Sunday, 14 February 2016

A 'Sofonisba Anguissola' in the Bentlif Art Gallery, Maidstone, Kent

I'm seeking out watercolours of the golden age of English art (1770-1840). Yesterday, I visited the Bentlif Art Gallery in Maidstone which has a fine British watercolour collection (in store). Sadly, there is not a single watercolour on show. There are two reasons for this. First, watercolours do not fare well in light. Second, most visitors  tend to prefer the brightness of oils. Nevertheless, watercolours contain our history and buildings. They also show our long-lost pastoral way of life. I am now contacting the curator for a list of the watercolours that this gallery holds. 

The work by Sofonisba Anguissola in Maidstone
Regional museums and art galleries are often housed in beautiful buildings. Maidstone's is no exception. In the heart of this bland, administrative county town of Kent, stands an ancient 16th century house, Chillington Manor, one of the largest museums in South East England. This building contains The Bentlif Gallery. The Bentlif Gallery is now just one room, filled with the works of the Goodwin family (artists from Maidstone), as well as the works of other minor British artists. Sadly, there is no real focus on Kent. Featured artists are:

16th century Chillington Manor, Maidstone
Harry Goodwin (slide show) was a native painter of Maidstone. His view of a wet main Market Place, Norwich would have been well known to my own East Anglian ancestors.

Arthur Boyd Houghton (slide show) whose oil of Pegwell Bay is on show in Maidstone. He conjures up the clothes of bucolic street life in 19th century England.

David Shepherd (b1941) (slide show) a modern painter whose has a strong interest in modern technology such as ships and planes and also wildlife. Below, in the Bentlif Gallery, he captures modern pastoral Kent, without its vanished peasants. He currently runs a wildlife conservation charity championing conservation projects across the globe, partly using his art to raise funds.

Kent scene by David Shepherd
The gem of the small oil collection is a work by Italian master Sofonisba Anguissola, a female Renaissance artist who became a professional painter at the Court of Philip of Spain. The collection holds her portrait of the granddaughter of the Duke of Parma, painted around 1590. This would have been painted from her studio in Genoa in the home she had with her second husband, a wealthy Genoese merchant. Her exquisite portrait of her elder sister, a nun is held in the art gallery of Southampton. Giorgio Vasari wrote about her that she showed "greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age and in her endeavours at drawing, she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, colouring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings".

Her painting is in the background in this room in the Museum

  • All oil paintings held by the Bentlif Gallery in Maidstone are shown online on "Your Paintings"
  • This worthy online project has not yet covered the (never seen) watercolours in British collections
  • For more on the life and paintings of Sofonisba Anguissola see here
  • Book about the life and correspondence of Sofinisba Anguissola.

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