30th September – 25th February 2018
Wixamtree Gallery, The Higgins
The Higgins Bedford pays homage to the tree this autumn with an exhibition celebrating the role of trees and woodland in British landscape painting. Drawn from the world-famous Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection, some forty watercolours, drawings and prints from the past two centuries will be on show and will include works by John Constable, John Sell Cotman, Edward Lear, Samuel Palmer, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud. The show will highlight the importance and enduring popularity of trees in art, and explore various themes which have evolved in artist’s depictions of nature: magical and dreaming trees, trees in the countryside, the pleasures of the woods and the lure of the exotic. It will consider both the role of trees in the living landscape and their place in the imagination, as locations for stories, myths and symbols.
Among the exhibits is Fir Trees at Hampstead, John Constable’s largest ever tree drawing, a portrait of a larch and Scots pine in a neighbour’s garden at Hampstead, which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1834. Other stars of the show will be Berkshire Landscape by John Nash, in which the drooping branches and hollow trunk of two dead trees are delicately traced against the background of lush summer foliage, and a sun-filled watercolour of willow trees, At Binsey, Near Oxford by the Pre-Raphaelite follower George Price Boyce.
The exhibition coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, which was signed by Henry III in 1217 to enable people to access and use the Royal Forests. On 6th November 2017 a new Tree Charter will be launched in the UK, led by the Woodland Trust, to recognise, celebrate and protect the rights of people to enjoy the many benefits brought by trees and woods.
A Walk in the Woods: A Celebration of Trees in British Art has been organised in collaboration with Christiana Payne, Professor of History of Art at Oxford Brookes University. Her book, Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760–1870 published by Sansom & Company, will be launched at the opening of the exhibition.
A special programme of tree-related events and activities will accompany the exhibition, details of which will be available on The Higgins website. These will include a study day sponsored by Oxford Brookes University, bringing together a number of expert speakers to further explore the subject of trees in British art, and a series of events co-organised with the Forest of Marston Vale, the charity creating Bedfordshire’s Community Forest.