How do you portray something that happened 250 years ago? How do you describe and depict it if there are no references – no photos, no paintings, no drawings or etchings?
250 years ago in 1768 William Cowper the celebrated 18th century poet, came to live at Orchard Side in Olney, (now known as the Cowper and Newton Museum) at the request of John Newton a prominent former slave trade and abolitionist. Newton became the curate of St. Peter & St. Paul’s Olney. Together they wrote the Olney Hymns including the famous ‘Amazing Grace’.
Following a chance conversation with House Manager Paula Noble, local artist David Purvis suggested producing a painting to help recreate the event and to enable the museum to present and publicise this significant piece of Olney’s late Georgian history.
David’s first step was to understand the key characters involved in the 18th century event and with a morning’s help in the museum with Trustee Amanda Molcher looking at portraits and artefacts from the period, he could gradually build up an impression of the event. Details included portraiture, dress, headgear and modes of transport.
The painting needed to focus on the Museum, William Cowper and John Newton, as well as including Mrs Unwin and her daughter Suzanna’s arrival together with their luggage, belongings and a helpful servant. Much Googling gave a few clues, but ‘Poldark’ references really helped.
After much deliberation and discussion about views across the Market Place, David decided on a viewpoint that majored on the Museum with Newton and Cowper prominently in the foreground and looking west towards what is now Janey’s with its famous Olney crooked window. The general positioning and shape of all the buildings hasn’t changed (with the exception of a popular coffee house branded building).
It’s a cold winter’s morning, the early frost has turned to meltwater and the watery sun adds little warmth to the Market Place – it’s Monday, February 15th 1768 in Olney…
You can see more of David’s local and motoring art here
Find out what’s happening in and around the museum to celebrate cowper and newton@250 here
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