Exhibition of reed paintings by Jean Bacon

(with photographs by Ken Moody)

February 16 – 24  2008,    Art Centre

King's College,   Cambridge

Index to the reed paintings,  January 2007

Index to the church paintings

Photos of the exhibition in Blythburgh church

Index to the reed paintings,  January 2008

Photos of the exhibition in King's Art Centre

Private and Public Viewers in King's College

Index of snapfish cards


Exhibition opening hours,  February 16 – 24  2008

The exhibition can be visited whenever the Art Centre is open. At weekends we shall be there from 11 am until 4 pm on both Saturday and Sunday (we may start to take things down after 2 pm on the 24th).  One of us will also be at the Art Centre every day throughout the week between 12 noon and 2 pm.  The Art Centre is at the top of A staircase, the entrance to which is in the SE corner of the Front Court, see the guide.

Its core derives from an exhibition held in Blythburgh church near the Suffolk coast during August 2007.  Note that the first group of paintings were photographed in January 2007, and a lot has happened since then.  Not many people from the Cambridge area came last August (the weather was terrible!), and Jean has continued to paint busily in the meantime.  So it seems worth doing it again at the Art Centre in King's.  The present selection combines work left over from the Blythburgh exhibition with new material that Jean experimented with while she was in the church – in particular the pew end carvings, and some of the architectural detail, notably the font and the spiral stair by the screen.  There are also lots of new reed paintings, some in a style that has evolved considerably from an essentially representational starting point; a number of these were photographed at the end of December 2007, and put on the Web in January 2008.  There will also be photographs showing how the paintings looked when hung in the church, and some selected reed photos.  Summer in Suffolk would not be the same without butterflies and dragonflies - we have included both a 2x2 and a 3x3 tableau in the Exhibition.

The Exhibition at Blythburgh in retrospect

The exhibition at Blythburgh came and went, and it's fair to say that it was an interesting experience all round.  The hours of opening were much longer than we were used to from past exhibitions, and that was tiring; but it never dragged, as the church is a wonderful space, and in particular it proved easy to write there.  The weather was pretty awful throughout the two weeks, but even so Jean sold enough pictures to make a decent contribution to our good causes.  And all sorts of interesting people turned up!

A number of reed photographs were also included in the exhibition, all taken from the selection available above.  The only ones on display – as opposed to being in a portfolio – were two tableaux at the entrance to the screen space.  The 3x3 collection on the left showed the range of freshwater marshes that had inspired the paintings, from Covehithe in the north to Minsmere in the south.  The 4x4 collection on the right presented more detailed features – in particular, the second column was a bird quiz that proved popular, particularly with the children.

Good causes for February 2008

The paintings are for sale, and there are related items such as gift cards.  The exhibition is essentially non-profit making, though – once we've met the cost of the frames, any surplus will be split between two good causes.

Blythburgh church

The south aisle roof has been leaking in recent storms – we had to install one of our buckets during last August's exhibition.  An inspection has shown that it is in urgent need of re-leading.  About £300,000 is required, which is a lot for a small parish to find.  A formal appeal has been launched, see the church Web site.  If you enjoy the exhibition, please consider making a contribution to the appeal.

A good place to learn more about the church is the Suffolk churches website, maintained by Simon Knott.   Blythburgh has a special place in his affections.  There are lots of nice photographs of the church there as well.

The Great Fen

Reedbeds are an essential feature of freshwater marshes, which at present are under threat, especially along the Suffolk coast.  Each winter brings new breaches of the sea defences, and salt water changes the whole ecosystem.  We often walk between Walberswick and Dunwich, among marshes that are managed by a combination of the RSPB, Natural England and Suffolk Wildlife Trust.   Many of the scenes in the paintings derive from this area.

While such organisations are doing what they can to protect the marshes inland from the coast, Cambridge lies on the edge of the Fens, a huge area that once contained great tracts of freshwater marsh, long ago drained to create farmland.  Isolated pockets of traditional fen remain, notably Wicken Fen, managed by the National Trust, and Woodwalton Fen, now a part of the Great Fen Project.

The exhibition is taking place at a critical moment for the Great Fen, who must raise matching funding by the end of February to secure a grant of £8.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Background to the exhibition

Since moving to Blythburgh in April 2003 we have walked widely in the surrounding countryside, mainly in the strip of Suffolk coast between Benacre in the north and Minsmere in the south.  During that time we have become fascinated by the reedbeds, and in particular the changes of colour as the year proceeds, and the shifts in the light as the angle of the sun changes.

Ken Moody was commissioned to document the changes of light and colour in the reedbed for a complete year.  The project got off to a flying start on January 1st 2005, an exceptionally clear day with a low winter sun.  As luck would have it, January 1st 2006 was another beautiful day, and in any case the project had its own momentum by then.  So the reed photographs have continued, but the sense of discovery is gradually fading.

Jean Bacon started to paint her watercolours of the reeds in that New Year of 2006.  She used some of the photographs as an initial reference, but relied increasingly on her memory and imagination.  As in the past, once the brushes that make reeds had become a part of her, freedom of expression sometimes moved her work in unexpected directions.  For whatever reason, this has been especially true of the paintings made since the August 2007 exhibition in Blythburgh church.

The three thumbnails are directly related to that earlier exhibition.  The photograph on the left was taken on August 11th 2005, and so shows the reeds much as they were when it took place.  The scene is the artist walking down part of the Suffolk Coastal path that leads from Little Dingle to the freshwater marshes south of Walberswick.  The dragonfly on the right is a male broad-bodied chaser.  The painting in the middle derives quite closely from a photograph taken on January 1st 2006, showing the Blyth valley upstream from Blythburgh church, with the church itself in the background.   Finally, the view of the interior of the church was taken on the afternoon of March 20th 2007.  The church escaped improvement during the nineteenth century, and it is brilliantly lit on all but the dullest of days.  Depending on space, it is likely that a few of the photographs will also be on display at the exhibition.

The Exhibition in King's Art Centre in retrospect

The exhibition has come and gone, and on the whole we're pleased both with the way it looked and the way it was received.   The hours of opening were much shorter than they had been in Blythburgh, which came as a welcome relief.  It was also good that a significant proportion of our visitors were used to buying paintings, so that we took more on the first Saturday than we had over the full 11 days in the church.  Jean was able to make a substantially greater contribution to our good causes.

One point of interest was the arrival of Tony Eva, a local photographer (among other things), one of whose current projects is 36 views of King's College Chapel.  He came back with some of his work on the project later in the week, including many images that are both pleasing and original.  Tony contributed the final row of photographs making up the original version of the Exhibition layout tableau, for which we are very grateful.

Where do we go next?   We're still big fans of the reedbeds, but it's beginning to feel like been there, done that ...

Watch this space!


Thanks to all at Blythburgh Church for allowing this exhibition to take place there in August 2007 and to King's for use of the Art Centre in February 2008.

Rose and Nelson Rands

Rose died in November 2007 after a long illness.  Rose was an inspiration and support to Jean Bacon over many years, even when Rose was already very ill.  Nelson has always been at hand, helping and encouraging, most recently by hanging the exhibition at King's.

There are various posters for the exhibition in .html:

A4 format        August reeds      River Blyth in winter      church interior
 A5 format        August reeds      River Blyth in winter      church interior  

In addition the following posters are available in .pdf:

A4 format        August reeds      River Blyth in winter      church interior
 A5 format        August reeds      River Blyth in winter      church interior  

August reeds    (A4 landscape,  will cut into two A5 portrait)