Compton Verney is a large house in Warwickshire that has some quite good collections and show temporary exhibitions.
I went there recently with a couple of friends, they hadn't been to the house before and I wanted to see the temporary exhibition - The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now - which is currently showing.
The collections the house shows includes Northern European works, Italian, mainly renaissance works from Naples, and Chinese collections. My favourite pieces are in the Chinese and German collections: there are very fine Chinese vessels in various forms cast in bronze that has this beautiful deep blue and green patina from lying in the ground. And the German and Flemish paintings include a great wooden sculpture by Tillman Riemenschneider, paintings by Cranach and some religious paintings of saints, standing there solemnly in lovely colours with gold backgrounds.
There is something very precious about seeing fine art from the renaissance and middle ages. Not just that it has survived for so long, in countries that have undergone wars, the Reformation and any manner of moves from being bought and sold. The paintings by the Flemish masters, with saints with long slender fingers, draping costume and shining colours are a joy to look at. Although we may not share the beliefs that made these works happen, they still remind us that people sought some sort of solace in spirituality, and great art was made to try to show these thought, and to become focusses for reflection.
Last time I went to Compton Verney was to see an exhibition of Dovecot tapestries, and before that an exhibition in 2008, The Fabric of Myth, that contained much inventive textile art including outsider art and a large Henry Moore tapestry woven by West Dean tapestry studio. This time the exhibition suggested placing the arts and crafts of the 19th and early 20th century side by side with current crafts. There were some good pieces on show, including some Ashby silver vessels with wide swinging handles and beautiful detailing in the choice of materials for finials and handles.
There were plans and drawings and selected pages from The Studio of the architecture of Baillie-Scott and Voysey, and as I love Voysey's style I was happy to see these, but wished there could have been more on show, especially I missed some printed or woven textiles of Voysey's designs, that would have been good. There was a very interesting room with a film showing current craftsmen working in silver with drawings and objects from their workshop indicating the historical legacy of the family business that had passed through generations from the early arts and crafts roots to the current generation of makers.
But overall I was a bit disappointed of the show. Although there were good examples of arts and crafts in the older pieces, with some textiles by William Morris, and plenty of silverware and little furniture, I thought the selection of contemporary crafts was very limited and followed a disappointing line that suggested the 'retrospective regret' of certain strands of craft. There was little suggestion of contemporary crafts using new materials (no Perspex, titanium or other novel metalwork, nor textiles were on show), and the crafted objects they showed were objects for use, wooden brushes, garden tools, stools, wooden bowls etc, but no inventive ceramics, or discussions of say, Bernard Leach's search for a ceramic language looking at Japanese methods. The focus was mainly on function in the contemporary object, although a nod to the current domestic luxury object was suggested by three panels of gold wall paper hand-printed with an organic image by Timorous Beasties. So, it was a long journey to see this partial exhibition - although I was very happy to find that a copy of the catalogue for The Fabric of Myth exhibition was on sale in the show, so I got that belatedly.