club called ‘The Brothers’, Cain and Abel (c. 1800-3) encapsulates the Romantic leanings of many artists at the turn of the 19th century. Its startlingly luminous skyscape and horrifying high drama make it one of the more action-packed works to feature in the exhibition. 

John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), Cain and Abel, c.1800-3 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

Born in Norwich in 1782 to a family of silk and lace traders, a young Cotman was pressured by his father to join the family business. However, intent on a career in landscape painting, he moved to London in 1798, aged just 16, in search of better training and patronage. It is in the capital that he discovered ‘The Brothers’. Founded by a group of eminent landscape artists, notably Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Louis Francia (1772-1839), they would meet at each other’s houses, set a literary source, and draw scenes from it. By routinely practising subjects of history painting, ‘The Brothers’ were training themselves to increase their chances of success in the Royal Academy.

Much like its European equivalents, the Academy taught according to a hierarchy that ranked the genres of painting by their prestige and cultural value. History painting sat at the top of the hierarchy, unanimously considered the most scholarly and technically demanding. Landscape, meanwhile, was one of the least esteemed, sometimes thought of as mere topographical training exercise. Cotman and his peers thus sought to elevate the status of landscapes, by practising a new style of them that blended literary narratives into views of natural scenic beauty. Francia confirms this in his written declaration of the club’s purpose: to ‘[establish] by practice a School of Historic Landscape, the subjects being designs of poetick passages.’

Many of ‘The Brothers’, including Cotman, were already training or exhibiting in the Academy, and so used the club to render their repertoire of artistic subjects and techniques more suited to Academy practice. ‘Brothers’ aspiring to become Academy members may have attended to practise figure composition, as mastery of this was a fundamental requirement to qualify for the Academy; artists who only painted landscapes were ineligible to join.

This does not mean, however, that there was no place for landscapes in the Academy; its first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), believed that a great painting does not necessarily imitate nature, but instead provokes the viewer’s emotions through drama and grandeur. He included landscapes in this discussion, claiming in his Discourses on Art that  ‘a landscape […] conducted under the influence of a poetic mind […] would make a more forcible impression on the mind than the real scenes’. 

Cain and Abel exemplifies how ‘The Brothers’ and their ‘School of Historic Landscape’, consciously tried to adopt Reynolds’ artistic philosophy. Cotman embraces his own ‘poetic mind’ to capture the denouement of this old-testament story in which Cain faces God’s wrath for killing his brother in a jealous rage. He abides by Reynolds’ instructions on how to achieve dramatic effect: ‘by reducing the colours to little more than chiaroscuro’ – the effect of contrasting dark and light tones. The chiaroscuro on the figures emphasises the innocent, pale lifelessness of Abel, and accentuates the symbolic shadow cast over his doomed brother, who awaits his condemnation to a life as a ‘fugitive and wanderer’.

Despite having to draw from the Bible, which contains little description of natural scenery, Cotman uses his Romantic imagination to depict a sky that narrates the story for him. He sets the figures against a minimalistic landscape, theatrically illuminated through more chiaroscuro. Most striking in this backdrop are the bright, powerful lightning bolts to symbolize God’s anger; a motif commonly used in other Bible passages, borrowed here to communicate an idea that is not visually represented in the story’s original text. 

Under the Same Sky also features Cotman’s Mountain-Bordered Lake (c. 1802), in which he similarly contrasts dark and light shades in his mountainous background. He also applies his main rule for depicting nature: ‘to leave out but to add nothing’. This is, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, ‘to the sacrifice of detail but to the enhancement of the general effect’, and underpins his affinity to the Romantic movement led by J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.
John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), Mountain-Bordered Lake, c.1802 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

In his lifetime, Cotman would go on to achieve some success as a watercolourist and draughtsman, but was not considered a great artist. This reputation, however, has immensely improved over time. The DNB, written in 1885, describes him as ‘one of the most original and versatile painters’ of the first half of the 19th century. He continued to receive recognition from future generations; his modernised aesthetic inspired landscape artists from the 1920s such as Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious.

See Cotman’s works, alongside those of Girtin, Turner and Ravilious in Under the Same Sky, open now until 11th April 2021.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer


Published texts:
Binyon, L., English Water Colours, (A&C Black Ltd., 1933)
Binyon, L., John Sell Cotman and John Crome, (London, Seeley & co., 1897)
Rajnai, M., John Sell Cotman, (Herbert, 1982)
Stephen, L., National Dictionary of Biography: Vol, XII: Conder-Craigie, (New York Macmillan & co., 1885)
Winter, D. Girtin's Sketching Club (Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 2, 1974) pp. 123-149.