This post has a tenuous link to my last post, in as much as it mentions Thomas Hardy. It has previously been published in Crystal Magazine, and is a true account.
When I was a child, my father used his spare time, of which there was not a lot, to paint with oils. He was a keen amateur artist, pursuing this as a hobby, not with any thoughts of monetary gain. The paintings adorned the walls of the various homes we had during those years. Some scenes were taken from post cards, including some I loved of lakes in Switzerland. They made me want to travel to the scenes portrayed. Others he painted in the Dorset countryside, and seaside. He had been a sailor, still was in so much as he was a Trinity House Pilot employed in bringing in ships to Poole Harbour safely, and taking them back out of the harbour when their loading or unloading there was complete. The sea or other water frequently became a part of his paintings.
Whenever he was painting, I became used to the aroma of the linseed oil and turpentine and grew to love the smells. I enjoyed watching him employ different brushes for the various types of work he was doing, and admired his skill.
During May to June 1959 he painted a scene which at the time was not familiar to me. In the foreground, grass and flowers border a river, churning along towards a bridge. On the opposite bank, trees, more flowers and grass, and behind a large house with prominent chimneys. The Manor at Woolbridge seems to draw you into the scene. After all these years, I don’t know whether he made a sketch or was able to sit in the meadow to paint on the spot. This painting took up residence finally in my mother’s dining room, in the home she lived in after my father’s death.
By this time I’d long left home, so only gave it a cursory glance on my frequent visits to my mother. Eventually she spent the last ten years of her life being cared for in a rest home, with her own home being rented out to pay her fees, and her belongings were put into storage. It was all very sad, but it was what she wanted for herself.
My husband Mike and I moved from where we’d lived for fourteen years, in Cornwall, to Spain during this period, and when we moved back to England after a couple of stressful years in Andalusia, (but that’s another story) had no idea where we would live, as property prices had shot up in those couple of years.
We looked at properties as far as Swindon, as they were cheaper there, but we knew we would prefer to live further south. We couldn’t afford to return to Cornwall. Prices there were exorbitant. We ended up living in Wool. Still the painting did not cross my mind.
When my mother died, my brother and I sorted through her belongings, deciding which items to keep and which to donate to charity shops. Several of my father’s paintings were among the effects, including that long-forgotten painting of Woolbridge Manor, the setting for part of the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
We frequently walked our dogs, now reduced to one old boy who can’t walk the distance any more, to the Manor on Sunday mornings to look at the scene, painted years before by my father. The view has not really changed since those days. The water is sometimes calmer, sometimes rushing along. The flowers in the picture are not always there, depending on the season but the trees remain. The Manor house itself is easily recognisable by the chimneys alone. I feel as if I can walk straight into the painting. It means a lot to me now, more than it did when it was first painted, as it reminds me not only of the artist, my father, but of my mother and her homes. I can truly say that financial value, which it probably doesn’t have anyway, is not as important as the emotional value we give to some objects.
What a coincidence that we ended up living here. The painting has pride of place in our lounge.