My Favourite Painting: HRH The Prince of Wales

'It elicited an instant, emotional response—it made me feel happy looking at it.'

Storiths in Wharfedale on The Bolton Abbey Estate, 1929, by Reginald ‘Rex’ Vicat Cole (1870–1940), 481/2in by 60in, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

The Prince of Wales says:
‘When I first saw this painting hanging in the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s sitting room at Chatsworth, I was utterly transfixed by it. It elicited an instant, emotional response—it made me feel happy looking at it. It’s the subtle play of light and shade on a landscape I love, the deep darkness of the hill in the distance contrasting with the ray of sunlight catching the trunk of the tall tree in the foreground and the juxtaposition of the buildings in their perfect setting that makes it such a masterpiece of observation and painterly skill. Just by gazing at this painting you can literally feel yourself there, under the canopy of those trees rustling in the wind, with the clouds and shafts of sun scudding across that heavenly Wharfedale landscape. A sight for sore eyes and a reassuring reminder of precisely why the English landscape is a balm to the soul.’

John McEwen comments:
‘There is nothing in landscape so difficult to paint well as tree forms against the sky, except the sky itself,’ wrote Rex Vicat Cole in his book The Artistic Anatomy of Trees, published in 1915. Vicat Cole was educated at Eton and, in 1900, was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and married a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter. His marriage perhaps reflected his first enthusiasm for the landscape of Bolton Abbey, famed for its ruined medieval priory and the Duke of Devonshire’s northern sporting estate.

In 1910, Vicat Cole and his friend and fellow artist Byam Shaw opened the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole School of Art in Kensington. He joined the Artists Rifles in the First World War and, on Shaw’s death in 1919, became principal of the school until his retirement in 1926. ‘Latterly, people have been reading strangely involved writings on art,’ wrote Cole in 1916, ‘and… this, and their visits to some new exhibitions of canvases daubed by people of weak intellect, have led them to believe that all representations of nature as we know and love her are wrong, and they are persuaded to profess admiration only for that which no one can understand.’

In 2003, the Byam Shaw was dissolved in Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Happily, the independent Prince’s Drawing School prevails (www.’

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This article was first published in Country Life, November 13, 2013