26th July 2023

CHILDREN’S ART DISPLAYED ALONGSIDE TURNER’S ABBEY PAINTING AT MALMESBURY’S ATHELSTAN MUSEUM. Artwork from local children will join Malmesbury’s most famous exhibit: Turner’s abbey painting. Works from pupils at Malmesbury secondary school will be at the Athelstan museum in August and September.

The museum bought Turner’s evocative watercolour of the town’s abbey at auction. The money came via a mixture of local fundraising, funding from the National Lottery and from the Art Fund.

The seller had been to America looking for a buyer. But an advert spotted in Country Life by Athelstan Museum trustee, Angela Sykes, was the catalyst. One that would at length lead to the painting on permanent display in the town.

Artists of the future

Now the young artists of the future are able to see their own work alongside that of one of the world’s most well known masters.

CHILDREN’S ART DISPLAYED ALONGSIDE TURNER’S - Photo shows Ben Hobbs, a young artist from Malmesbury School who took part in the Turner project alongside his work.
Photo shows Ben Hobbs, a young artist from Malmesbury School who took part in the Turner project alongside his work.

Angela said: ‘JMW Turner is one of the country’s greatest painters. And to have his interpretation of Malmesbury Abbey hanging in our museum is no better place for people to see it.

In fact, the painting hadn’t been on display anywhere for over forty years. It could have gone overseas, into a private collection.’

Funding criteria

One of the principal criteria expressed by the National Lottery for the successful funding of the purchase was for the museum to involve a ‘wider range of people in heritage’.

As a result, they developed the Turner Diversity Programme. It aims to take art connected to the Turner painting to as many different sections of society as possible.

Involving young people was an important part of this strategy. The museum runs workshops and events for younger people during school holidays. They also invite schools to visit the museum for tours and talks.

Museum outreach

The museum’s outreach team also visits schools to help with specific projects in the curriculum. This latest project work has developed by teacher Sue Gibbons involving forty year 8 students from Malmesbury School. They were able to take part in workshops where they explored the watercolour techniques used by Turner. They then applied them by spending an afternoon painting their own watercolours of Malmesbury Abbey.

Susan Mockler, vice-chair of the Athelstan Museum management team, said: ‘The work with the school has been particularly interesting. The enthusiasm of the pupils and the skills they’ve displayed have expanded our expectations about what’s possible.

The school has been a great partner and leader in this project. We look forward to working with them in the future. This project has brought in more young people to enjoy the museum. It’s only possible to appreciate our living history by experiencing it in such places as museums.’

What the children got from it

For the children, the project was an opportunity to learn more about Turner, his work and the techniques he used. The Museum provided them with watercolours for the project. But what did the children know about Turner and his watercolour?

‘All I knew was that he’d lived in Malmesbury and had sketched it, but finished the painting later in life,’ said Lucy Horlick, Year 8, Malmesbury School. Her painting is one of those chosen for exhibition alongside the Turner. ‘He used to paint from what he felt as well as what he saw. So I tried to paint my piece from what I felt while I was standing in front of the Abbey.’

Gabe Willet, also Year 8, said: ‘He used a lot of watercolours in his work. So a lot of our paintings use similar techniques and look like his.

‘One of his techniques that I had read about was that he started with lighter colours, and then went over in the dark. So that’s what I did with my painting,” added Sophie McMullen, also Year 8.

Before the project, the children visited the museum where one of the volunteers talked to them about the painting and the techniques he used.

Sue Gibbons, Curriculum Leader for Art at Malmesbury School, said: ‘The children had one workshop in school to explore using watercolours. Then a second where they sat in the grounds of the Abbey and in that time they did amazing work.

‘They see the Abbey every day, and a lot of them would have taken it for granted. It was lovely to sit there and for them to think ‘this is an amazing building, it’s beautiful’. Luckily, the weather was glorious when we were painting. But it’s my belief they now have more of an appreciation of the beauty of the Abbey.’

All the work produced for the project was exhibited. That included that of the children of Minety Primary School and some created in community workshops. Although not all the children’s artwork will be on display in the museum, as part of the project and to extend engagement, a larger exhibition was held at the Julia and Hans Rausing Building in Malmesbury in June.

Sue Gibbons said: ‘The exhibition was amazing. A lot of effort went into making it look as professional as possible, all the pieces were professionally mounted, and it looked great.’

For more information about the museum and Turner’s watercolour, visit: https://www.athelstanmuseum.org.uk/our-collection/art/

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