A RETURN TO THE GOLDEN AGE - TWO NEW BOOKS BY LEADING ART CRITICS EXPRESS AN ABIDING PASSION FOR THOSE NETHERLANDISH MASTERS OF THE 17TH CENTURY WHO WERE CAPTIVATED BY THE BEAUTY OF EVERYDAY THINGS
'An English Country Garden' first exhibition of flowers, fruits and plants, by British artist Henrietta Abel Smith, in the Dutch Flemish tradition, at Osborne Studio Gallery, from November 15th to December 3rd.
The artist calls it a ‘homage to my mum and her garden.’
Rosie Abel Smith, formerly an artist, now works as a professional garden designer, creating magical spaces for some of the grandest estates in Britain. Bowood House, Wiltshire, home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne, is possibly the best known of her designs, open to the public.
Henrietta calls her mother’s garden in the Cotswolds, where she grew up, a ‘vision of paradise’ ‘ my absolute haven’ ‘ my favourite place to be in the world.’ . Rosie created the garden from scratch, ‘miles from anywhere’ nurturing and cherishing every rose, poppy and shrub for thirty one years, a ‘mix of wild patches and stunning borders.’
Henrietta plucks her chosen flowers and plants to depict at their glorious best, surreptitiously, vainly hoping her mother will not notice the disappearance of her ‘babies’ .
She is happiest working alone in her Chelsea studio, painting in the Dutch-Flemish 17th century still life tradition. After a rigorous classical training at the Charles H Cecil School in Florence , from 2009 to 2012, she concentrated on portraits (Duke of Gloucester, Countess of Suffolk, Andrew Parker Bowles). But Covid, lockdown and isolation, intervened, so she turned to nature and the world of flowers.
The Osborne Studio Gallery will show her first exhibition of flowers, fruit and plants, inspired by Rosie’s garden, Henrietta’s vision of paradise, from November 15th until 3rd December.
Henrietta has written her own account of the Cotswold garden and her creative process. Her words reveal a spontaneous enthusiasm, heartfelt with a touching sincerity.
‘The cottage is in the most idyllic spot, we have an uninterrupted view of rolling valleys without seeing another house for miles. Every inch of the cottage is covered with climbing plants. We even have a pair of tame robins that feed out of our hand and come when you call them. ‘
‘Rosie passed on to me her love of nature, and plants. She taught me the names of every wildflower in the surrounding valleys. As I grew up I developed a love of the animals which surrounded us in and out of the house, part of the family. We rescued baby rabbits, ducks hatched on our Aga, trotting after Rosie as their mother figure, a friendly pig was a familiar presence in our kitchen.
Most of the flowers I paint are taken from her garden (which she hates as plants are her babies) so I have to steal them when I mistakenly imagine she is not looking . I probably started painting flowers in my London studio as a way to connect with nature while living in the city working on portraits. I’m not a very good Londoner and return to the Cotswolds as often as I can. During lockdown I moved back to the countryside with my parents, but couldn’t work on portraits.
During that time I set up a makeshift studio in the cottage and painted everything I could get my hands on from the garden. I realised that I am happiest when painting flowers alone in the studio. So when lockdown eased, and I could return to London I would block out several months each year to devote every moment to painting flowers. I take the train back to the country and return to London with bags of flowers cut or dug up from the garden, desperately trying not to damage them on the journey. I paint from life with still lifes, and there is a sense of urgency as the flowers open, twist, turn, shed petals so quickly so that it is a race against time.
I barely stop for lunch when working on flowers, as often I will come back and the flowers have completely moved!