Category Archives: Art

The Serpentine Walk in Buxton

The Serpentine Walk in Buxton is a secluded extension of the Pavilion Gardens. Crossing Burlington Road, the path follows the same River Wye and snakes back round again to rejoin the larger expanse of public park. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has some old views of The Serpentine Walk that show how the trail has changed dramatically over the years.

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The children posing in the foreground of this black and white postcard are dressed in Victorian fashion, giving us a clue to its age. The background reveals a Serpentine that looks so wild and untamed, it is almost unrecognisable. Only the characteristic bending of the river betrays its location. Over a hundred years ago, this part of Buxton would have been on the fringe of town, decades before the encroachment of an urban sprawl. It must have been wonderful to be a child with all that wilderness to explore.

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We fast forward to 1935 for this next image by J.R. Board who ran a photography shop on The Quadrant not too far away. Again, the way the people are dressed confirms its age. We can see clearly that The Serpentine has been trimmed and tidied and supplied with ample seating, probably to suit the more refined expectations of the age. It looks slightly bigger than the park does today, though the house in the background is still there.

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There are several prints in Buxton Museum’s collection depicting this view of The Serpentine. The Rustic Bridge must have been an attractive feature at one time but there is no trace of it now. Only the presence of the spire on St. John’s Church in the background is familiar.

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The far end of the Serpentine was captured in watercolour by J.W. Keightley in 1962. The painting is currently on display on the landing of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, along with an assortment of rarely-seen artworks from Derbyshire’s collection until Easter. You can plan your visit here.

For those interested in the history of the town, adjacent to The Serpentine Walk is the oldest settlement in Buxton; Lismore Fields. My colleague, Joe Perry, has already written about this and it even has its own dedicated website.

Derbyshire County Council retains copyright for all images in the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery so please drop us a line at buxton.museum@derbyshire.gov.uk if you wish to use them.

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Do you recognise this place in the Peak District?

We have a bit of a mystery at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. “Winter” is a photography exhibition by John Vere Brown. The portfolio of 23 silver bromide prints of winter landscapes is his only known Derbyshire work. Why these images were taken and how they came into Derbyshire County Council’s collection is not clear. Equally perplexing is the precise location of the photographs and visitors and museum staff alike are wondering exactly where Mr Vere Brown took his walk.

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John Vere Brown (1925 – 2000) trained as a painter at Kingston Art School and took up photography during his military service in India in the 1940s. He is best known known for his photographs of actors working in British theatre in the 1960s and 1970s. He also photographed public figures and took pictures for magazines including House & Garden and The World of Interiors. John Vere Brown’s work can also be found in the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum archive and the Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol.

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The prints on display in Buxton are wonderfully representative of a time before digital photography and mild winters. Most of the landscapes show endless white fields and dry stone walls and could be anywhere in Derbyshire. The best chance of pinpointing the trail probably lies with identifying the remote sloping cemetery shown in two of the images, or the stone with the hole. These photographs may have been taken 40-50 years ago so it’s a long shot but if you think you know, please get in touch at buxton.museum@derbyshire.gov.uk

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Winter is on display until 27 January and Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is open over Christmas and the new year (click here for opening times) so you could come in and view the exhibition for yourself. You can also see the brand new Wonders of the Peak gallery, an exhibition by local art students and a gift shop brimming with unusual trinkets. All admission free. We look forward to seeing you.

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Bicycles of the Stone Age

Archivist Ian Gregory makes another curious discovery amongst the myriad collections of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery:

It has often been said that there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to technology this is, I think, an exaggeration. If we are thinking of art or entertainment, it’s more accurate.

Today at Buxton Museum, I’ve catalogued a cartoon on a glass slide. Although it has a Victorian look to it, the idea of it reminded me of The Flintstones TV series that I watched as a child.

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The glass slide depicts a cartoon cave dweller on a Penny Farthing bicycle with stone discs for wheels. He is cycling down a gentle slope, watched by onlookers dressed in animal skins. Cave mouths yawn in the background. On seeing this, I thought of The Flintstone clan with their stone car and their “prehistoric” equivalents of 20th century devices. Oh, and a pet sabre-tooth which its owner puts out for the night over the closing credits.

I don’t know if the creators of Fred Flintstone ever saw our little cartoon; they probably didn’t, but despite a gap in time of about 100 years, the brains of the two cartoonists must have thought along similar lines. There is irony here as people in the 1960s often depicted the Victorians as repressive. Could it be that they had more in common than they realised?

The Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition 2017

The 35th Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition is now available to see until 1st September. Each year we invite artists, both professional and amateur, to capture aspects of life and landscape in Derbyshire, illustrating why the county is special to them.

This year the judges looked at 264 entries, and selected 80, including 17 works from young people aged 21 and under.  The selection was made by Louise Potter, Derbyshire representative for the Art Fund; Louise Cross, Director of Buxton Crescent Trust; Simon Watson, sculptor and artist in residence at the museum and Jean Monk, a member of the Friends of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The judges were pleased that artists entered work to a really high standard, showing Derbyshire in many different ways.

Come and decide for yourself if you agree with the judge’s choices. You will see dramatic landscapes and intimate events. There is great energy in some works and calming reflection in others. There’s a Visitor’s Choice Award too. decided by visitors to the gallery.

You can plan your visit here.

The Willow Pattern

Ian Gregory, volunteer archivist at Buxton Museum, finds another thought-provoking curio from the collections:

Buxton Museum has a collection of ceramics. One of the items is a Ridgeway vase with a copy of The Willow Pattern; one of the most famous designs in British pottery. Its origins lie in the 18th century when what they called Chinoiserie was all the rage in Britain and Europe.

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Chinese styles may have been popular but did Georgian people understand it as well as they thought? Cobalt blue on white is certainly a Chinese colour scheme but the story of The Willow Pattern is European, not East Asian. There are similar scenes on Chinese export ceramics but what the Chinese made for exports often differed from objects made for their domestic market. Many motifs on porcelain bound for the home market would have meant nothing to Westerners, but a great deal to Buddhists or Taoists. Bats were a symbol of darkness in Europe, for example, but one of good fortune in the East.

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The Willow Tree by Eika Kato (1859-1942) watercolour collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Late in the late 19th century, a change took place; large numbers of Japanese prints arrived in Europe, and Western artists, especially those in France took an interest in them. Impressionist painters began putting figures on the edge of pictures, partly cut off by the frames. Post-impressionists depicted flatter images than their predecessors. Both practices derived from East Asian art.

Which is the deeper influence: The Willow Pattern and other Chinoiserie ceramics or the Post-impressionist borrowings from Japan? Most experts would say the latter.