Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Rest and art
Standing in the corner of the churchyard at Eastnor, Herefordshire, is this extraordinary seat of c. 1900, sheltered by a sloping tiled roof and adorned with a series of five large terracotta panels, each bearing a sculpted figure and a Christian text. Many is the visitor, tending a grave perhaps or just taking a stroll, who must have been thankful for this unusual bit of churchyard architecture, their eyes moving across the sculpted panels and their messages: from a figure representing the harvest (‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’), past an angel, Christ in Majesty, another angel this time carrying a child, to a sower (coming back to the agricultural metaphor again: ‘He that now goeth on his way weeping bringeth forth good seed’). There’s much to admire in the gentle realistic modelling of the figures and faces, from the upward-glancing harvest figure (sometimes called Ceres) to the expressions of repose in the faces of the angels.
Some sources (including Pevsner) say that Lady Somerset actually modelled the terracotta panels herself. This surprises me in a way: they seem very good for an accomplished amateur with a very busy life; and yet Lady Somerset seems to have been a person who could pull surprises. Whoever did them, though, clearly had a flair for modelling and a sympathetic eye for female faces. As for the donor, it’s perhaps typical that she wanted people to have not only rest and shelter, not only religious messages to ponder, but beauty too. A very Victorian mixture of values, and by no means a bad one.
Note I first found out about the seat from the excellent Tile Gazetteer compiled by Lynn Pearson (Richard Dennis, 2005).