Friends’ Diary: Norwich residential trip, September 2021

For four wonderfully sun-filled days in September thirty FRWA members enjoyed a residential visit based in Norwich….

by Pat Triggs – Friends of the RWA Committee: Trips and Visits

On the way to Norfolk we visited the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens in Hertfordshire where we enjoyed a warm welcome and a tour, led by well-informed guides. To our surprise, we were encouraged to touch the many sculptures, located in the gardens and the surrounding fields, which they share with sheep.

Picture above is Draped Reclining Figure (1952-3). This was the first of Moore’s reclining figures with realistic drapery.  In 1954 Moore said that his interest in the role of drapery in sculpture’s form and function was sparked by his drawings of war-time blanketed figures sheltering from the London Blitz.  “Drapery can emphasise the tension in a figure where the form pushes outwards….it can be pulled tight across the form…and by contrast with the crumpled slackness of the drapery …  the pressure from inside is intensified’

Henry Moore’s Oval with Points (1968-70)

This later abstract work, showing Moore’s use of the dynamic tension of points which almost touch, was being cleaned and conserved.  The conservator working on the piece was happy to explain how this was done to retain the original colour.

Later, although Covid restrictions meant there was no access to Hoglands, Moore’s home, we were able to explore the studios, the collection of tapestries, and visit the exhibition, This Living Hand, curated by Edmund de Waal, in a response to Moore’s preoccupation with the hand and tactile experience. The exhibition included Moore’s moving drawings of the hands of Dorothy Hodgkin, Nobel laureate for her work in crystallography, and fifth Chancellor of Bristol University.  Her hands were severely affected by rheumatoid arthritis and she particularly wanted them depicted in the portrait Moore was commissioned to paint.

Norwich as a location had a great deal to offer.   The city, important for the Normans, rich from wool in medieval times, with a long history of weaving and textiles, and a powerful cathedral was for a long time England’s second city.  It also has a long history of association with reform and dissent: peasants challenging landowners, a welcome  offered to reformist emigres, support for the Jacobin cause, opposition to the American War and demands for parliamentary reform.  The manifesto of the Norwich Patriotic Society (1795) declared “that the great end of civil society was general happiness; that every individual had a right to share in the government.”

And, to commemorate the peasants’ rebellion against common land being taken by landowners, a plaque on the wall of Norwich Castle, near the main entrance, reads:

In 1549 AD Robert Kett, yeoman farmer of Wymondham, was executed by hanging in this castle after the defeat of the Norfolk rebellion of which he was the leader. In 1949 AD, four hundred years later, this memorial was placed here by the citizens of Norwich in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape from a servile life into the freedom of just conditions.

Norwich Market and Castle

Norwich market goes back to Norman times when it grew up close to the new ‘French’ Castle quarter.  It has nearly 200 stalls and is said to be the largest covered market in Europe, north of the Alps.

The Castle now houses the Norwich Museum and Art Gallery.  Like RWA the Castle is currently being conserved and transformed by a major building project.  Some galleries were closed but we were able to see much of the art collection, especially the Norwich School of Artists.  For some of us this was a main attraction and didn’t disappoint.  Works by Crome, Cotman and Stannard, and their families and friends enabled us to trace and understand the personal and artistic relationships which created ‘the school’.

Carrow Abbey  by John Crome 1805  (Credit: Norfolk Museum Service)

Crome advised fellow artists: ‘If your subject is but a pigsty – dignify it.’

Thorpe Water Frolic Afternoon by Joseph Stannard 1824 (Credit Norfolk Museum Service)

The complexity of this piece and the way it records the spirit and atmosphere of this event keeps you looking for a very long time.

The Royal Arcade

Between the Castle and Gentleman’s Walk at the market edge is the elegant 247 foot long, art nouveau-influenced, Royal Arcade, purpose-built for shopping. Designed and built by local and nationally known architect, George Skipper, it was opened with great civic ceremony on May 24th 1899.  Sir John Betjeman said Skipper  ‘was to Norwich what Gaudi was to Barcelona’.

The Forum with a view of St Peter Mancroft Church

Just off the market place is The Forum, a civic and social enterprise, full of life and activity. Designed as a Millenium project by architects Michael Hopkins and Partners, and opened in 2002, this is a community space where exhibitions, festivals, workshops and other activities are organized alongside shops, restaurants, offices, and the remarkable and welcoming Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library which has record-breaking figures for borrowing.

Through the windows of The Forum is St Peter Mancroft, the largest of the city’s 31 surviving medieval parish churches built on the wealth created by the wool trade.  It has stunning stained glass, from medieval to modern. The medieval glass is located in the east window, combined with some late Victorian additions.  The survival of so much medieval glass is remarkable given the events of history, including an explosion in 1648 which destroyed windows in this and other nearby churches. The glass was collected and the panels remade by local craftsmen.

There are various explanations of the church’s name.  The one agreement is that there was never a Saint Peter Mancroft.

The circumcision of Jesus Christ.  East window, St Peter Mancroft church.

On excursions from Norwich we explored Cromer and the coast, and Holkham Hall.  Our final visit was to the Sainsbury Centre and Sculpture Park in the University of East Anglia.  The Centre has grown from the donation to the university in 1973 of the art collection of Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury. The building to house it, designed by Norman Foster, opened in 1974.  The Centre, as a university gallery, now holds other major collections and is a national centre for research and the study and presentation of art.

Ceramics by Hans Coper

Lisa Sainsbury’s collection of modern pots began in the 1950s with the purchase of work by Lucy Rie.  Work by Hans Coper, the other pre-eminent British potter of the latter half of the twentieth century is another strength of the collection.  Both artists were refugees from Nazism: Rie at thirty-six in 1938 from Vienna; Coper at nineteen from Germany.  From 1946 Coper worked as an assistant in Rie’s studio.  His stoneware always began on the wheel and was then worked by hand.

The feedback from all who joined the trip was very positive.

An extremely well-planned and organised trip.

Henry Moore visit particularly excellent.

Sainsbury Centre a high spot

Norwich a very good choice.  I’d happily visit again.

Hotel very good, staff helpful, a pleasure to be there.

I enjoyed everything about the trip.

Very sociable.  Lovely to have interesting and cheerful company.

Really enjoyed this trip for the location, variety of visits and general organisation.    

We are already planning next year’s residential, based in Dorset.  Numbers will again be limited to 30. If you would like to be kept informed of developments please email Priscilla Sorapure:

The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.

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