Magazine article Tate Etc.

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Magazine article Tate Etc.

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Article excerpt

Edward Platt, Sasha Devas, Elain Harwood and Wilhelm Sasnal reflect on a work in the Tate collection

Edward Platt on Stanley Spencer's Turk's Boatyard Cookham c1931

The last time I went to Cookham, the Thames had burst its banks. The road across Widbrook Common, where Spencer painted John Donne turning up in heaven, was closed, and the only way into the village was by train. Cookham Common, which the artist had re-imagined as the site of orgiastic encounters among villagers and others, had also flooded, but you could still get across it. The graves in the churchyard, from which the dead burst forth on the day of resurrection, weren't under water, but parts of the towpath beside Turk's Boatyard were.

Spencer painted the scene on mainly rainy days, and said 'a rainy day' might have been a subtitle for it, though it couldn't have been as rainy as the day I was there: the Thames is still enough to hold the colours of the trees and reflections of the pillars of the bridge, though the gondola-like boats have climbed the bank and are pressing inwards, towards the viewer, as if lifted on a wave.

Spencer never painted Cookham in the flood - he would have seen it under water, as I had - but he didn't fear the river or its power: his last, unfinished painting showed Christ preaching from a boat moored to the bank, and he saw the river as the 'holy of holies', which carried the daytrippers who came past on cruisers and pleasure boats into another realm. This calm, lucid painting gives a sense of how much he revered it.

Edward Platt is writing a book about flooding.

Turk's Boatyard, Cookham was baqueathad by Mrs IM Andrews In 1970.

Sasha Devas on Kenneth Rowntree's Souvenir of Venice 1961

I was 14 when I went to Venice for the first time. I was with my parents and we were staying in a vast apartment in a palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal and next to the Ca' d'Oro. I met them there as I had travelled by train and they had flown. My train had wooden, slatted benches and no lavatory. At every station people left the train to have a pee, and at every station someone failed to make it back to their carriage.

Anyone arriving in Venice for the first time is hit by its beauty like a tsunami. Walking out of the station straight into a Canaletto is an unforgettable experience. That watery landscape is magical. We were sharing the apartment with my father's elder brother Cedric and his family. He was a successful businessman running Reckitt & Colman in Rochester, New York - a real mustard king. He had a very glamorous American wife called Bunty and four children.

I was dazzled by their beauty and sophistication. I longed to be dressed in white organza party dresses all day like Prue and Vicky. We spent our days exploring the city while my father painted, and would meet up in the evenings to share wonderful meals next to the canal. We discovered the delights of the Locanda Montin and its fegato alla Veneziana and couldn't stop ourselves from returning for more. We took a vaporetto to Torcello where a waiter handed me a pomegranate, and it was love at first sight.

Sasha Devas is the daughter of Kenneth Rowntree.

Souvenir of Venice was presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery in 1984. Kenneth Rowntree: A Centenary Exhibition, Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, until 12 July, and Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 22 July -18 October. …

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