My Favourite Painting: Oliver Gerrish

The architectural historian Oliver Gerrish chooses an idyllic Edgar Wood landscape.

Oliver Gerrish chooses Italian Hilltop Farm by Edgar Wood

‘Edgar Wood is one of my favourite architects. He had always wanted to be an artist, but his cotton-magnate father did not think it suitable as a career. After his father’s death in 1909, Wood devoted much more of his life to art. Only a year before, he had created perhaps his most remarkable house, Upmead, Stafford, for my grandfather’s aunt and uncle.

‘This painting shows the Ligurian city of Imperia viewed from a spot close to Wood’s last house on Monte Calvario. He started his life beneath the smoke billowing from Manchester’s chimneys, built some of the most remarkable domestic architecture before the First World War and died after a day of walking in the sun-soaked hills of the Italian Riviera. I love the light and warmth of this painting by a man whose whole life was one of interesting contrasts.’

Oliver Gerrish is an architectural historian, bespoke country-house tour operator and building consultant. In 2016, he co-founded Historic Decoration.

Charlotte Mullins on Italian Hilltop Farm

Edgar Wood sketched the countryside near his Middleton home in Greater Manchester with his friend Frederick Jackson when still at school. Jackson became an artist, but Wood trained as an architect, becoming one of the leading avant-garde practitioners of his generation. He was influenced by the writings of William Morris and created Arts-and-Crafts houses that were filled with bespoke pieces of furniture, stained glass and metalwork. Wood subsequently championed several new architectural styles, including Art Nouveau and Art Deco, although few prospective clients were brave enough to commission his cutting-edge designs.

Although Wood collaborated on murals for his houses with Jackson, his work as an architect—creating houses largely for friends and family—kept him away from his brushes. He worked with one assistant only and eschewed factory-produced furnishings. But, in 1922, he retired from architecture and moved to Italy, where he lived until his death in 1935. This painting dates from 1921 and you can’t help but feel his heart has already been captured by Italy. A town climbs the slopes of the hill opposite the farm where he was painting. The buildings are bathed in lemony sunlight, a pale-blue sky stretching overhead. The farm’s shrubs and bushes form a vigorous Impressionist foreground and his easy style conjures the scene with great warmth.

This painting now hangs in Manchester Art Gallery, five miles from Middleton and close to several of Wood’s iconic buildings, such as the First Church of Christ Scientist, which dates from 1903.

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