Artists have always known the best places to visit and stay. They rely on different landscapes to inspire their work – often off the beaten track. Here are some of their favourite holiday destinations in the British Isles.
William Morris – Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds
William Morris spent many a tranquil summer at Kelmscott Manor between 1871 and 1896. Escaping the chaos of London, he came upon the house and gardens and declared them ‘Heaven on Earth.’ This exquisite estate had a big influence on his work. Looking at the planting, you can easily see where the images for his art originated. ‘Strawberry Thief’ and ‘Willow Bough’ were just two of the beautiful designs completed in the years he would have been here.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti lived with Morris at Kelmscott between 1871 and 1874 and the pair used to visit nearby folly Broadway Tower which was the brainchild of Capability Brown.
The Pre-Raphaelite painted a charming portrait of his Morris’s wife Jane with the property in the background. Rossetti and Jane had an affair that lasted for many years. Kelmscott Manor also appears in the frontispiece of Morris’s book News from Nowhere with the words: ‘This is the picture of the old house by the Thames to which the people of this story went. Hereafter follows the book itself which is called News From Nowhere or An Epoch of Rest and is written by William Morris.’
Kelmscott is now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and is open to the public to visit (check their website for the latest Covid-19 restrictions).
John Everett Millais – Perthshire
Millais had a home near Bowerswell in Scotland and often rented other properties in autumn. He was so enamoured of the Scottish landscape that he captured it in 21 paintings in all. He once wrote: ‘Scotland is like a wet pebble, with the colours brought out by the rain.’ His connection to Perthshire came via his Boswerwell-born wife, Effie (Euphemia Chalmers Gray), whose portrait he painted and called ‘The Order of Release’. Effie was married to John Ruskin at the time, but as he famously failed to consummate their relationship, she obtained a very public annulment. She wed Millais the following year.
Bridget Riley –Rock, Cornwall
Bridget Riley spent her childhood living in Cornwall, near Padstow, between the ages of 8 and 14. In her essay ‘The Pleasures of Sight’ (1984), she wrote about the effect living in Cornwall had on her and her work: ‘Changing seas and skies, a coastline ranging from the grand to the intimate, bosky woods and secretive valleys; what I experienced there formed the basis of my visual life.’ The colours of Cornwall stayed with her. I love her description of ‘Dipping a bucket into shadowed water and suddenly seeing a right blue patch of reflected sky appear in the broken surface.’ Riley divides her time between several studios in London, including ones in Kensington and Bow, Provence, and, of course, Rock in Cornwall. Rock Beach remains one of the prettiest and most popular attractions for tourists thanks to its long stretches of soft golden sand.
J.M.W Turner – Margate
Turner went to school in Margate. One of his first recorded drawings, completed when he was about nine years old, shows Margate Church. He spent a lot of time in the town between 1824 and 1846 while lodging in the house of Sophia Caroline Booth in Cold Harbour. Margate features in many of his canvases and sketchbooks. His splendid ‘Old Margate Pier’, for instance, was shown at the Royal Academy in 1804. In this period of the early nineteenth century, Margate was developing from a fishing town to a favoured resort for those visiting from London. Today, it has a gallery – the Turner Contemporary – on the seafront, featuring exhibitions of contemporary art and sculpture.
Derek Jarman – Dungeness
In April this year, the UK charity Art Fund raised over £3.6 million through crowdfunding to save Derek Jarman’s cottage from being sold to a private owner. ‘Prospect Cottage’ in Dungeness in Kent was bought by Jarman in 1986 and became a sanctuary for artists to come together and create. The splendid and house and garden will be restored to look as they did at the time Jarman occupied them. Dungeness itself has a lot more besides to offer the weary traveller. There is Dungeness National Nature Reserve, and also Dungeness Beach, a wild and pebbly place to blow away the cobwebs.
Antony Gormley, Norfolk
Sculptor Antony Gormley’s work has often drawn on the landscapes of the British Isles – from the Angel of the North and his 2015 LAND statues to Another Place on Crosby Beach. The artist has grand plans for his sprawling 1,000 acre Norfolk Estate West Acre High House, which he bought in 2010. He wants to turn it into a sculpture park, similar to the Henry Moore Foundation, where he can exhibit his work, promote sculpture to the public and shore up his artistic legacy. West Acre High House is not far from Amner where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live. The coast is also within easy reach – South Beach, Heacham near King’s Lynn is a local favourite, as are the sand dunes at Holkham.
L.S. Lowry, Lytham near Blackpool
L.S. Lowry is known best for his depiction of industrial city scenes but the artist also loved the coast. “Some people like to go to the theatre,” he once said, “some like to watch television. I just like watching ships.” Favourite coastal painting spots included Lytham just outside Blackpool and Glasgow. He once said of the sea: “What interests me here, of course, is the vastness of it and the terribleness of it … I wonder what would happen if the tide didn’t turn, and the sea came on and on and on and on. What would the place be like, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see it?”