Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ballymaloe and Camille Souter

Ballymaloe's Dining Room

I don’t want to sound all smug and conceited here, but recently I was whisked off to the utterly delectable  Ballymaloe Country House Hotel run by the Allen family, for what I feel was a much deserved and long-awaited break.  Yes and Ballymaloe is just ‘right’ in every way, it certainly ticks all my boxes and the food is just ‘simply delicious’. Long live the Allen dynasty.
What I didn’t prepare for though was the sheer delight of seeing so much modern Irish art on the walls, from the exquisite Louis LeBrocquy tapestries hanging in the entrance hall; the hard- edge abstracts of Cecil King and Patrick Scott, to the Michael Farrell’s self-searching prints decking the corridors.  Iconic names such as Nano Reid, Norah McGuiness, Jack Yeats, Mary Swanzy, adorn every alcove, nook and cranny.  This is a personal collection of great insight and empathy with that period of Irish Art history that starts with Nathanial Hone’s  pastoral scenes and ends with Elizabeth Cope’s eye popping red field with sheep.   This is such a strong and obviously much loved and cherished family collection and as a result a very cohesive and concise slice of important Irish art.
If I was to choose a favourite painting from this collection, it would be the understated Camille Souter that is hanging in the sitting room.   This painting is hung between the two large sash windows, a little ‘tongue in cheek’ I feel, as the painting itself depicts a large sash window filling the whole canvas, framing a view of a garden.   Like all Souter’s work it is tonally complex and subtly sophisticated.  I like to feel that she painted this while staying as a guest at Ballymaloe, all molly-coddled and sated, lying in white linen sheets with her hall-mark of a beret firmly placed on the side of her head, and the breakfast  tray with the remnants of a lightly poached egg , jugged kipper, and half- drunk third cup of tea, at her bare feet.   I imagine  her easel is set up conveniently  next to her bedside table and the sprigged floral sanderson curtains are drawn well back to reveal a soft grey-green sort of day, a heavy drizzle has set in, stopping Camille from flinging open the French doors.  She is putting the finishing touches to her Ballymaloe painting, that will be presented to the art loving member of the Allen family later on that day, and yes it is a  view from her bed –and why not, a sash window creates the perfect  framework in which  to suspend her tender brush strokes of abstracted form and delicate colour nuances, in a masterpiece of painterly perfection. 

Camille Souter  Washing by the Canal.

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