A Wessex Scene at the Tisbury tithe barn

MESSUMS Wiltshire, the contemporary art centre in the 13th century tithe barn at Tisbury, celebrates art in the landscape  in A Wessex Scene, from Saturday 2nd to Sunday 31st December.

For centuries, artists have been inspired by the landscape of Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom stretching across south west England, which was resurrected as a concept by the great Dorset writer Thomas Hardy in the 19th century.

In an 1895 preface to the novel Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy described Wessex as ‘a merely realistic dream country’, capturing the wild and fantastic nature of this archaic place, mostly unchanged in spite of the passage of time.

In this new exhibition, A Wessex Scene, Messums hopes to recapture the magic of Hardy’s description with a remarkable collection of paintings, drawings and etchings which illustrate the rich history of the ancient region, including sites such as Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge and Durdle Door, scenes painted by renowned artists Turner and Constable and now in national collections.

A Wessex Landscape follows Roots Up, the powerful and massive exhibition by American sculptor and installation artist Judy Pfaff, who was similarly inspired by the remarkable natural and artistic heritage on the landscape around Tisbury and across Cranborne Chase.

Artists in the show include David Inshaw, who lives at Devizes, husband and wife James and Kate Lynch, who live overlooking the Somerset Levels, and Norman Ackroyd, known particularly for his etchings and contemporary prints, who is showing two images of Wardour Castle, created specifically for this exhibition. His wonderfully atmospheric and expressive etchings capture the English Heritage-managed site at this time of year, when the fog sits low on the hills and the days are darker and the ruins are even more mysterious than usual.

A Wessex Scene will also include artists working in the early to mid 20th century, whose response to the landscape was imaginative and occasionally semi-abstract, such as Henry Lamb, Rex Whistler, John Craxton, Philip Wilson Steer, Elizabeth Frink and Brian Rice.

Perhaps the highlight of the show  is Henry Lamb’s colourful Village Street, Evening, a gathering of villagers and family members where he lived in Coombe Bisset, a village 13 miles from Tisbury.  Coombe Bissett was the inspiration to Henry Lamb as the Hampshire village of Cookham was to his great friend Stanley Spencer. Lamb used soft pastel hues to evoke an idyllic pastoral scene of the summer dusk. Lush green dominates the canvas and the brushwork is soft and dappled, extending an invitation of relaxation to the viewer.

A Wessex Scene will be in Messums Wiltshire’s new space, the Long Gallery, next to the main gallery in the 13th century tithe barn, the largest of its kind in the country. The new gallery has a panoramic glass window, viewing straight onto the rolling hills of the Fonthill Estate, home to the greatest collector of the 19th century, William Beckford.

Messums Wiltshire is open from Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm. For more information visit www.messumswiltshire.com

The artists featured are: Norman Ackroyd RA, Tessa Coleman, John Craxton, Simon Fletcher, Dame Elisabeth Frink, Bella Hoare, David Inshaw, Henry Lamb RA, James Lynch, Kate Lynch, Quentin Martin, Binny Matthews, Paul Newman, Howard Phipps, John Piper, Luke Piper, Richard Pomeroy, Brian Rice, Chris Riisager, Jonty Sale, Tim Scott Bolton, Robin Tanner, Dan Whistler, Rex Whistler, Philip Wilson Steer

Pictured: Village Street, Evening, by Henry Lamb; On Woodminton Down by James Lynch; Nudes dancing by David Inshaw.