In May this year, Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery hosted Skylight Landscape: Paul Nash and David Prentice. I saw this exhibition long before I started work here at MAG and I was immediately impressed by its format. The exhibition explored the spatial and temporal relationship between two painters: modernist painter Paul Nash (1889 – 1946) and local Worcestershire artist David Prentice (1936 – 2014),* highlighting the impact the former’s work had on the latter. Focusing predominantly on the two artist’s works depicting the Malvern Hills, the exhibition celebrated the area’s greatest assets, which created local interest and made the exhibition very accessible to its audience.
While this in itself is an interesting subject for an exhibition, Skylight Landscape went further by drawing attention to twentieth-century landscape painting more generally by highlighting Nash’s war art and Prentice’s background in more hard-edged abstract painting. The art historical dialogue culminated in the real gem of the exhibition: a series of panels, photographs and letters that documented Prentice’s research into Nash’s paintings which lead him to discover the exact window from which Nash painted Skylight Landscape, explaining the previously mysterious geometry which bisects the piece (Prentice’s 1997 article chronicling this discovery in The Artist Magazine can be read online Here). This treasure not only highlighted the joys of art historical research, but also created an interesting temporal link between the two artists and added to our understanding of Nash’s work.
Skylight Landscape was accompanied by Barbarians: The Age of Iron, a collection of images and artefacts highlighting the ongoing efforts of archaeologists to understand the history of the hillforts of Malvern’s British Camp. The coupling of these two exhibitions expanded the impact of both shows, creating a dialogue about the timeless landscape that has been – and will continue to be – personally, intellectually and artistically important to local people for millennia.
The layering of dialogues achieved so naturally in these exhibitions was quite a feat, especially for small exhibitions. For me, these shows were an example of what can be achieved at regional institutions, so this week I was excited to start work on a 2016 exhibition of a similar format that will display the works of local artist, Bridget Macdonald, alongside paintings that have inspired her by Claude Lorain, Peter Paul Rubens, Samuel Palmer and their followers. In the upcoming exhibition, this format will allow us to open up a discussion about idealised landscapes and the intertextual nature of artistic production. Exciting stuff!
*Sadly, Prentice died on May 7th this year, just three days after the exhibition opened. But the show served as a fitting tribute to the artist’s work, his engagement in the arts and his great love of and skill for landscape painting.