My favourite painting: Olivia Musgrave

'It reminds me of childhood holidays spent in a house my parents built'

After Studying Constable, Beyond the Castles, 2000, by Melita Denaro (b. 1950), 193⁄4in by 241⁄2in, Private Collection.

Olivia Musgrave says:
Having married latish in life, our 10th anniversary was an occasion to celebrate, so I was thrilled when we decided to mark the event and buy a painting by Melita, who is a dear friend. Like her, I grew up in Ireland and I fell in love with this picture and its effervescent tumultuousness. It reminds me of childhood holidays spent in a house my parents built on a clifftop in Donegal. Days there revolved around weather and tides, watching the ever-changing light on the sea. The house was sold years ago, but this painting takes me back there into the wind and rain, far from grey London streets.

Sculptor Olivia Musgrave is president of The Society of Portrait Sculptors, whose annual exhibition is at La Galleria Pall Mall, 30, Royal Opera Arcade London SW1, until May 23.

John McEwen comments:
All Melita Denaro’s work is based on the panorama seen from the same 10sq ft plot in a field on the Isle of Doagh, Co Donegal. The title refers to the ‘Castles’ area of the Isle and Constable’s Hadleigh Castle, seen at a recent exhibition.

She writes: ‘Like Constable I find solace in my work, it’s redemptive and healing, the nourishment of the soul I suppose, “the turning of mourning into dance” as the psalm says. Hadleigh Castle I believe was painted after the death of Constable’s beloved wife Maria; it is illuminated with hope in the form of the herdsman with his sunlit cattle with the jolly friend and the jolly dog coming to meet them.’

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Miss Denaro had suffered a bleak winter that year. A long and happy relationship had ended, her close friend Idonia had died, aged 44. ‘The MS was slowly taking away my ability to walk but always I find with the closing in of my world, I learn more of the sanctity of the moment. I wrote at the time, I think it must be a quote from somewhere: “Eternity is the understanding that little is more than enough.” So, although the painting may seem full of gloom and thunderous weather, there is a blessedness in that landscape and it is pierced through with joy.’

Constable is among her favourite artists, with Claude, Turner and her Irish compatriots Paul Henry and (early) Jack Yeats—one of her paintings hangs ‘between these two Irish heroes’ in the Ulster Museum, Belfast. Of living artists, only David Hockney has been chosen more times for this page.

Miss Denaro’s work has just been shown in New York. Her next exhibition is at Taylor Galleries, Dublin, from early February 2016.

This article was originally published in Country Life May 20, 2015.

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