A fascinating new exhibition highlighting two key figures in the Lake District has opened here at Rydal Mount.
The exhibition of paintings by Hideyuki Sobue features two men who championed natural beauty in the Lakes, Wordsworth himself, and Canon Harwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust – who was born a year after the death of Wordsworth.
Two big portraits of each figure in the double-vision style are accompanied by a number of smaller paintings by Hideyuki, who is the leading Japanese artist based in the UK.
The new works were commissioned last year in the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth, supported by the Arts Council England. Hideyuki has produced a series of small nature-themed works linking to the project, using the line-hatching method.
It’s a welcome return to Rydal Mount, near Ambleside, for the artist whose epic new portrait of Wordsworth was unveiled there six years ago. That portrait was one of a series of works on the theme of I wandered, to mark the 200th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils, said to be the world’s most famous poem.
Wordsworth had a great impact on Hideyuki. “Since moving to this beautiful corner of England, I’ve learned how this natural environment, preserved as it is, was not because it has been kept itself but because of great human endeavour to conserve this natural beauty since the beginning of industrial revolution. Wordsworth was the first and foremost campaigner to raise the voice. Without his passion for the beauty of the Lake District, I believe The Prelude and many other precious poems might not exist; without his endeavour the Lake District might not exist as it is. That’s why I attempted to deliver my art projects more focused on this side of the great poet, increasingly relevant to the contemporary world facing a global ecological crisis.”
Hideyuki told guests at the exhibition opening that the project had developed during the “challenging times” of the pandemic, and perhaps because of them. His work, he says, asks the question, what does it mean to be human in the age of artificial intelligence?
“I portray Hardwicke Rawnsley when he first met the young Beatrix Potter at Wray in 1882 while he was working as a vicar of the St Margaret of Antioch parish church in Wray Castle (near Ambleside), passionately talking to her about the importance of conservation. And I portray William Wordsworth in his late 20s when he and his sister Dorothy settled at Dove Cottage, when he started to write his autobiographical poem The Prelude,” Hideyuki says.
“By carefully determining the distance between the two images, I promote a visual illusion so that each portrait can be seen as a single image in another dimension, emerging from the surface of the supports. It is a paradoxical approach, achieved by stimulating a visual illusion.
“I aimed to portray them as the spiritual guardians of Lakeland and beyond in a period of ecological and existential crisis. I have produced two portraits and two drawings, depicting them with contrary lighting conditions, so as to create the installation to look as if the light projects and radiates out from the centre above the artworks. “
Hideyuki completed the works (apart from the drawings) with his unique brush hatching technique using Japanese sumi ink and acrylic, which he created and has developed over the past 15 years. “This method is inspired by the concept of designo, which was established in the Florentine School during the Renaissance, combined with neurological studies, one of which revealed that the human visual brain perceives objects predominantly by oriented lines.
“I completed all works with the gold background using acrylic gold paint inspired by the Japanese traditional painting style, such as Fusuma-e (sliding door painting) and Byōbu-e (folding screen painting) for exploring my cultural roots. In this way, I made my utmost effort to pay homage to these important historical figures of the Lake District, in a way that is appropriate to their memory, despite, or even because of these challenging times.”
Hideyuki created another new portrait of William Wordsworth which was unveiled for just one night in the Lake District at Rydal Mount before heading for a major exhibition in Japan four years ago. The painting of Wordsworth with the Japanese poet Basho was commissioned by the Kakimori Bunko Museum in Japan.
Christopher Wordsworth Andrew, the great great great great grandson of the poet, whose family own Rydal Mount, said that Hideyuki’s exhibition was one of the art highlights of the year in Cumbria. “We are very proud to have this strong connection with one of our leading painters who has such a talented devotion to Wordsworth, and whose work always excites and challenges.”
The exhibition will run until the end of September.