Thursday, 5 February 2015

Matching the Millais

The Boyhood of Raleigh  by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1870
Photo: © Tate, London 2015

I've been watching members of the Venture Art Group at work on an unusual project, part of the preparations to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of one of East Devon’s best known historical figures.

Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of the young Walter Ralegh and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert sitting rapt as they listen to an old sailor’s tales is one of Tate Britain’s treasures.  Budleigh Salterton people will tell you that the stone wall in the painting can still be seen today, opposite The Octagon, the building where Millais stayed in 1870. 

It seemed only right that this Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece should be displayed in Budleigh’s Fairlynch Museum to celebrate its centenary. 

So indeed it was in 1970, shortly after the museum was founded back in July 1967. It was a masterstroke of publicity for the town, with annual visitor numbers at the museum shooting up from just over 2,000 to almost 12,000 in the space of a year.

The feat was repeated as a millennial event for the museum in 2000. 

This year will see not the original painting by Millais on display in Fairlynch Museum but a copy which is a remarkable collaborative effort by amateur artists from the  Venture Art Group, a splinter group within Budleigh Salterton Art Group.   The painting is due for completion in time for the opening of the Museum’s Sir Walter Ralegh Room on 4 April this year. 

It’s all part of the build-up to 2018, when Sir Walter Ralegh’s death on the scaffold after his eventful life will be marked with more tributes to a great Devon hero.

Venture Art Group member Chris Stacey explained: “We started immediately after Christmas with a postcard of the original painting. Then we made a grid out of it, so we had 30 panels for 20 members to do. We’ve added a bit of extra to make up to 30 panels.”  

At 12.30pm on Tuesday 3 February, the panels were  brought together for the first time. 

 "It's a historic moment! We must have a record!”

“Look! The sailor’s fingers don’t match his hand.”

“Just a dab more Scarlet Lake I think.”

“I love the toucan!”

“Those flowers don’t look quite right.”

“I wanted to paint a complete ship but I could only find a photo of a Dutch vessel to copy from. Nobody’ll notice, will they?

“Looks good to me!”

“That  sea needs a few waves.”

“What do you think? That’s not how Millais has done it.”

“That’s Iris’ work. She helps with costumes at the museum.”

“Hang on! He doesn’t lose his head until later.”

“That sailor's foot looks as if it could do with a wash.”

“Just a little more burnt umber, I think.”

“Still some way to go but we’re getting there.”

“We’ve had a lot of fun with this project.”

“It’s been a team effort - a lovely thing to do as a group.”

“I bet you couldn’t do any better.”

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