Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Christmas in Bracknell on a Rainy Day


Thanks for calling in.

Woo hoo!  The Christmas lights have been turned on in Bracknell, the town is festively decorated, looking great even on a rainy day.

New for this year are the wooden huts.

Also new is Lapland right in the middle of the town shops.  There's a delicious perfume wafting along the street as you approach the enchanting Lapland Wish Store, an off-shoot from LaplandUK based in Ascot, a few miles away.  Inside, you can enjoy a story from Wish, the Elf.  There's an Elven post box for children to post their Christmas wish list to Santa - six of these wishes the Lexicon shopping centre say will come true.  It's all coloured lights, toys and Christmas trees.

I was surprised to see that LaplandUK was in Ascot and that it's been there for 12 years too!  Here's a link to their website if you'd like more information.


Monday, 25 November 2019

The Art of Gustave Courbet


Thanks for visiting.

The third art talk this year was about Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who was the main exponent of Realism in 19th Century France.  He challenged convention and academic practice by depicting modern life and genre on a large scale using innovative style and technique. It's coming up to his 100th anniversary this year.

Here are my notes.

Courbet was born in and had a life-long link with Ornans, a picturesque limestone area in France.  His parents were wealthy farmers, he studied in Besançon and went to Paris to become a lawyer.  Whilst there, he spent a lot of his time in art galleries and decided to become an artist instead and happily he had the support of his father.

By 1842 one of his first self portraits - Courbet with a Black Dog 1842-44 - was admired at the Salon.  In the painting, he's depicted as a dandy with an English spaniel which were fashionable at the time, in the countryside near his home, a wanderer, confident, mysterious, it's a romantic portrait.

He was inspired by Velasquez,  Rembrandt and Ribera, who was Spanish but lived in Naples.  Courbet admired his use of sombre colouring, subject matter - the poor - and the technique of using fine detail for the features but quick brushstrokes for the clothes and background.

Courbet's large pictures created a huge shock at the time.  In those days only historical works were deemed worthy of being painted on a monumental scale but his The Stone Breakers (1.56m x 2.57m), Burial at Ornans (3.15m x 6.6m) and Young Women from the Village (1.94m x 2.61m) were not considered suitable subject matters for such large canvases as they depicted the harshness of life for the poor with the figures not even facing the viewer, a burial portrayed as a frieze using the actual villagers who attended the funeral as models and they thought the women from the village were ugly and the cows too small - they called it the Watteau of ugliness, not only that but clothing and other areas didn't look finished.  They contrasted it against the sugary sweet The Stonebreaker by John Brett which was more what they expected and accepted.  Critics thought his dark paintings like The Burial were far too dark.

He was so upset by all the negative comments that he set up his own temporary Salon next to the Universal Exposition called Courbet's Pavilion of Realism where he exhibited 40 paintings including 2 of his large works.

Courbet followed the ideas of modern writers like Flaubert, Baudelaire within literature and thinkers Champfleury and Proudon against convention.

His Patron, Alfred Brayas, supported him and their meeting is portrayed in Bonjour Monsieur Courbet where the Artist with a striking beard is shown in an arrogant pose, not pandering to his Patron.

The Artists Studio A Real Allegory Summing up Seven Years of my Artistic Life 1854 (3.61m x 5.98m) is considered his masterpiece.  It is divided in two parts with the artist painting a landscape, his passion, in the middle of the work with a semi nude female model next to him, who he classified as a co-worker.  On the left, the group of people represent Society, together with traditional ideas like the male nude and guitar and to the right are his friends and supporters - his Patron, Baudelaire reading a book, Zola, Flaubert, Proudon, Champfleury, free love.

He loved painting dogs and hunting scenes which were very popular.

His portraits of Baudelaire  and his friend Chenavard are not posed, very realistic, highlights on the face and hands on the former, Spanush influence, thick brushstrokes on the latter.

Self Portraits 1844-5 the Desperate Man shows him as a young man on the brink of moving from the traditional ways to romanticism, which focuses on the individual, showing his wavy hair, billowing shirt and his elbow coming out of the picture.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Self Portrait 1848-9  shows him as a man considering his future with a pipe, a fanatic, rejecting his academic training.

In Self Portrait at Sainte Pelagie 1872, he's much older, relaxed even though he's in prison.  This came about after France's turbulent history at that time when he joined the Paris Commune.  He wrote a pamphlet saying that the Column glorifying Napoleon despite all the deaths associated with the battles.  The Column was actually destroyed which resulted in Courbet being taken to prison, where he still wanted to paint but could only do still life.  He also did a few sketches of the conditions inside the prison showing children were there as well and managed to smuggle the sketches out.  The Government rebuilt the Column and told Courbet he must pay for it in instalments.  He exiled himself to Switzerland but the authorities pursued him but he died just before the first instalment was due.

The Artist Cabanel had huge success with his Birth of Venus (1883-89) which was bought by Napoleon III for his private collection, even though it was a nude, it was acceptable to the Salon as it was in classical tradition except that Venus' eyes are open.

Contrasted with that artwork, Courbet's The Bathers, The Source and Sleep were considered shocking as the women were very realistic even though in classical poses. Some of his paintings created police reports as they were thought outrageous.

His landscapes were his main love,  particularly those done around the River Loue in the limestone area where he was born.  He was very successful with these.  He had a house near the sea later in life where he painted the sea and waves just outside the window using a kitchen knife.  He called them his landscapes of the sea, full of atmosphere, turbulent skies and water. His Beach near Trouville in 1865 was almost abstract.  He was one of the artists that the Impressionists looked back to for inspiration.

He sounds like an interesting character.


Friday, 22 November 2019

Five in Tinsel


Thanks for calling in.

Parking in Wokingham has gone right down hill since all the renovations of the town, which are still ongoing.  So many car parks have bitten the dust that the previous thriving events on at the library, have seen their numbers attending plummet because the chances of being able to park the car are minuscule.  To make matters worse, the car park near the library is all roped off but empty even though planning permission has been denied, that's 100 spaces that could be used and earning money for a bit longer.  Arrgh progress!

My rather rushed five this week are around the town.

1.  A Waitrose - a welcome sight since my local has closed down.  I've stocked up on those delicacies one can't live without!

2.  A wonderful wool shop with cotton for patchwork quilting too.  Such a tempting place to wander round with an equally wonderful name Stitchery Do.

3. Christmas decorations are becoming more apparent with the  Winter Carnival happening at the weekend.  The theme is A Space Adventure to mark 50 years since the Moon Walk.  Let's hope the weather is good for all the organisers who have spent all year planning.

4.  Look at that grey sky!  It was so cold too.  Pity the poor market traders having to stand around all day.

5.  A book to finish off the five.  Here's a review by Publishers Weekly  It wasn't my favourite though.

Wishing you all a great weekend.


Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Autumn Park


Welcome to the blog.

Even on a misty morning before the sun eats through the clouds, it's a colourful time of year.  Here's the park by the shops in full Autumn dress.

That last photo doesn't contain an apparition,  it's a waterfall!

Inside, the Christmas craft fair was in full swing.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Baroque in England


Thanks for popping in.

Time for the second Art talk of the season - Baroque in England!  Here are my notes.

Next year, 2020, Tate Britain will be having an exhibition about the Baroque in England, which flourished following the Restoration of the Monarchy  in 1660.  Many portraits were commissioned from Peter Lely and Godfrey Kneller, murals by James Thornhill and Antonio Verrio to express status and power.  Christopher Wren's churches and John Vanburgh's palaces were built in a Baroque  style unique to England, more restrained to that in Europe.  That particular era has been previously neglected in exhibitions.

The English Baroque style was based on three areas :

a) Religion - counter reformation, emotional, naturalistic, illusory - creating the idea of another world, divinity through art, transportation of rulers into divinity.

b)  Absolute power - art to support the State, strong, cultivated images.

c)  Search for the new, as in science,  increase in rationality.

John Michael Wright (1617-94) was the Painter in Chief to Charles II.  His famous painting from 1676 shows Charles II in a pose similar to the way that Louis XIV was portrayed, showing power and status with Royal symbols of office including St Edward's Crown and wonderful opulent textures in his clothes.  Behind him is a tapestry The Justice of Solomon, indicating that the King stands for justice within the country. His legs are spread wide to echo a painting of Henry VIII reinforcing his legitimacy on the throne. It is a good likeness too.

Link to photo of Charles II by John Michael Wright

Another representation of the new King, this time a gilded copper sculpture by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) in the grounds of Royal Chelsea Hospiral, shows him in classical tradition like a military leader, a Roman Emperor, which is particularly fitting for its position at the Hospital.

At this time, Christopher Wren was busy building churches for the expanding City of London after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  His first and second proposals for St Paul's Cathedral didn't go down well.  The second one looked too foreign and Catholic, being based on a Grecian cross with a dome, but his third proposal - a warrant design with gothic pinnacle, was accepted with the King permitting the Architect free licence with the ornamentation.  Wren used this reason to aid him to get his dome back into the design and no one complained.    It was based on St Sophia in Istanbul but used a combination of different styles.  Grinling Gibbons did the swirls on the outside and lime wood festoons on the Bishop's Throne inside.  He was Dutch but both his parents were English.  It was too expensive to have mosaics for the dome, so James Thornhill  (1671-1734) painted the dome in grisaille creating an illusory painting. Portland stone was difficult to get at the time of building because of the war.

Link to Photo of St Paul's Cathedral dome

Other examples of Wren's work were Trinity College Library, Cambridge which has hints of classical building and links well with adjoining buildings.  It has Doric order columns, large windows and an ordered appearance.   Fountain Court, Front Facade of Hampton Court has order, symmetry,  temple, pediment, brick and stone.  Antonio Verrio painted the large area around staircase in the King's Apartments inside, giving it a 3D effect and with references to classical figures.

Hampton Court Palace East front facade photo from pinterest

Hampton Court Palace Fountains Court photo from Commons Wikimedia

The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich was also designed by Wren for Queen Mary.  He made a feature of the smaller Queen's House in the centre, with two buildings either side, the back ones slightly larger so that when seen from the River, they looked as if they were connected.  The colonades and balustrades link the buildings together and Wren also managed to get two small domes into the design as well.

Greenwich Royal  Hospital for Seamen photo Andrew Cusack website

Within the buildings, James Thornhill created the Painted Hall,  Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny for George I and his family, who appear in it indicating his was a peaceful reign, crushing tyranny and the Pope,  Justice is represented by the woman with the sword and Apollo presides over the arts.

Sir John Vanburgh built Seaton Delavel Hall in Northumberland with its mixture of styles and Venetian windows

Nicholas Hawksmoor was Clerk in Charge of Works, building churches in London, classical and gothic.

Sir Peter Lely was challenged by Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, to paint all the female courtiers including the beauty,  Barbara Villiers Duchess of Cleveland.  They were all done in harmonious colours, with rich textures and good likenesses.

Godfrey Kneller painted William III on horseback portraying a world of plenty, power and intellectual pursuits.

John Vanburgh was a friend of Godfrey Kneller from the renown Kit Kat Club where they shared  ideas.  Kat was the owner, kit were mutton pies.

Edward Pierce made the most important sculpture of period of Christopher Wren with lovely, very lifelike curls.


Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Crazy Hat


Thanks for popping in.

Would you like to see my crazy crochet hat?  It's come out much bigger than I expected!

It's very easy to make:

Foundation row - chain 128, miss the first ch, *1 double crochet in the next 9 ch, 3dc in next ch, 1 ch in next 9 ch, decrease over next 3 ch (insert hook in next ch, yarn over, draw up a loop, miss next ch, insert hook in next ch, yarn over, draw up loop, yarn over and pull through the 3 loops on the hook).  Repeat from * until you've finished the chain.

From now on you'll be working in the back loop only of each dc.

1st row - 1 ch, decrease over next 2 dc (insert hook in next dc, yarn over, pull loop through, insert hook in next dc, yarn over, pull loop through, yarn over, pull through the 3 loops you have on the hook) 1 dc in next 8 dc, *3 dc in next dc, 1 ch in next 9 dc, decrease over next 3 dc as above, 1 dc in next 9 dc and repeat from * until the final 11 dc.  3 dc in next dc, 1 dc in next 8 dc, decrease over next 2 dc as above.

Just repeat Row 1, changing colours when you fancy, until 30 rows have been completed.

Sew the side seam, maybe using the ends if you have enough and they are long enough.

The top 6 rows fold in towards the centre to close the hat.  Sew in place.

The bottom 6 rows fold up.  I've attached a bobble on each point to hold them in place. Here's a link to a bobble pattern.

I hope that's not too confusing!  Once you get in the swing of the ripple, you won't need the pattern!!


Monday, 18 November 2019



Thanks for calling in.

It's the Art Season with some more Art History talks on at the moment.  Here are some of my notes.

Rembrandt van Rijn was born in 1606 in Leiden in The Netherlands.  He trained with Pieter Lastman who was an old school Artist.  He moved to Amsterdam in 1631 and stayed there never travelling abroad.  Tragedy dogged his life.  He lost clientele as he aged but worked all his life.

Important historical facts around his lifetime -

1579 - Treaty of Utrecht, Holland becomes independent with a growing middle class who support arts.

Protestant refugees from Antwerp arrive.  Amsterdam becomes a trade centre.

1602 - the Dutch East India Company was set up giving more opportunities for art.

1609 - truce with Spain.

1621 - the Dutch West India Company set up

All these things help Amsterdam to become a prosperous, confident place attracting the best artists and money.

The Dutch were Protestant but in private some liked religious paintings.  Rembrandt's early religious paintings were dramatic and expressive as shown in his Belshazzer's Feast from 1636-8, light and shade, figures coming out of the dark background, strong line, foreshortening of the person in the foreground brings the viewer into the action and wonderful texture were quite new in those days.

His use of light within the religeous paintings highlighted the good, light of God, whereas the dark, sketchy backgrounds hinted at foreboding.  He created human scenes for religious subjects with real people in natural situations, highlighted with light.

Rembrandt lived in the Jewish area and moved within Mennonite circles, he was interested in and open to religeous imagery.

The Woman taken in Adultery 1644 shows grand architecture taking over much of the picture with the way of the Old Testament in the background contrasting with the brighter simpler area with Jesus and the woman representing  the New Testament in the foreground, the two pillars towards the back echoing the two figures in the front.

The Woman taken in Adultery 1644

Rembrandt was commissioned to paint Descent from the Cross 1650-2 as Rubens had done a similar painting for Antwerp Cathedral but Rembrandt's was very much more realistic.

His older works become less precise and blurry and therefore less popular.

The action in the famous painting Night Watch (real name - The Militia Company of Captain Frans Bannink Cocq 1662) is actually happening in daytime but the painting is very dark due to deterioration of pigments.  This was a very different way of showing militia groups  from the usual in those days as there is movement amongst the characters.

Similarly the men portrayed in The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers Guild 1662 have their own personality despite wearing very similar clothes.  The Artist would have received more money, the more people were in the painting.

Portraits were the way Rembrandt made his money even though in those days they weren't as prized as the religeous paintings.

In those days, portraits of couples were usually done in two separate paintings but Rembrandt painted Jan Rijcksen and his wife Griet Jan's 1633 in a natural, animated way within the same work.

One of first portraits made him really popular - Nicolaes Ruts 1631 - it had lots of fine detail but by 1654 when he painted his friend Jan Six, his work was not so precise and rather patchy and he lost his popularity.

Portrait of  Nicolaes Ruts 1631

His etchings had great depth and 3D appearance.

His landscapes, which he enjoyed painting, consist of a strip of land with two thirds of the painting dedicated to the turbulent sky.

An example of a still life work is The Slaughtered Ox 1655 which is symbolic of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Rembrandt is well known for his self portraits  which he did to study the effects of light and shade as well as facial characteristics.

Self Portrait 1629

I enjoyed seeing the wonderful Rembrandt artworks, many with more detail hidden in the dark backgrounds.   They must have looked striking when freshly painted with their innovative compositions.


Friday, 15 November 2019



Thanks for visiting.

Here's my five for this week.

1.  Mr CK had to rescue this little hedgehog.  He was tootling up the road outside the house in the middle of the day, wandering from side to side.  One car had already driven over him and another, thankfully stopped to let him meander back towards the path.   He was popped in the garden and fingers crossed found somewhere cosy to hide.

2. Last Saturday at around 5 pm, I was surprised to see the garden bathed in an orange glow similar to that in Port Macquarie in Australia.  It wasn't a normal sunset and it wasn't because of a distant bush fire as in Australia.  A bit of a mystery.

3.  Do you like Richard Osman's House of Games?  It's a quiz show with a difference played for half an hour a day over a week where four celebrities grapple with silly games like - Mouse of Games, Answer Smash, Z to A, Roonerspisms, I could go on and on there are so many games!  I like seeing how the four contestants develop over the five days, some start off quite nervous others are really competitive.  It's really jolly too.

4.  Not quite ready to show you, here's my crochet work in progress.  Can you guess what it is?

5.  Mr CK has a new project on the go.  It's a small scale experiment with hot composting.   Kitchen peelings have been put inside a milk bottle which has holes in the bottom which has been inserted into half a milk bottle to catch any drips.  There are holes in that as well as in the green lid to allow air circulation.   He's monitoring how long it will take for the peelings to break down.  Unlike a commercial hot composter, the experiment doesn't  have any insulation or temperature sensing yet but hopefully shortly we'll have a bottle full of compost!

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, 14 November 2019

Heir Hunting


Thanks for popping in.

I went to a talk by a representative of an Heir Hunter company who try to trace all beneficiaries linked to unclaimed estates belonging to those who have died without a will.  Here are my notes.

A list of these estates are published by the Government Bona Vacantia Division on their website which is released every day sometime between 8 am and 5 pm and is freely available for anyone to view.  New cases are added to the list every day and these stay on the list for up to 30 years until a link to a beneficiary can be proved.  If nobody is found, the assets go to the Government.

If someone was to spot a relative on the list, the order of entitlement in which claims can be made is - spouse, children, grandchildren,  parents, siblings and children, half blood siblings and children, grandparents,  aunts and uncles and their children and half aunts and uncles and their children although if the deceased was an unmarried only child with no children, you can only go back as far as the grandparents.

There are numerous companies who undertake the work to trace beneficiaries - there are 10 large properly set up companies as well as 30-40 small or one man bands, anyone can set themselves up, but it can be quite a task to do the work from the often scant or even misleading information held on the lists and everything has to be undertaken in a legal manner.  Some cases can have as many as 87 beneficiaries for example. A probate genealogist is usually cheaper than using a solicitor.

The deceased has to be referred to the Bona Vacantia Division to go on the list, this referral can be made by landlords, councils, banks, a neighbour or whomever knows that the deceased had an asset - money, house and contents, shares, anything with a vale of over £500.

Typically between 0 and 94 cases are added each day to the list with there currently being 8,000 cases on it at the moment.

The Heir Hunter companies  look at the list each day and choose which cases they want to work on and will make a start at tracing descendants using the genealogy websites.  They send out letters or telephone the descendants they have traced and try to secure a contract with a beneficiary before another company or individual does.  If letters are received, potential beneficiaries should check carefully that the company sending them are legitimate before signing anything.

In order to be able to take the case on, the contract plus 2 forms of ID from just one of the beneficiaries has to be submitted to the Government and if approved, that case will be deleted from the list.  It could happen that several different firms representing different beneficiaries from the same case could be involved, in which case they have to work together with one appointed as Administrator,  effectively acting like the Executor of a will.

The Administrator takes ownership of the assets prior to probate, this can be a house, the contents, car, photos, a boat, whatever has been left.  These items have to be dealt with - stored, cleared and sold.

All beneficiaries have to be traced before probate can be granted and the estate can then be disbursed amongst the beneficiaries.  Only then do the firms get their percentage of the money collected from the estate.

It all sounds like a huge, emotional task but the stories of the individuals involved must be really interesting.   If you'd like more information about this, here's a link to the Government website.


Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Orla Kiely


Thanks for visiting.

Winchester Library or Discovery Centre has the most fantastic exhibitions, it's always worth having a look if you're in the area.  There's only one room for the main exhibition and another room for a smaller display. They are always free too.

 As we shot past on our way to the station, the posters were advertising Orla Kiely A Life in Pattern exhibition,  I had to go in!

 The Dublin born fashion designer began her career designing hats and then moved to handbags, kitchenware, wallpaper, stationary and even cars.

So many wonderful patterns have been produced over the last 20 years.  Don't they look so familiar.

Look at all the handbags!  Which one would you choose?

The exhibition is on until 5th January.