We are en famille once more chez Boo. The girls have returned from a few days in London with their dad, and Jason has really, really got today and Monday off, which is an Easter miracle in itself.
We celebrated by me jollying everyone into a day out at Compton Verney, a privately owned stately home which is also a rather gorgeous art gallery a few miles outside Stratford on Avon.
I have been wanting to go there ever since we went to the Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain last year, and I found out that 90% of the things I coveted madly were on loan from Compton Verney. It’s only an hour from our house, in a transcendentally gorgeous part of the world, so it went onto my bucket list and stayed there for months, because I couldn’t quite get myself organised enough to go.
Jason hates art, and is dubious about history, but has been trained in the ways of architecture by my passion for the National Trust properties, and is now a quiet lover of such places, especially if they have tea rooms. Compton Verney, it transpires, has a tea room and a restaurant, so he was slightly less reluctant about going than he would be under normal circumstances.
Compton Verney was designed by Robert Adam and Capability Brown and sits in 120 acres of beautiful grounds. There is a lake full of grebes and herons, the cutest ice house you’ve ever seen, which the children were convinced was a witch’s house, and a magnificent chapel which is currently being restored.
The main house has modern extensions and renovations which are clearly new but somehow perfectly sympathetic to the existing architecture and which, to my mind, make the building more dynamic and exciting. It is a gorgeous place, and Jason and I played our favourite, ‘I could live here’ game, pretending to be lord and lady of the manor.
The folk art collections are a joy to see. They are a fantastic melange of paintings, sculptures, shop signs, corn dollies, ceramics, tea trays and other things, including my all time favourite, quilts. There were so many things I could easily have found room for in my house I stopped coveting individual items and just decided I’d quite like the entire collection.
I discovered the work of Enid Marx, a passionate collector and fan of folk art, who was a designer and illustrator, and a contemporary of Eric Ravilious who I love. Her work is quite similar to his. If you like that kind of thing you will love her. I am a big fan of Mark Hearld, a contemporary designer, and it was clear to see her influence on his work too. Fascinating stuff if you’re a bit geeky like me.
The folk art collection is a permanent fixture at Compton Verney, but they also have seasonal exhibitions. At the moment you can see a room full of Canaletto’s, which did not, excuse the pun, float my boat, but which may delight your hearts. The other exhibition however, totally blew me away.
It focussed on the work of the photographer, Martin Parr. I’ve seen some of his later, colour photography and not been especially thrilled, but this was different. Parr moved to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire in 1970 and began taking photographs of the people and their way of life, a way of life which was slowly becoming obsolete, as the mills that were the heart of the area started to close down.
Parr took thousands of photographs of ordinary people, their lives, their jobs, their passions and hobbies, and this is what makes up the exhibition at Compton Verney.
It is beautifully curated, and the pictures absolutely sing out from the walls. They are wry and witty, loving and compassionate and so perfectly composed they reminded me of poetry. The light in each one is absolutely amazing and at times turns the images into a kind of transcendental experience. They are stunning in the truest sense of the word. I loved them so very much, they actually made me a bit teary.
It was a terrific and unexpected treat.
It was well worth the wait to go, but I won’t wait so long to go back.
If you’re thinking of visiting, we paid £30 for a family ticket which covered two adults and up to four children, and included entry to see the Canaletto and Parr exhibition. You can get a family ticket for £16 if you don’t want to see the temporary exhibitions. They also offer a year long family ticket for about £60.
I can’t comment on the tea rooms, because, unusually for us, we decided to save our appetites for a new Thai place we’ve discovered in Leicester, which also turned out to be great.