Most major art exhibitions can be found hanging on the hallowed walls of two or three of our capital cities leading art galleries. As an art lover, this can mean a lot of travelling, an expensive train ticket, long queues at the gallery and hefty admission ticket. It has in the past put me off visiting some exhibitions.
So, it was with much delight that I discovered the highly acclaimed Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, an 18th-century country mansion, situated a short drive away, on the Warwickshire and Oxfordshire border. The house opened as a national art gallery fourteen years ago, under the capable patronage of the Moores family, of Littlewoods renown.
The House, a Grade 1 listed Robert Adam Mansion is set in 120 acres of picturesque parkland, designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the most famous landscape architect of the 18th century. A delightful walk through a small copse takes you past a restored Ice House to a small stone bridge which provides a wonderful view of the grand Georgian Mansion.
The park is rich in history and has a wide variety of activities for both adults and children to enjoy and explore throughout the year, whatever the weather. Activities include bird watching, Tai Chi, orienteering, a labyrinth to explore, nature trails and a family friendly café and gift shop. There is also an outdoor adventure playground for the children.
Be sure to check out ‘Capability’ Brown’s new chapel located on a slope to the north of the main house. Restoration of this magnificent building was completed in summer 2016 and is a real delight. The extensive and attractive grounds also includes a curious art installation called The Clearing, which is a geodesic dome, made of recycled materials, at the edge of a scenic lake.
Compton Verney has also been the location for two film productions; a BBC production of Iris Murdoch’s The Bell and for Peter Hall’s celebrated 1968 film of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring a young Judi Dench.
The house currently displays six permanent artistic collections and two special exhibitions run concurrently, offering a range of historic and modern art.
The Chinese Collection contains one of the finest collections of ancient Chinese bronzes outside of China. The British Folk Art Collection is the largest collection of British folk art in the UK. Folk art is a wide-ranging term includes objects made by untrained artists, or made by people trained as sign-painters who were able to use their painting skills to make their own artworks. The recently updated collection is extremely diverse including weathervanes, shop signs, paintings of animals, street scenes, furniture and agricultural implements. There is also a painting by hugely cherished Cornish folk artist Alfred Wallis.
The Naples Collection (1600-1800) represents a cross-section of artistic masterpieces from the ‘Golden Age’ of Neapolitan Art. The Marx-Lambert Collection celebrates the work of Enid Marx (1902-1998) an English painter, author, illustrator of children’s books and textile designer. The collection showcases work produced by Marx and a large number of examples of folk art which were assembled by Marx and her friend Margaret Lambert (1906-95).
Northern European Collection (1450 – 1650) Northern European artists created a design different from their southern neighbours, characterised by strong detail, gilding and colourful palettes. The British Portraits Collection features portrayals of royal and noble sitters from the Tudor period (1485-1603) including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Edward VI.
From 17th March – 10th June two major special exhibitions are on display. Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship. English Artist Designers 1922-1942 and Created in Conflict: British Soldier Art from the Crimean War to Today.
The grounds re-open after the winter closure on Sat 10 February and the house, galleries and cafe re-open on Sat 17 March.
Discover the delights of Compton Verney, where there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whether viewing the award winning galleries, simply roaming the acres of beautiful parkland or actively taking part in one of the many daily activities.
Telephone: 01926 645 500
Article by: Jim Davis
The Travel Locker
Jim Davis is a retired Northamptonshire secondary school teacher. Having worked as a freelance journalist for many years, writing about the local Northamptonshire music scene and more recently the fortunes of Daventry Town FC, since his retirement, he now writes a travel blog.