Last Wednesday saw me in Oxford to pick up a frame for a painting. After our last visit to the Ashmolean and with my new determination to do more observational sketching, I decided to spend a few hours pottering there. I always like to begin with this staircase, as it takes me back to my art student days and the first time I breathlessly and reverently climbed them to visit the Renaissance rooms. I can still remember the emotional choke in my throat (dramatic child that I was) as I paid my respects to the Masters and began my own long artistic journey.
I like the continuity of returning with another sketchbook, over twenty years on, still tramping that same road, which has twisted in ways I could not have dreamt of then. And now I find the new extension has caught my heart too. It also leaves me breathless, though for a different reason.
I actually feel a little sick if I get too near the glass partitions and look down - or up. But I love the way you can watch the other galleries and their occupants on all levels, like a giant cultural ant's nest coiling round the central space which seems to me like an invisible pillar rising through the centre of the museum.
Needless to say, I took many photos of this and that, flashless photography (for personal use) being allowed. Just look at this little collection of lovelies - three needlework 'favours' or love tokens from the 1600s, each just few inches tall -
- and a sweet gold wirework frog purse from the same era, used for carrying herbs or perfumed sachets. I wonder if I could reconstruct a similar design?
But with all this visual wealth around me, I had to narrow my choice of subject down if I were not to become overwhelmed. So I naturally picked animals. Like this adorable little hare tureen, which could sit in one's hand.
And this exquisite porcelain cat, which I think is some kind of pill box -
- scaring the nearby tapestry parrot.
I found myself more drawn to the Oriental galleries, perhaps because my own style is similarly curvaceous.
A wonderful piece of Satsuma ware, a mouse sitting on a turnip. Size is roughly that of large cooking apple.
Ivory monkey with dragonfly, just a few inches long. The tiny dragonfly is about the size of my little fingernail.
I fell in love with this deceptively simple hare-shaped lacquered incense box the last time we were here. It measures about two and a half inches across and to me is absolute design perfection. I think if I could have just one thing from the thousands of things in the Ashmolean, it would be this.
As with the landscape notes I made last weekend, the object of my sketching was not to produce a page of pretties nor even to make notes for future work. Neither was the challenge to exactly copy the object itself.
What I wanted to do was explore the design style of each piece and the way each individual artist had interpreted and tweaked the animal form, especially if it was also a functional item. Trying to get inside their creative minds as I worked; and at the end of the exercise, the final scribbles were really just a crude record. The real result was what had been imprinted in my visual memory and loosening up my hand skills. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.