Circles and Tangents - Art in the Shadow of Cranborne Chase

This summer's major exhibition (25 May - 29 September) will feature the work of Augustus John, Henry Lamb, Ben Nicholson, John Craxton, Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer, Elisabeth Frink, William Nicholson and over 25 other artists connected with Cranborne Chase.

This exhibition brings together a unique collection of paintings and sculpture made by artists who, from the 1920s to the present, have found in Cranborne Chase and its hinterland a landscape of inspiration, seclusion and ‘bare-boned' beauty. Items in the exhibition have been drawn from a variety of sources, many from private collections, and range from early neo-romantic works to contemporary pieces made specifically for this exhibition.

Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Covering 380 square miles, the Chase bridges the counties of Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. It is not only a vast landscape but also an ancient one. With long barrows topping the crests of hills, ‘staring into space, the sphinxes of old England’, ancient tracks and Roman roads, it has always had an air of isolation which has attracted an exceptional array of artists and writers.

Artists in the exhibition from the earlier generation include the Nicholson family (William, Ben, Winifred and E.Q.), John Craxton, Lucian Freud, Augustus John, Henry Lamb, Frances Hodgkins and Katharine Church (Kitty West) as well as less familiar names – fine painters who lived on Cranborne Chase but never actively sought recognition for their work.

E.Q. Nicholson was married to Ben Nicolson’s brother, the architect Christopher (Kit) Nicholson, who designed Augustus John’s studio at Fordingbridge on the edge of the Chase. The exhibition includes early works by John Craxton and Lucian Freud who were welcomed, as young artists, by E.Q. to her home at Alderholt Mill. Particularly fine portraits in the show include Kit by his sister-in-law Winifred Nicholson, and portraits by Henry Lamb, Augustus John and Katharine Church, who ran the Hambledon Gallery in Blandford Forum. Katharine Church had a celebrated circle of friends, including Frances Hodgkins who is represented by three works in the exhibition.

Contemporary artists in Circles and Tangents include Ursula Leach who explores the new ‘face of agriculture’, and Brian Rice, who studies ancient sites on the Chase for his inspiration. There are sculptures in the exhibition by Elisabeth Frink, Peter Thursby, John Hitchens, Jay Battle, Tim Harrisson and Ian Middleton. In the latter part of her life Frink lived in Woolland, near Blandford. Her emotional connections with the landscape resulted in the creation of marvellous pieces such as Seated Man II, which will be situated on the front lawn of the Museum - a visual starting point for the exhibition, and the other sculptures in the Museum’s gardens. It will also be an interesting counterpoint to Frink's Walking Madonna, which is permanently located by the north front of the Cathedral and can be seen from the Museum.

Despite all the changes which have occurred in the last hundred years, with increasing urbanisation of the countryside, the Chase has remained topographically intact. It remains a breath-taking landscape, sparsely populated with large estates, small hamlets and villages; and retains the power to inspire artistic creativity and progressive new art.

Circles and Tangents is curated by Vivienne Light, and is complemented by her lavishly illustrated book of the same name, available from Salisbury & South Wilts Museum or online from Canterton Books  The production of the book was assisted by a grant from the Derek Hill Foundation.

Press and PR for the exhibition is being managed by Lianne Jarrett Associates where some images can also been seen.