Art to Illuminate Wiltshire
As I travel from Corsham to Chippenham by bus to work at the History Centre, I often think of what past local inhabitants might make of the ‘Sainsbury’s Roundabout’, the Methuen industrial park or the sprawl of post-war housing leading into Chippenham itself. Local artists have often recorded changes to the environment in their art, not always intentionally but as a consequence of the time in which they have been working. Wiltshire’s museums contain hundreds of such drawings, sketches and paintings of the people and landscape that makes this county so special.
One such local inhabitant was Robin Tanner (1904–1988) who was born in Bristol but grew up in Kington Langley, near Chippenham. Whilst training to be a teacher at Goldsmiths College in London during the 1920s he studied etching during the evenings. This etching was to become the means by which he expressed his deep appreciation of the countryside. Later returning to Wiltshire - moving into a house at Old Chapel Field, Kington Langley, where the diarist Francis Kilvert's ancestors are buried - to earn a living as an artist, his etchings show the strong influence of Samuel Palmer, the visionary Victorian romantic painter, depicting a world of thatched ricks, hedges, gates and stiles.
Sometimes criticised as overly romantic and nostalgic, Tanner, a Quaker and pacifist saw the mechanisation and intensified cultivation of modern farming as an act of violence against Nature – he railed against ‘the craze for insecticides’. In 1930 he became a permanent member of the teaching staff at Ivy Lane School in Chippenham and achieved highly memorable work with the children there, as well as working as an H.M. Inspector of Schools in various counties.
When he retired he continued to produce etchings, often composites of various local places and scenes – he completed 27 works before his death. If you are interested in looking at some of his art then visit the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes or the Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre, although please phone before your visit to enable access to the work.
During World War II Tanner, and his wife Heather, ‘adopted’ a young Jewish refugee from Germany, Dietrich Hanff, whose family was murdered by the Nazis and who came to live with them in Wiltshire after being held as an enemy alien in Lancashire and the Isle of Man. Within the collection of Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre, can be found three oil paintings produced by other victims of war. A painting of Chippenham High Street was made by Karel Wellens, a Belgium refugee from the First World War and a view of Chippenham Town Bridge is by Y Takayama, a Japanese prisoner of war from Burma in 1947. The third oil, of Studley Sawmills near Calne, was painted on a cotton bed sheet by A Perione, an Italian prisoner of war, in May 1946.
Perione eventually went home to Italy but not before painting some of his fellow POW’s who stayed in Chippenham and married local girls. If you know of any of his paintings, please contact Chippenham Museum.
The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity set up to create a complete record of the United Kingdom's national collection of oil, tempera and acrylic paintings and make this accessible to the public. Many museums from Wiltshire have taken part in this exercise and the oil paintings mentioned above from Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre can be accessed on this site, hosted by the BBC. Eleven paintings are featured from the Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury, which is holding a new exhibition of these oils, along with the opportunity to ‘tag’ each painting with comments from visitors. This tagging enables people to write comments about each painting on to a luggage label and pinning the tags below the individual art work. Perhaps this image from Athelstan Museum may give you some inspiration!
Conservation & Museums Advisory Service