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The Books of Gordon Beningfield

I wrote briefly about the wildlife and countryside artist, Gordon Beningfield (1936-1998) in May when I wrote about Butterflies, and mentioned his lovely book on this subject, the first of several books of his that I have bought since 1978.  And so I thought another post about this man and his paintings might be of interest.

A shepherd, his flock, and his shepherd’s hut (being used for its original purpose and not, as is often the case today, as guest accommodation in someone’s garden or orchard.)

In Beningfield’s Countryside there are several paintings of carts, barns and gates and I think his painting of a five-bar gate (photo, top) is very similar to the one in my photograph which I took some years ago in Torbay’s Cockington Countryside Park.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been reading Harry Mount’s book How England Made the English and he mentions five-bar gates. Each county not only has different styles of gate, but also they are made from different types of wood:  “sweet chestnut gates are popular in Kent; oak gates are common in Sussex, where oaks were once so thick on the ground that the tree was called the ‘Sussex weed’.  Most gates have five bars, but you can find six in Cornwall and Devon.  Different counties use different combinations of vertical, horizontal and diagonal bars.”

[I read in Beningfield’s obituary, published in the Daily Telegraph in May 1998, that this book was translated into five languages and (at that time) sold more than 100,000 copies. ]

I would not describe Gordon Beningfield as a botanical artist; I think strict accuracy  in his work wasn’t as important to him as quickly capturing the countryside as it was at the time of the painting and, not only that, capturing the atmosphere of the countryside, whether this was a farmer working in the fields or bringing his cows in for milking, or quietly watching a harvest mouse or tawny owl, which is the last painting in his book, Beningfield’s Woodlands.

As well as butterflies and the countryside, Beningfield also painted scenes in some of England’s villages.  In Beningfield’s English Villages you will find scenes from Yorkshire down to Kent, an evocation of the diversity of the vernacular architecture that we love about our English villages.

Castle Combe, Wiltshire

Another in my Beningfield book collection is Beningfield’s English Farm

I just love the portrait of this rather benign-looking Gloucester bull and I think he’d make short work of that style if angry!  “The Gloucester is the rarest of all English breeds of cattle, and has always been largely restricted to its native county and neighbouring parts of Somerset and Wiltshire.  It is said that the richness of the milk and the small size of the fat globules it contained made Gloucester milk ideal for cheese-making. This was the milk that was made into the original Double Gloucester cheese.” says Beningfield.

The room in the cottage at Higher Brockhampton where Hardy did much of his early writing

In Hardy Country, Beningfield shows us the Dorset landscape that was so important to the novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy.  However, he points out that he does not want to suggest that Dorset as a whole still looks as it did in Hardy’s day.  “The county has suffered terribly from forestry and farming.  Heathland, which was such an important element in the landscape of Dorset and consequently in Hardy’s novels, has largely been ploughed up or turned into lifeless forests of Christmas trees by the Forestry Commission.”  He also says that “you have to search now for unspoiled downland with its soft turf cropped by generations of sheep and rabbits, a rich and stable environment with its own flowers and its own butterflies.”  (He was speaking on these subjects 35 years ago; things might have changed since them.)

The Darkling Thursh not only has the lovely drawings and paintings by Beningfield, but poems by Thomas Hardy.

Above all, as well as being an exceptional artist, Gordon Beningfield was an environmentalist.  In the early days of his painting career he appeared on several TV programmes including Look, Stranger and In the Country.  He knew that the English countryside was an irreplaceable part of our national heritage.  In this book he looks at “fragments of the traditional English landscape that have remained unspoilt. He finds elm trees still surviving in  Cambridgeshire and a farm still operating with horse-drawn ploughs, but whether in the 32 years since this book was published this is still the case, I would not like to say.

A view of the broad open landscape of Wiltshire, with the village of Mere in the distance

and for my last picture, above, broken fencing on Halvergate Marshes (Norfolk).  Beningfield says “It was late in the day, and the weather on the marshes was beginning to change.”

The countryside is forever changing. I just hope that we are now more environmentally aware than 40 years ago and that the places that this artist and conservationist depicted in his paintings and books are now less under threat than they were then.

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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18 comments

  1. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Thankyou for doing this post Margaret, its nice to see before buying, I have looked on amazon there are several different ones on there and lots for only 1p and postage, I have put nearly all of them in my wishlist, I really want to collect these the illustrations are beautiful. Right up my street, thankyou for sharing.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I thought you would like these books, Marlene. They really are lovely and not only have they the most beautiful paintings in them, they are very interesting to read. At 1p plus postage they are certainly worth having. I actually wrote to Gordon Beningfield about something in his first book, Butterflies, and still have his beautifully hand-written reply in that book.

  2. Interesting post, and the books/paintings all look wonderful. They have a very soothing, almost spiritual quality about them (meaning a person could feel closer to God looking at them). Glad you shared again about this marvelous artist!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      thank you, Bess, for your kind comments. Yes, a lovely artist who has done us all a service by painting the English countryside and its wildlife in the latter part of the 20th century.

  3. Thank you Margaret for another interesting post, funnily enough we stayed at a holiday cottage in Mere when we visited Wiltshire last year which was most enjoyable.
    I would be most interested to know whereabouts in Cambridgeshire there was elm trees and if they are still in existence, can feel some research coming on!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I’m glad you have enjoyed this post, Elaine. I had a look in Beningfield’s book, English Landscape in which he has sketched an elm tree, under which he says, “English elm trees growing out of the hedgerows used to be one of the common sights of the English landscape until they were wiped out in the ‘seventies by Dutch elm disease. It was to see and sketch one of the few survivors that I went to Cambridgeshire.” So I’ve no idea where this particular elm is situated, Elaine.

  4. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    How wonderful to have a passion for something and to be able share that passion through such creative talent. I am an utterly hopeless artist and know little about art but can appreciate the wonderful detail in these paintings.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I tend to like only figurative art, such as that of Beningfield. There are many artists I like (all deceased). One artist who painted the most marvellous scenes of cattle was Thomas Sydney Cooper. Once you have seen his work, it’s easy to recognize – his cattle was almost always painted against a backdrop of sky rather than hills and vegetation. I love all kinds of paintings – landscapes, seascapes, still life, interiors, portraits, but as I say, always figurative. I have yet to fall in love with any modern art, except the Scottish Colourists, and that is about as modern as it gets for me! Two other 20th century artists whose work I like are James Durden (1878-1964) and Patrick Adam (1854-1930) both of whom painted early-mid 20th century interiors. I think it goes without saying I love the work of the Dutch School, particularly Vermeer.

  5. Eloise at thisissixty.blog

    The younger me favoured the Pre-Raphelites – especially Waterhouse and Alma Tadema. For years my favourite painting was Waterhouse’s Lady of Shallot and I still have a fondness for that particular painting. On my fortieth birthday my husband arranged a surprise trip to London where the Tate was hosting a Waterhouse exhibition and we also went to the Royal Academy.
    Nowadays I absolutely love the work of Fabian Perez. Just today I started reading a bit about him so that I can write about him on my blog!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Now that is wonderful … you have introduced me to an artist whose name I’ve not come across before: Fabian Perez. I must now ‘look him up’! Yes, Alma-Tadema and Waterhouse, both wonderful painters. My mother said that, as a child, her parents had pictures in the parlour of Bubbles and Cherry Ripe by Millais (I think it was Millais, with out looking this up!) as they were made into posters advertising Pears soap. I love all kinds of art, though, even Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) – the painter who constructed faces from all kinds of things – fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish, even books! If he were alive today, he would I am sure overshadow the likes of David Hockney and Grayson Perry.
      Indeed, I hadn’t heard of this artist until I saw the film 84 Charing Cross Road (my favourite film) in which someone calls at the bookshop of the title and asks if they have any prints by this artist. So I ‘looked him up’ and now have a book showing his truly remarkable paintings.

      • Eloise at thisissixty.blog

        I look lots of things up after your posts – you are my new teacher, Margaret!

        Some of Perez’s paintings are rather erotic but it is the ones of Flamenco dancers that I love most. He somehow gets movement into his paintings. I have not heard of Arcimboldo (although I have seen that film but it was many years ago and I can’t remember much about it) but I have seen such paintings so perhaps they were his work.

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          Oh, dear, a teacher indeed! And I didn’t particularly enjoy school, I never wanted to teach but in a way I suppose I’m a teacher manqué as I like to impart what little bits of knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years, even if they are what I’ve always considered ‘snippets of useless information’, the sort of information that is useful on Mastermind and University Challenge. I had no idea there was a film about Arcimboldo. I like many artists, though, and even the much-reproduced Jack Vettriano, who is loved by the masses and isn’t loved by the art world. Indeed, Perez’s paintings remind me of the work of Vettriano. Another painter whose work I admire is that of Artemisia Gentileschi, perhaps the most famous female painter to come from Italy. Since mentioning the paintings of Patrick Adam yesterday, I have been rash and sent for a reproduction from an online art company. If it’s good enough (as a reproduction) I will have it mounted and framed. The painting I have chosen is called Morning in the Studio.

          • Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

            Perez is often compared to Vettriano. I have read that the art world dislikes him. I have mixed feelings. I look forward to seeing your new print -I’m sure that you will show us! It’s an interesting thing that there are few well known female artists. I have not heard of Gentileschi.

          • Margaret Powling
            Margaret Powling

            Artemisia had a dreadful life, I don’t remember all the details but I know it was dire. And yet she was a wonderful artist. And yes, I will show my print if it is as nice as I hope it will be.

  6. Oh Margaret I’m so happy to be back reading your posts !!!

    For some reason I was unable to access your site – the ‘bookmark’ in my iPad kept taking me to a large ‘error 44’ in huge print and it wasn’t until I read Fiona Ferris most recent post earlier today and read your comment that I realised you were back. I had problems initially accessing your new site (I’ll blame the iPad rather than myself) so had left you a note under your comment – pls ignore.

    The pictures from those books are beautiful. The owl is definitely my favourite. And reading about the different forms (and woods) of the gates was so interesting. I never would have guessed such a thing.

    Your comment about small wooden outer buildings in rural properties rings true for my area. Tourism is the major industry (and can be a double-edged sword at times) and many new landowners have converted the old dairy bales into short term accommodation. These old bales are all based on the same design, all face the same direction to capture the prevailing breezes and vary only in their length which was determined by how many cattle were originally kept. I’ve never had the opportunity to peek into any which have been refitted.

    Now I will go back and read the posts I have missed in the past few weeks.

    ps I like the layout of your new website xx

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Lara, and so glad you have found the ‘new’ blog. I engaged the services of an expert through a website called Fiverr, and it was necessary to have a whole new ‘theme’, which I think is the style of the home page, as I’m not really conversant with all the terms for websites and so forth. I did worry that dropping my title of “Devon Dreaming” that some people wouldn’t be able to find me, but I didn’t know what to do about this, so I mentioned it on Fiona’s blog, thinking her readers were also some of my readers.
      I’m also glad you have enjoyed the latest post on Gordon Beningfield, and I agree, the owl painting is beautiful!

    • Eloise at thisissixty.blog

      What a treat Lara – to be able to read several of Margaret’s posts at one sitting. I did that when I first discovered the blog. Perhaps we can persuade her to post twice a day!

      • Margaret Powling
        Margaret Powling

        I am truly humbled by all the kind words that readers have said about my blog, including yours, Eloise. I only set out doing this last August as a bit of fun, sharing the things I enjoy, and hoping that if I gained any readers at all that they would them, too; or if not enjoy them, perhaps introduce new things – even trying fine quality soap after perhaps years of liquid soap, or trying different scents or even pillow mists, or reading different writers.
        Post twice a day? Now there’s a challenge!

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