A recent exhibition of Still Lifes by Michael Beard and Watercolour Icons, Landscapes and Seascapes by Madeleine Beard at the Orchard Gallery near Petworth.
I am delighted to be able to show a selection of paintings by my father, many of which were discovered in recent years. Born in the village of Bleasby in Nottinghamshire, his parents, Vincent and Katharine (nee Tootell), both painted. These peaceful scenes, not for sale, unsigned and now framed, are on display at Heath End Farm, in a gallery converted from a barn. Like his parents before him, the peace of the country provided some healing from the ravages of war.
Exhibitions of Watercolour Icons: Addison-Ross Gallery, Eaton Terrace, London SW1, 1997, 1998 and 1999; Heseltine-Masco Gallery, Petworth, West Sussex, 2000; St. Mary Moorfields, London EC4, 2000; The Gallery, Shepherd Market, London W1, 2000, 2001; The Orchard Gallery near Petworth, 2006, 2007.
The Heseltine Masco Gallery
East House, East Street
Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 0AB
15th April to 29th April 2000
How did a Geographer become an Iconographer? In the Spring of 1975 I attended a lunch party in Lodsworth. Having spent two years at the Convent of Mercy at Midhurst I was then at St. Leonards-Mayfield School, run by nuns of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and founded by an American, Cornelia Connelly, in 1846. The lunch was given by Baroness Jackson of Lodsworth, the Economist Barbara Ward, former Economic Adviser to several American Presidents. She spoke with vigour and humour. Her books included the best-selling Only One Earth, published in 1972, The Home of Man (1976) and Progress for a Small Planet (1979). As a Catholic she was, throughout her life, associated with some of the leading figures of Catholicism until her death in 1981. She had been an important influence in the conversion to Catholicism of E.V. Shumacher, author of Small is Beautiful, whose book, published in 1973, encapsulated the environmental anxieties of a generation. Spurred on by such heady talk, in 1977 I went to University College London to read Geography. As an undergraduate I became interested in what is called Historical Geography and wrote a paper on a census taken of the Cowdray Estate in 1917. Little had been written about the impact of the First World War on rural society in England. This became my Master of Letters thesis in Cambridge. I found myself at Jesus College and with an American supervisor, Dr J.M. Winter, a leading authority on the First World War and a Lecturer in the Faculty of History. I set to work on my thesis and I recorded the war losses from each parish in West Sussex from the village war memorials. I researched the impact of the Great War on marriage patterns from the Parish Records in the West Sussex Record Office. The County Archivists, Tim and Alison McCann, were and still are in charge of the County Record Office. I little realised that much later on they would be one of the first to buy my watercolour icons. Both are Catholics and Historians. Last year Alison McCann produced the centenary history of the Sacred Heart Church in Petworth. Among his many publications Tim McCann has written about the nineteenth century Cardinal Manning's career as a cricketer. For some years Manning had been the Anglican curate at Graffham. When, forty-five years later, his name was put forward as a possible successor to Pope Pius IX, one Graffham villager remarked: "I should dearly like to say as 'ow I'd played a game of cricket with the Pope o' Rome."
While writing my thesis I had not fully appreciated the terrible impact of the Great War on both my grand - parents, Vincent and Kate Beard, both of whom became Catholics in 1919. I tried to convey something of this when I was asked to speak at the 1998 "Faith of Our Fathers" conference at Westminster Central Hall with a speech called "Rediscovering the Truth".
On the basis of my thesis on rural society in the 1914-18 war I was commissioned by the publisher Routledge and Kegan Paul to widen the scope of my work and write a history of large landowners in England in the twentieth century. English Landed Society in the Twentieth Century was published in 1989 in London and in New York, where the American title was the more concise Acres and Heirlooms. The large estates of Petworth, Goodwood, Arundel and Cowdray were given some prominence, particularly the Cowdray estate, purchased by the businessman Weetman Pearson in 1909. His engineering firm had built the Blackwall Tunnel, the East River Tunnel in New York and received the contract to drain Mexico City. In Mexico Pearson struck oil and put the Mex in ShellMex. I then decided to turn my attention to the spiritual life of the landed aristocracy.
One morning in the Cambridge University Library I came across a book with the title Converts to Rome. Opening it I found it to be an alphabetical list of converts to Catholicism from 1850-1910. From this I discovered names from well-known families, many of whom had entered the religiouslife. I read about the men and women who made the Grand Tour, many of whom entered Catholic churches for the first time in France, Spain or Italy. I also wrote about the spiritual paths followed by those who were received into the Catholic Church without having set foot in Rome at all. This formed the basis of my book Faith and Fortune, published by Gracewing in 1997.
In 1979 I had spent three weeks at a Summer Art School in France run by Peter and Olive Norton, who lived in Compton in Hampshire where Olive, a former ballerina, had run a school. Peter Norton was a Naval Captain who had given up a glittering career in the Navy to teach at Guildford School of Art. Since then I had occasionally painted still lifes and landscapes. When I moved from Cambridge to Westminster, I started to paint religious watercolours. In London I went to Mass in churches such as the London Oratory, founded by some of the converts about whom I had written in Faith and Fortune. On publication I dedicated Faith and Fortune in memory of the Provost of the Oratory, Father Michael Napier, who died while celebrating Mass in the Oratory's St. Wilfrid's Chapel in 1996. In 1993 Father Napier had led a pilgrimage to Poland. I regard my icons as being indirectly influenced by the revival of the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe after its suppression by Communism for so many years. I have had the privilege to visit churches in Bosnia, Budapest, Warsaw, Krakow, Karlsbad, Prague and Vilnius. Visiting Lithuania, last year, the large congregations were at Mass in churches which had been used as cinemas and store rooms only six years before. I am painting what I would call Western icons in an English way, taking the English watercolour tradition and creating icons which appeal to the Western eye.
Many of my paintings are also inspired from the line drawings found in Missals which accompany the Mass as celebrated throughout the world until 1969, a Rite of Mass to which I have a particular devotion. I have never received any artistic training as such. My late father and both his parents painted and two of my father's cousins attended art school in the 1920s. In London I held exhibitions of my paintings at the Addison-Ross Gallery in 1997, 1998 and 1999. In 1999 I was commissioned by the Prior of Blackfriars, Cambridge, Father Aidan Nichols, to recreate in watercolour the medieval seals of the Priory. These two roundels now hang in the Dominican community's chapel in Buckingham Road.
And what of Barbara Ward, who set me on the path from Geography to Iconography? A friend of Blessed Padre Pio, she had helped provide UN funding for his hospital in Italy at San Giovanni Rotondo. Later, when a stained glass window was created in a chapel in the hospital, the artist included the image of her face. There is a photo - graph of Baroness Jackson of Lodsworth standing next to the stained glass window looking somewhat startled.
I am very grateful to John Heseltine and Pamela Masco Heseltine for holding this exhibition at the Heseltine Masco Gallery, East House, East Street, Petworth, with proceeds for the Petworth Sacred Heart Church Restoration Fund.
Beautifully printed reproductions of watercolours derived from medieval illuminated mansucripts which open out in triptych style. Available at only £1.95 each from St Pauls Bookshops in London, Birmingham and York. For Credit Card orders Tel 020 828 5582
Four Watercolours commissioned to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the consecration of the Church of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ryde - the first church in England with this dedication.