They capture the castle
Five Dorset artists tell Joël Lacey what it is they find most inspirational about Purbeck’s iconic ruined fortress: Corfe Castle
Published in August ’15
One has to wonder whether Corfe Castle would be quite so iconic if Parliamentarian soldiers had not sought to make it unusable evermore as a defensible castle. What is certainly true is that it has acted as a magnet for artists for generations, but equally that the art which has been created around it has increased its visibility and its fame and in turn attracted new artists to come and see it and try to capture it.
This month, an exhibition takes place in the village which seeks to draw the essence of what it is that continues to fascinate about Corfe Castle from a group of artists that have painted it for, in some cases, decades. But what is it about the castle that keeps bringing people back to it as a subject?
Weymouth-based Edmund Vine, who has exhibited with the Royal Society of Marine Artists at the Mall galleries, has ‘painted Corfe Castle on and off for 25-30 years’. He says that he ‘must have done well over a dozen paintings of it,’ adding that ‘it dominates the landscape giving choices to me to use it either as a central subject in itself or as a backdrop to things around it.’ This latter option is exemplified in his painting overleaf of the castle with the Swanage Steam Railway train in front of it, which is some sort of doubly iconic Purbeck image.
Judy Tait has not painted Corfe Castle for as long as Edmund, but has lived in the village for 11 years and started painting 9 years ago. ‘For several years I said I’d never paint the castle,’recalls Judy,’ but as I started to gain in confidence I realised what a great subject it was. It’s fantastic to have a subject that can be captured from 360° around it and to look different from every angle and in every light. I did a painting like the one here for Purbeck Art Weeks in 2014 and it sold straight away and generated an awful lot of feedback. I’d done it in a different style – using mixed media – as that really seemed to suit the castle and the sense of bloodshed that there had been there in the past. The castle has been responsible for an entirely new departure in terms of my work.
David Atkins first painted Corfe Castle around 25 years ago when he was visiting Swanage and Durlston on a trip and was staying close to Corfe. But it’s only really in the last thirteen years that it’s become a regular subject. Why? ‘At different times of day and in different light it really changes,’ Says David. ‘It’s a beautiful and romantic subject and it links me back to Constable and Turner and Claude Monet and Titian,’ David adds, before clarifying that ‘it’s just a ruin, but it works better because it’s a ruin; sometimes it becomes ghostly, sometimes it looks quite new.’
Richard Price is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and has exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal College of Arts. His work is concerned with light and atmosphere and falls within the traditions of artists such as Turner and Walter Sickert. While some of his work is done in the studio, Richard is predominantly an ‘en plein air’ painter and most of his work is therefore painted immediately in front of his subject. He likes to paint in themes so he will paint a series of pictures , perhaps not returning to it for quite a long time if ever. He treats Corfe Castle, he says: ‘like Monet treated his haystacks…, as a motif. The first time I painted it it was really atmospheric and was in contre-jour. The last time I painted [see opening picture in this piece] it was from completely the opposite direction; I was out with Judy Tait that day.’
John Bowen was trained at the Byam Shaw Royal Academy Schools and originally was a portrait painter who went into teaching, from which he retired as a senior lecturer in 1997. His work in oils has recently focused on plein air cloudscapes over the Dorset countryside. His watercolour and pastel work is carried out in the studio and is developed from large, detailed drawings made on the spot at Corfe Castle and elsewhere. This traditional process of working from drawings enables him to freely develop a series of strongly coloured and dramatic images from the initial study.
In the image above, there are elements of history with shadows of figures from a Bayeux Tapestry-like design, at odd angles to indicate the falling of soldiers. John also likes to get very close to the stonework when doing his original drawings onto watercolour paper and he gets quite a ‘wideangle’ view of the walls ‘as I’m admiring the Norman builders’ skills.’
On the changeable nature of the castle, John says that ‘on some days it looks quite benign, but back through history there are so many episodes that happened here…’. John describes having a ‘lifelong relationship with Corfe. At the age of 11 I watched a guy painting the castle and I wrinkled my nose at his efforts, which he didn’t take very well’.
Whatever artists’ relationships with each other, the enduring attraction the castle has for artists means that no doubt 11-year-olds are walking round thinking that they could do better, and will set out to do just that. ◗
An exhibition at The Gallery at 41, featuring images from this piece and entitled ‘The Inspiration of Corfe’, will be open from 11 August to 22 August (11.00-5.00 Tuesday to Saturday) at: 41 East Street, Corfe Castle, BH20 5EE 01929 480095 www.galleryat41.com