barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


In The Picture: ‘My View’ Competition Winners

Thank you to everyone who entered our lockdown competition, and we hope you all had fun taking part.

The theme was My View to help us think about our surroundings, let our imaginations fly and record our thoughts during the unprecedented period.

Your entries didn’t disappoint – and we’re delighted to share some of our favourites…

FIRST PRIZE

Charcoal sketch

‘Spanish Flu’, 2020, by John Davenport

 

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Painting of a house

Painting by Alex Jolly, 2020

 

Embroidery by Carol Brotherton

Embroidery by Carol Brotherton

 

A Brush with the Matchstick Man
by Scotford Lawrence

In 1966 a family friend organized at the Harrogate Art Gallery an exhibition entitled ’The Nude in Victorian Art’. This was the time when most nineteenth century art and architecture was still regarded with scorn and as something of a joke – and a joke in poor taste at that. The formal opening was the usual scrum of the great and the good of the art world where activity was dominated by an informal competition to count the number of fairies in Joseph Noel Paton’s ‘The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania’(1847) which was on loan from the National gallery of Scotland. So my wife and I decided to return later for a better and less crowded look at the pictures.

The day we chose to return to Harrogate was bleak and cold with an incessant fine rain falling. The art gallery was almost deserted and the only other person who seemed to be there with any purpose was a tall elderly man who, even in the 1960’s appeared to be from a distant, earlier age. He wore a long shabby raincoat over a three piece suit of impenetrable dark blue serge with a gold watch chain across the waistcoat and large, black boots. He had startlingly white hair which stuck out in an unruly fringe as he peered through steel rimmed spectacles at the paintings and muttered comments about them to himself as he went along.

Eventually I found myself next to him in front of an Edward Poynter and the old man commented in a flat Lancashire accent, “There’s summat wrong wi’ that” and proceeded to demonstrate to me that the proportions of one of the sitter’s arms were, indeed, hopelessly wrong. “Now over ‘ere,” he continued, “‘e got it right”, and, taking me by the arm, he led me to look at a Frederick Watts. From then on I was an art school student again as the old man propelled me round the gallery demonstrating a detailed knowledge of draughtsmanship, the nude and Victorian painting. He drew my attention to the finest details of design, technique and composition and threw in asides such as a dismissive comment on a Burne-Jones, “I’ve got a better one than that at ‘ome!” A collector as well as an artist.

He knew the art of the nineteenth century intimately but knew it from the standpoint of a practitioner rather than that of a scholar. His main concern was, however, for design and composition rather than for colour and surface and he spent far more time and attention on the drawings exhibited than on the paintings. And all his comments were made with the flat tones and obtrusive ‘r’ of industrial Lancashire.

How long he would have continued to command my attention I do not know. His own enthusiasm for his subject gave him an energy well beyond his age as he back-tracked and cross-referenced from wall to wall all round the gallery. From Etty and Leighton to Sickert and Wilson Steer we went until we were interrupted by a middle aged lady who addressed my guide in those bright, chirpy tones which hospital nurses reserve for ‘difficult’ patients and which brook no refusal. “Come along, Uncle Laurie”, she said, “Let’s go and get us tea at Betty’s”. With a nod of the head to me he stumped off in his big black boots to tea and cream cakes. He left behind a young man who had received from him a personal conducted tour of the art of the Victorian age and who, on a wet Sunday afternoon in Harrogate had just spent an hour in the company of L.S. Lowry.

 

The Night of the Parrot
by Dr Jennifer Young

An avian view of the Barber with apologies to Professor Richard Verdi, Tennessee Williams and Parrots…

The Prof said we were going to the University to view Parrots in Art but he didn’t tell us that I and my two friends were actually part of the exhibition. It was therefore a bit of a shock to find myself, a magnificent Scarlet Macaw, together with my fellow parrots, a Blue and Yellow Macaw and a Green Winged Macaw, displayed in our cages in the foyer of the Barber Institute. The other two squawked and screeched, as if in the Parrot House of London Zoo, but we all have settled down now and are looking forward to viewing this amazing place.

There are drifts of people passing through the foyer. I thought as a wonderful Scarlet Macaw I would be the star of the show, but the visitors keep saying ‘let’s go upstairs and seethe parrots’. So, there are more macaws and maybe cockatoos, how exciting.

Now an ill-assorted group of people is coming through the door. They are welcomed by a member of staff ‘I’m so glad you have decided to bring the tour party from your hotel to the Barber ‘. A flamboyant woman in a clinging red dress replies ‘ Well my late husband, who owned the hotel, wondered about coming here regularly but we will see how our future relationship works out after this visit’. ‘We have brought our own guide ‘ she continues pointing to a shabby clergyman by her side. There is also an anxious looking lady with auburn hair, in a bright green coat, accompanied by a teenage girl with a determined glint in her eye as she gazes at the clergyman. The remaining two members of the party are a beautiful young woman with a nearly blind old man in a wheelchair. As they enter the lift, I hear him whisper ‘ I wanted to come here one last time ‘. The clergyman looks as if he wishes he were anywhere but here as the young girl and the woman in the red dress follow him closely up the stairs.

The afternoon has passed slowly but it is now nearly five o’clock and the staff are attending to the shutters and the beautiful red and cream curtains. I am planning my escape to visit the parrots upstairs. As happens every night, I have had a drape placed over my cage, so nobody can see me. The Prof doesn’t know but I can open the door of my cage. I sometimes do it at home and slide out from under the drape and enjoy the house for a few hours during the night. I have now escaped into the foyer and am hopping along the edge of the curtains, the colour of which helps to disguise my red plumage. I am making for that big dark man at the foot of the stairs. He never seems to move so I won’t disturb him if I perch on his shoulder for a few minutes. The tour party from the hotel are coming down the stairs  so I will keep out of sight . They are arguing loudly with each other. I don’t think they liked the parrots.

I can see a problem for myself. How am I going to get past the big gate which drops from the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs? Two men are already opening the locks but goodness me what is happening! Someone is screaming and several people are shouting ‘Help ‘. Both men and all the remaining visitors run towards the end of the foyer. The old man who has just been pushed out of the lift has fallen forward out of his wheelchair and is gently twitching on the floor. Now he is quite still. The clergyman tries to put his arm around the young woman, who I now realise is the old man’s granddaughter, but she pushes him away and says, ‘no I must manage on my own ‘. She staggers over to a bench sobbing quietly. ‘He is clearly dead ‘announces the lady in the green coat ‘ I think we should all leave‘. She anxiously grabs the young girl by her hair and rapidly makes for the door in a determined fashion. The clergyman and the woman in the red dress nod to each other, shrug their shoulders and not in the least dismayed go down the steps back to the hotel. This is my moment. I hop through the still open grill, fly up the stairs and I’ve just managed to get into the gallery as two men appear on the landing. The door shuts, footsteps echo down the stairs and now there is complete silence with not so much as a rustle or subdued parrot-like squawk.

The light is very dim, but I have excellent eyesight and can see down the gallery. The walls are lined with paintings. I know about these as the Prof has many on the walls of our home and he discusses them with his friends. I fly past wonderful masterpieces and round a corner and notice a picture of an old blind man with some of his family. He is sitting down and looks rather like the visitor from the hotel, but I don’t think he has a wheelchair. Next, I see a portrait of a woman wrapped in a clinging red shawl. Her expression is very eager. I wonder if she is trying to get the attention of that clergyman in the painting on the opposite wall, but he is not showing much interest.

I am beginning to feel a bit tired so I will just perch for a few minutes on the outstretched leg of this little dancer on a stand and have a look around Further along the gallery there is a picture of a young girl ,with beautiful long blond hair, who is deep in thought and nearby a portrait of an auburn haired woman in a splendid green cloak . I wonder if the visitors from the hotel saw themselves in any of the works hanging on the walls.

Now I have arrived at what must be The Parrot in Art but how disappointing. They are not real macaws or cockatoos but just portraits of birds. No wonder I listened in vain for welcoming parrot sounds.

The first painting seems very old. There are seven solemn looking children with their pets, which include a Blue -fronted Amazon Parrot, sitting around a table. Neither the children, the animals nor the adults in the background seem interested in the plates of nuts and fruit.  I must agree they do not look enticing even though I am quite hungry .I am attracted therefore to the next picture in which there is a lavish display of wonderful fruit laid out for an African Grey Parrot but oh dear look at those poor dead birds among the fruit . I quickly flutter along and come to another wondrous arrangement, a cascade of grapes peaches, even melons, with a Scarlet Macaw in a window above all the munificence. I could do with a peck at some of those grapes, but I know the Prof would be very cross. He doesn’t like anyone to touch paintings.

Three wonderful parrots now come into view. A resplendent Scarlet Macaw sits on a branch of a tree, below him is a Salmon -crested Cockatoo and a Ring -necked Parakeet swings on the branch beside them. Their rich feathers look so lifelike I almost expect them to fly down and join me. I quickly pass a Blue and Yellow Macaw flapping its wings at a terrified monkey endeavouring to steal its food and come to a large complicated scene. A row of four White Cockatoos are lined up on a thick rod and below on another are a Blue and Yellow Cockatoo, a Black Cockatoo, and a Leadbeater’s Cockatoo. All are dominated by an enormous Hyacinth Macaw who sits above them on his own perch. His claw is lifted up and he gazes down sternly at the other birds who display a variety of emotions. I think it is like one of those committee meetings I hear the Prof discuss.

I am now feeling really tired and in need of a rest, but I will just have a look at one more painting, a large one on the other side of the gallery. There is a fabulous Scarlet Macaw , almost as magnificent as myself ,sitting on his perch while eating a scrumptious looking biscuit . He is being watched by two Red -faced Lovebirds and a little terrier dog who is gazing up in admiration. I think I will settle down on the floor below this happy scene and have a well-earned sleep. What a shock the staff will get tomorrow morning when they open the door and find two Scarlet Macaws enjoying each other’s company, one belonging to Her Majesty the Queen and the other a mere Brummie.

APPENDIX

1. The Parrot in Art exhibition ran from January to April 2007. It was curated by Professor Richard Verdi who brought his own parrots into the Barber and displayed them in the foyer for an afternoon.

2. The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams is best known as the 1961 Play but was first published as a short story in 1948. It recounts the relationships between six characters on a tour who were detained in a hotel. These include the widow of the hotel owner, a brittle lady with her precocious niece, their guide a discredited clergyman and a beautiful penniless painter with her frail grandfather, who dies. The clergyman then escapes the advances of the teenager but his overtures to the painter are rejected and he and the manager decide to run the hotel together.

WORKS VIEWED BY THE SCARLET MACAW

  • Rodin Auguste. The Age of Bronze
  • Stom Matthias. Isaac blessing Jacob
  • Vigee-Lebrun Elisabeth. Portrait of Countess Golovina
  • Reynolds Joshua, Portrait of Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh
  • Degas Edgar. Grande arabesque
  • Renoir Pierre-Auguste, Young woman seated
  • Rossetti Dante Gabriel. The Blue Bower
  • Anonymous. William Brooke and family
  • Fyt Jan. Still Life with fruit, game and a parrot
  • Fransz Jacob. Still Life with fruit and parrot.
  • Murphy Edward. Paroquets
  • Dahl Johannes Siegwald. A monkey stealing from a parrot
  • Marks Henry Stacy. A select committee
  • Landseer Edwin.Isley, Tilco, a macaw and two lovebirds. Property of Her Majesty the Queen.

‘Tabuan Parakeet’, 1832, by Edward Lear. Henry Barber Trust.

 

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