WYR_BMGH_1931_020
Topic: Subject or sitter

Who recognises this churchyard from the distinctive wooden church tower in this painting by David Muirhead? This Scottish artist trained in London, exhibited widely in provincial galleries and is well-represented within British collections.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

13 comments

Jacinto Regalado,

The top part or section of the tower appears to be wood, but the lower section and the rest of the visible building are surely not. Presumably the wooden part was a temporary structure meant to be replaced, as it may well have been, meaning it would no longer exist.

Jacinto Regalado,

Could this be a continental scene as opposed to a British one?

Christopher Cole,

Many ancient churches have wooden spires. They are covered with shingles made from oak or ash as they are much lighter than tiles.

Malcolm Fowles,

The top of the tower is a belfry/bellcote; the louvred windows are a common design to let the peal ring out to the surroundings.

Wooden belfries neither unusual nor temporary: see a single-roof example at https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3259449. The two-roof version ought to be easy but I can't find this one online.

The roof does look a bit French to me, but the overgrown churchyard and the gravestone are quintessentially English.

Do we know whether Muirhead had particular stamping grounds?

Martin Hopkinson,

Muirhead mainly painted in South East Yorkshire , Fenland , the Ouse valley in Huntingdonshire, Norfolk and Suffolk , the Medway valley around Rochester, Dorset and Chepstow
i do not think that this can be a French church

Kieran Owens,

Is everyone certain that this is a wooden belfry? The topmost openings are louvered but the walls look rendered rather than clad in timber slats.

The Westminster Gazette, Friday 4th June 1909, reported that, at an exhibition of the New English Art Club, Muirhead had exhibited a painting entitled "The Church in the Fens" as catalogue No. 157. Perhaps an examination of the back of the painting might reveal some useful labels or exhibition numbers that might help with the discussion.

Alison Golding,

Both church and churchyard were in a neglected state when this painting was made 90 or more years ago. It is quite possible that the church depicted is now ruined, or has had its tower restored into a different form.

Although not the one depicted, there are a couple of examples of double roofed church towers in Hampshire, next door to Dorset where Martin says Muirhead painted, at Breamore and Meonstoke.

http://www.churches-uk-ireland.org/images/hants/breamore.jpg
http://www.bridgechurches.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/st-andrews-meonstoke3.jpg

Roberta Blick ,

That appears to be a very large cross on the roof. As the church appears to be unusual could it be a different denomination, not Church of England?

Louis Musgrove,

St Andrews Leighterton,Tetbury --although heavily restored -- has many similar features, but I cannot find a photo from the needed angle.

Osmund Bullock,

Louis, St Andrew's was apparently restored in 1877, when the artist of our mystery church was 10 years old. So even if St Andrew's looked more like ours pre-restoration - and it seems unlikely the exterior would have changed quite so radically - he must have painted it *after* those changes. As it stands now, I'm afraid it bears very little resemblance to the one we are trying to identify. See https://www.badmintonchurch.org.uk/churches/leighterton/

Howard Jones,

The long grass and leaves on the tree (elm) suggest mid or late Summer. The figure in the background appears to be attired in a hat and coat, and perhaps a scarf, suggesting this is not a hot climate. The sky looks unusual with many highlights in the cloudy sky. Did Muirhead use similar techniques for his other paintings?

Could this have been painted during the First World War when many graveyards were less carefully tended? It is a very 'picturesque' setting so there should be other pictures showing the same Church.

Brenda Lambourne,

That particular kind of two stage recessed tower with a wooden belfry is commoner in the Severn valley than in the other "stamping grounds". A possible candidate is St. Mary's Church, Newtown, Powys: the church is now ruined, though carefully preserved because of the grave of Robert Owen in the churchyard.
The church was abandoned in 1856 and left to decay until the tower was restored in 1939, so it may well have been in the pictured state when painted. Is this near enough to the Chepstow area to be possible?

2 attachments
Brenda Lambourne,

Artnet.com shows that the David Muirhead painting entitled "The Church in the Fens" was sold in 1993 and therefore cannot be this one purchased by the Bradford museum in 1931. Unfortunately it is not illustrated, but the size is given as 50.8 x 76.2 (20 × 30 in) which again does not match the 51 x 61 given as the size of this picture.

I have found several examples of very similar towers with wooden belfries in various parts of the UK, but not this particular one as yet.

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