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Press Release: Wiltshire Heritage Museum.
A new exhibition Landscapes of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, bringing together the works of artists Rob Pountney, Dave Gunning and David Inshaw, opens at Wiltshire Heritage Museum on Saturday 28 May 2011.

The exhibition displays works that depict the spectacular landscapes and ancient archaeological sites that feature in the novels and poems of Thomas Hardy.  These contemporary artistic representations of Hardy’s fictionalized ‘Wessex’ are highly evocative, focusing attention on the physical and atmospheric qualities of the landscape, in much the same way that Hardy used prose to generate melodrama and set the scene in his work. 

Hardy gives his reader a strong sense of place that conveys deep symbolic meaning, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in his description of Stonehenge, which features in the climactic scene of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  In the middle of the night, Tess stumbles upon the monument, and lies down to rest on an ancient altar, giving the allusion of her character as a sacrificial offering to a society that has cast her out.  Hardy describes the isolation of the monument on Salisbury Plain, and once inside the circle, the feeling of enclosure. He describes the humming sound of the wind as it wraps around the stones, but he doesn’t describe what Stonehenge looks like. Instead he focuses on sounds and feelings.  It is likely that Hardy visited Stonehenge, and then decided to use it in his work.  Symbolism is central to Hardy’s work, which is perhaps why so many artists use it as inspiration. 

Rob Pountney is a highly accomplished artist who has always been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s work, and this intensified during his study of fine art and later doctoral research work in English literature.  The use of dramatic contrasts of light and shade in his work captures the striking visual aspects of the geological and archaeological features of the Wessex landscape, and his interpretation of Hardy’s response to them. 

Dave Gunning, awarded Year of the Artist Award in 2000-2001 by the British Arts Council, is an exceptionally fine artist, who has spent more than 25 years studying the prehistoric landscape in the West Country, particularly the ancient monuments within the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury.  Gunning’s work goes far further than recording their existence and captures their spiritual and mystical presence, often in highly charged atmospheric environments.  Thomas Hardy lived and travelled amongst the monuments Gunning has captured on paper and steel for this exhibition. 

Thomas Hardy has also been a key figure in the work of one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists, David Inshaw.  His works are mainly large oil paintings etchings and drawings, and one of his most famous pictures ‘The Badminton Game’, painted in his Devizes studio, caught the public imagination at its debut exhibition in 1972.  This piece is one of a number of pictures painted soon after his move to Wiltshire, and is inspired partly by his discovery of Thomas Hardy. 

Lisa Webb, the Museum’s Curator says, “This exhibition aims to encourage the appreciation of the Hardyesque influence on the contemporary artistic representations of the prehistoric landscape of Wiltshire and Dorset”. 

The Exhibition runs until 29 August 2011.


April 2011

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