Wednesday 20 December 2017

Christmas 2017: Serendipitous Art

I was wondering what image to use on this year's Christmas missive given I have no
photos from this winter of Balintore in this snow. There hasn't been a shortage of snow, just I haven't been around at the same time.

Anyhow these thoughts were going round my brain, at the same time as I was driving
back from a nearby auction house (Special Auction Services, just south of Newbury)
having picked up a watercolour, which I had won to my great surprise with a low bid of £20.

Eurika! I should use the watercolour's image as my Christmas card. OK, so the watercolour is an image of spring (primroses and hyacinths) but these are very much a sign that winter is over which we all want i.e. Christmas is compensation but primroses and hyacinths are the real deal.

Spring flowers, hyacinths and primroses
by Albert Durer Lucas 

The narrative journey to this watercolour is a strange one. I had been buying essential furniture for Balintore at auction, but avoided paintings, as I regarded them as a frippery. Eventually, I bought a job lot of Victorian prints for around £20, and as soon as I put them on the wall I could see the transformative effect. A Victorian ambiance needs wall art, and the greater the profusion, the better things work.

I grew up in a household that revered great art, and like my father I realised that it was not worthwhile bothering to buy any as one would be disappointed. It was therefore a revelation and a release to realise, that Balintore did not need great art, just quintessential art of the Victorian era to correctly set the scene.

Since then, I have been on the look-out for inexpensive and suitable items. The 19th Century watercolour had a guide-price of £80-£100, but something told me that the
art was a cut-above so I made a speculative low bid not expecting anything to happen.

After I found out I had won the item I did my internet research to find out the name of the (unattributed) artist by doing image searches based on the subject of the painting. I tracked down my man in less than a minute, There was no mistake, I had a work by Albert Durer Lucas (British, 1828-1918). 

Albert was the son of sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas and exhibited mainly in London between 1859-78 with the Royal Institute and the Society of British Artists.  He painted small, detailed studies of flowers and foliage, sometimes with butterflies and other insects. In 1910 he caused a sensation by revealing that his  father was the real author of a bust of Flora which had recently been bought by the Berlin Museum as a Leonardo.

If the Web is to believed, and it frequently isn't, his watercolours fetch £500-£700 and his oil paintings fetch £1000-£1500 I love Albert's work. These are not the effete nature studies of the parlour, but nature in looming confrontational turmoil. His Hyacinths are like giant tress in "The Lost World" or "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".

other works by Albert Durer Lucas

I am delighted to have had the "eye" in this instance to catch something special on
a budget. I have no plans to become an art dealer, but it makes sense to sell
the picture on to fund the castle, though I shall certainly enjoy it for now.

This year has been one of steady progress at the castle, though working at Lloyd's
of London as a contractor has left little time for me personally to be hands on, which
is frustrating. Gregor, my carpenter, has been pushing things forward and the utility room (shown below) is coming together.

utility room: left-hand side

utility room: right-hand side

This is a small room (the old dairy larder for the castle) but because it will become an auxiliary kitchen as well as a utility room for the kitchen wing, getting this up and running as a practical space is key. The original kitchen can then become a dining/sitting space, while the real work and cooking can go on in the utility room. Of course the original kitchen will still function as a kitchen, but any behind the scenes catering can be done in the utility room. 

The wooden counter top is from an old-fashioned gentleman's outfitters in Banbury
which closed down after 60 years. I picked it up from a retired antiques dealer, who
said it was one of his few remaining large items that he had to dispose of. He
mentioned that the wood was Scotch Pine and that therefore, very pleasingly, the counter was returning home to Scotland.

The doors, which featured in an earlier blog entry come from the Museum of Natural History in Nottingham and date from around 1928. In short, I have been using reclaim wood where practical to give a feel of genuine Victorian service areas i.e. nothing too smart or obviously modern.

Something seems to have gone wrong with the choice of taps! I had some French wall
taps planned for this space, but Gregor seems to have stuck some bottle taps on a
large bit of wood instead. A phone call to investigate, revealed that Gregor hadn't liked the French taps. I have no say in the matter apparently! :-)

The next stage is heating for the kitchen wing. I had ordered a boiler and oil tank, but cancelled the tank the following day. I had phoned up to check the spec, only to find out that the Internet has got it wrong. Anyhow, today when the boiler should have arrived, the tank arrived instead! So things are going very wrong.

However, once the heating is installed working through the winter will be more pleasant and a viable holiday let must be not far behind, though I have been saying this for about 3 years! :-)

The castle is surely a great place to host Christmas and the New Year: I wonder when this will happen? Anyhow, I wish you and your family all the best for 2018 and hope you have a great Christmas.



  1. I will star the biding at £25.00
    Yes you have a great eye for art. Have a Happy, healthy Christmas and New year

  2. Thanks for the opening bid! :-) I am in deep envy of the octagonal oil painting of a tree in your entrance hall. It has a similar brooding other-worldly quality.

  3. The watercolour and the thumbnail images look quite superb. I can why he has his middle name. I rather like botanical art, and - for me - it is all in the detail. These appear to be a 'cut above': great spot!

  4. Great work again this year David, Hopefully 2018 will bring more success. I look forward to updates on the gatehouse also. Tony

  5. Do you know that room, I think in Kew that is lined in watercolours ( or collage) all Victorian. These would look great all edge to edge but individually framed, maybe in black as one large block for impact, just a suggestion. I saw a collection of watercolours in an antique shop in Paris in one huge frame so I collected small cheap but good watercolours via eBay and found serindiptiously ( ? ) a huge frame in the street and a roll of dark blue silk covered mounting paper and I patched the paintings into the frame and they look great and for Nothing or almost !

  6. I think that I have a couple of Victorian watercolours I will look them out for you, can't promise I will jump on it but will not forget. xx