Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

The Tunbridge Wells Museum And Art Gallery

The woman behind the desk in the Tunbridge Wells Museum loves her job. She says it still amazes her that one of the first things she sees when she opens up the workplace in the morning is a painting by Reynolds.

The museum has several notable pictures- There are two Reynoldses, two Lawrences, a Gainsborough, a Beechey- and others: they're the family portraits of the Pratt family who lived at Bayham Abbey and rose up through the ranks to become Earls of Camden. The one that lifts the museum lady's heart- and mine too- is Reynolds's portrait of Frances Molesworth, Marchioness Camden- a pretty woman in an enormous plumed hat- and very much the best of the bunch. I've always loved Reynolds. Not everything he did was a success but he had an artistic conscience and was always looking for an angle. Gainsborough was a great artist- more naturally gifted than Reynolds- but bread and butter portraiture bored him- and his painting of a male Pratt is entirely vacuous. When he's good he's world-class, when he's working at the production line he's dreadful.

You never know what you're going to find in a local museum. Tunbridge Wells has the usual stuffed birds and local history items- but also a collection of dolls and an enormous dolls house, complete with furnishings. There are- as you'd expect- a lot of items decorated with the intricate wooden mosaic known as Tunbridge Ware- which is lovely stuff but very samey when you see it in bulk. I mean, who needs more than one mosaic view of Eridge Castle? What did I learn that I didn't know before? That there used to be a pottery in Pembury- just down the road from here. It made basic, slip-glazed earthenware- all brown and treacly- and I wouldn't mind owning a piece.
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