Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering Reculver by Robert Preston

In Townsville we have rarely been blessed with visits by art experts and cognoscenti from overseas. However thanks to Ron McBurnie this April turned out to be something of an exception in the event of a visit from UK of Mr Jolyon Drury the Author of Revelation to Revolution: The Legacy of Samuel Palmer, The revival and evolution of pastoral printmaking by Paul Drury and the Goldsmith’s School of the 20th Century.

We were entertained with a fascinating and scholarly presentation regarding his father the distinguished artist-printmaker Paul Drury. It was a great experience to be afforded the unique insights that can only come from a close family member, into the career and character of his father and circle of artists he was part of.

As an overview of the talk has already been provided, my attention to one print in particular namely Paul Drury’s  A Distant View of Reculver  1932, a small and for Drury a rather spare etching depicting a view of the abbey-church towers at Reculver.  It is probably worth mentioning that Reculver-from the Roman name REGULBIUM-is situated on the north Kent coast in the south east of England, facing the north sea and located between Herne Bay and Westgate.  I thought it might be of interest to share the reasons for one small print resonating with me so profoundly.  The image of the towers was for me immediately recognizable, as I had seen them from a similar distance on many occasions over a number of years. 
Paul Drury, unpublished etching, "A Distant View of Reculver"  1932.
Although Drury’s view was made from St Nicholas at Wade, which is several miles inland, and some 4 ¾ miles from Reculver, my view of the towers was from Minnis Bay, Burchington on sea, which is only 3 ½ miles distant.  The towers do however look very similar from both locations, but what is different is the foreground and middle distance.  The prospect from St Nicholas, as depicted so well by Drury, is of flat grassy fields with small stands of trees which extend into the marshlands.  Although St Nicholas is very close to Minnis Bay the view is significantly different.  Seeing Drury’s print not only reminded me of the many wonderful childhood summer holidays spent there but also the fact that the view of Reculver towers as seen from Minnis Bay was also the subject of my very first faltering attempts at plein air painting.  

View of Reculver towers from the direction of Minnis bay

The towers held a great fascination for me, mysteriously silhouetted against a summer sky in the late afternoon, sitting atop a promontory which marked the western extremity of the sweeping curve of the bay like a “full stop”.  To the right a view of the vast expanse of the North Sea, glittering in the sunlight  and the curving beach with its hundreds of black breakwaters surmounted by a sea wall – originally a huge earthen bank covered with grass and wild plants.  To the left there were flat grassy marshlands, punctuated by dykes extending away to the distant railway line (and though unseen) to St Nicholas at Wade the location from which Drury made his print. Skylarks were always to be seen over the marshes with their peculiar dipping flight and wonderful trilling song perhaps “the quintessential sound of an English summer”. 

As a post script I should like to mention that in spite of the fact that I went to Burchington on so many occasions and that Reculver towers were ever present on the western horizon, strangely I never actually got to see them up close until the summer of 2003 – some 4 ½ decades later – whilst on a family visit to the UK from Australia. 

·         Burgess, Jennie (2010) Burchington Kaleidoscope, Birchington Heritage Trust, UK., P65.
·         Wilmot, Tony(n.d.) Richborough and Reculver, English Heritage Guidebooks, UK

·         Kenyan, Gregory, British Wild life Recordings, British Library, bl.UK

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