The Chalke Valley History Festival
‘This is the second muddiest festival I have been to in England’ as an opening line is usually just an introductory comment but for Dr Loyd Grossman CBE FSA at the Chalke Valley History Festival this was the prelude to ‘the other being Glastonbury where I was last week.’ Indeed our sponsored guest speaker actually played at Glastonbury, in his band The Not Forgotten and being an act at the largest music festival in world is just one of the many strings, which span his considerable bow.
Introduced by Paul Viney, the list includes not only being a popular television presenter in the 80s with programs such as Through the Keyhole, MasterChef, Behind the Headlines, and History of British Sculpture but he was Chairman of The Church Conservation Trust from 2007 to 2016, current Chairman of The Heritage Alliance, President of NADFAS, and has recently been appointed Chairman of The Royal Parks.
The lecture was based on Benjamin West, the painter who was famed for his depiction of The Death of General Wolfe. Loyd included snipets from his book ‘Benjamin West And The Struggle To be Modern’ giving a fascinating insight into why this particular painting catapulted him into the spot-light; the balance between realism and idealism and how Wolfe moved away from the usual biblical scenes or classical events, instead depicting an event that occurred only seven years before and painted a canvas where the saying ‘size matters’ really did – the original being just over 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters. The symbolism of the paintings is more about the idealism of how the scene should have been for the death of General Wolfe. Loyd gave examples of how West had adapted the truth of the situation to extend the appeal to the nation, and ultimately the world. The Native American crouched at the front would, in fact, never have been on the battle field and other figures were most certainly not in Quebec at the time of Wolfe’s death.
Interesting facts came one after the other, delivered in an enthralling and enthusiastic way. This image was the most reproduced in the 18th century. Only three men were entrusted to produce engraved copies and these were the most expensive engravings of the time.
This lecture was an example of The Chalke Valley History Festival at its best. Despite Loyd having to wear his wellies throughout and visitors having to be towed in and out of the grounds, the festival can surely claim to be the finest annual history event in the U.K.