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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Friday 21 June 2019

A visit to the Doris Hatt exhibition at the Museum of Somerset

From the passenger seat of the car, Taunton seemed to have changed enormously from how it was when I lived there briefly, 30-odd years ago, but there was no time for a proper look as my Friend-Formerly-Known-As-'Er-Over-The-Road and I were on a mission, having only a week left to find a parking space and get to the Museum of Somerset before the exhibition of work by Doris Hatt closed. 

Because when would we next get the chance to see a whole exhibition devoted to Doris, whose art should be far more celebrated than it is?

Doris Brabham Hatt was born in Bath and into money in 1890. She decided to make a career for herself in art while she was at finishing school in Kassel, Germany, and subsequently studied art at the Bath School of Art, Goldsmith's and the Royal College of Art. 

One of Doris' earliest commissions came in 1915, in the form of a World War I recruiting poster for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. 

Doris soon disowned her work as news came through of the appalling casualties of the conflict. At the same time she was becoming radicalised in London through exposure to the poverty she saw in the city, the plight of returning soldiers, the Women's Suffrage movement, and the writings of William Morris.   

You can argue - and we did a bit - that like Morris before her, it's easy to build a beautiful, cutting-edge home to live in and devote your life to your art when you have pots of inherited money. 

But, again like Morris before her, Doris put her not inconsiderable money where her mouth was. In 1917 she joined the Independent Labour Party, and in 1935 the Communist Party. She travelled to the Soviet Union, became a regular seller of the Daily Worker, and stood as
party candidate in the Clevedon Urban District Council election in 1946 and 1947. She also taught children how to draw, and ran adult education classes into the 1960s. 

 Doris shared her life with her partner, the teacher, artist and weaver, Margery Mack Smith. Their extensive travels in the UK and abroad had a significant influence on the development of Doris's art. They were often joined by close members of their family, and I naively hoped for a
loving acceptance of their relationship, but tragically and horribly, a large quantity of her letters and personal records were burned by a relative after her death in 1969. Fortunately, two chests of material,
including sketch books, were saved by Margery, who took them to their second home in Watchet.  

On to the exhibition.

Doris was very influenced by the landscape of her native West Country. Here's Cumberland Basin with the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the background ... 

... and an instantly recognisable Brandon Hill, both in Bristol. 

She often revisited the same scenes in different media ... 

... and it's fascinating to compare landscapes to see how her style developed over years. 

Here, Sennen Cove in Cornwall. 

I love the feeling of movement in a lot of her work. Here the mad, wind-swept trees on the front in Clevedon ...

... and a still life, which is anything but. 

I also loved her paintings that make use of counterpoint.

Sursum corda - lift up your heart

The Melon Picker

Bay Cottage, Lyme Regis

Some of Margery's weaving

I think this might be my favourite painting of all. I love this woman's placid strength. 


After we finished the exhibition, we went around again because it was that good - informative and beautiful. Not everyone agreed ... the only man there while we were was loudly explaining how he would have framed everything differently, although to be fair there was also a woman complaining that the paintings hadn't always been hung in the strict
chronological order she craved, which shows you can't please everyone. 

Anyway, the exhibition ends on 29th June so if you are reading this and think you'd like to go, you'd better get your skates on. 

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