Fascination with Hungary leads to Covent Garden exhibition

PUBLISHED: 10:18 12 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 07 September 2010

2009 marks the centenary of an unusual artists book – an illustrated record of several visits to Hungary by Adrian Scott Stokes RA and his wife Marianne. He wrote the text and both contributed their on-the-spot records of picturesque scenes, which reveal

2009 marks the centenary of an unusual artists' book - an illustrated record of several visits to Hungary by Adrian Scott Stokes RA and his wife Marianne. He wrote the text and both contributed their on-the-spot records of picturesque scenes, which reveal the contemporary fascination with the romantic glamour of bygone times that clung to this country, with its many races.

It's a charming period piece but the anniversary of its publication would probably have passed unnoticed but for the efforts of art historian Magdalen Evans. Adrian Stokes - no relation to the Hampstead writer/artist friend of Ben Nicholson - was her great-great uncle. So she grew up aware of his work through examples on walls of her family homes.

Twenty paintings - by Adrian and Marianne - are included in a small exhibition which opens at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Covent Garden on Monday. It's a prelude to a major touring show of over 80 works, starting on January 30 at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where Evans' book Utmost Fidelity will be launched.

Adrian's early landscape paintings demonstrate a fascination with atmospheric effect shown in dramatic skylines. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools, first exhibiting at the RA early in his career, in 1876. The same year he travelled to France where he lived for a decade, meeting Marianne Preindlsberger in the Breton artists' colony of Pont-Aven.

When they settled in Britain, initially in Cornwall, their circle of friends and patrons included several members of the St John's Wood School of Art - Lawrence Alma-Tadema, George Frampton and, later, Laura and Harold Knight. Evans was intrigued by the mechanics of the Stokes' artistic partnership, because they supported each other professionally without absorbing undue influence or overlapping in style and remained happily married for over 40 years.

"Marianne's training in the art schools of Munich and Paris gives her work a pan-European atmosphere," says Magdalen. "Her painstaking technique, in her mid-career changing to tempera often on a gesso ground, lends fragility to the contemplative portraits, yet the characters within are still robust and alive."

She continues: "Adrian, a more extrovert personality, loved painting in the outdoors and combined his search for subjects with hiking, hunting and fishing, as well as enjoying the clubbable atmosphere of the Royal Academy and the Arts Club."

Adrian's landscapes have a haunting beauty. Loans in the show include works owned by the Tate, the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Government Art Collection. Marianne's 1906 painting Madonna And Child From Dalmatia became widely known when it was used as a Christmas first class stamp in 2005.

Utmost Fidelity (£25 paperback, £35 hardback) is published by Sansom & Company. The exhibition runs until January 20 at 10 Maiden Lane WC2, weekdays 10am to 5pm. www.hungary.org.uk.


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