The Castle & Recovered Portraits
After a week of steady mizzle, the skies cleared, and it felt like the perfect autumnal day to head off and explore the nearby island of historical St Michael’s Mount in Marazion.
Nestled on top of a rocky hill, surrounded by blue water, it truly is an incredible sight, even as we approached by road: a medieval church, ancient castle and a family home rise impressively out of the sea.
As we negotiated our way through the old town of Marazion and along the slipway, we went past this super cute cottage with the hand-painted door weathered by the sea air.
At low tide, a historic stone path is revealed like magic to link its harbour to the mainland. Used by pilgrims in the Middle Ages and visitors today, we were lucky enough to time it perfectly for a low tide foot crossing. This is a low angle view of the causeway, and I love the pattern on the rock that has been eroded by the waves up to the stones of the pass.
St Michael’s Mount has been a holy place since the 5th century; during the Middle Ages, it was a religious retreat and a garrison, and these precariously uneven Pilgrims Steps were the only way to access the summit! The castle dates from the 14th century, in 1659, Colonel John St Aubyn bought the Mount, and over the next three generations, his family converted the fort and church buildings into an elegant family home.
Along one of the narrow passages in the castle, I spotted this fab portrait of Lady St Levan by De László. There were some really great gestural brush marks on the face, it felt like it had been sculpted by the thickness of the paint.
Philip de László was a contemporary of Sargent and Zorn and used the sight-size portrait method and captures a real presence. The pearls are painted with a real sparingness of mark, a translucent underpainting with thick white impasto highlights on top that reveal themself as pearls the further you step back from them.
Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Sir John St. Aubyn, 5th (1758-1839), Oil on Canvas half-length, in a dark coat and neckcloth
There is a wonderful portrait of the 5th Sir John St Aubyn by Joshua Reynolds hanging in the Blue Drawing room.
It has a similar value balance to the De László, using a very dark foreground and background to help highlight the face. There is a paleness, almost grey tone to the skin, brought to life by the blush of pink hues on the cheeks. The white neckerchief draws our eye to the face, and it’s amazing how close in tone the background and the jacket are, yet we still perceive a difference in space behind the sitter.
Pro tip: If you’d like to learn more about Grisaille portraits and coloured glazing, you might be interested in the Oil Portrait Glazing Course.
Interestingly this original has recently returned to St Michael’s Mount, where it is on display for the first time in over 200 years. The current St Aubyn family successfully bid at Christie’s, as previously a copy hung in its place painted by renowned Cornish painter, John Opie.
This is a view down to the harbour looking out from the edge of the castle, and the organic pattern of spacing you get between the boats from this distance reminds me of stones in the sand.
This is right down next to the boats, and I really love the way that the sky was reflected into the sand, and you get this lovely muted blue hue.
If you also look into the shadows cast by the boat, you have a nice cool blue hue. This is balanced against the warm yellow ochre on the rocks in the foreground. You’ve got a very similar colour to the back of the boat and a little bit of warm wood on the edge. This would be great to accentuate the turquoise colour on the side of the boat.
A touch of green gold on the seaweed and we’d be away!
Fishing boats at the entrance to the castle, taken later that day, and you can see the water, just coming in behind.
The sun had moved to backlight St Michael’s Mount to give this amazing strong silhouette, if you’ve read my recent article on the blog about Notan design you can see how images like this lend themselves so well to it.
This elevated view is taken from within the terrace at the Godolphin Hotel (epic St Austell Bay Mussels too!) which is the perfect way end to a day and take in the view. You can just see in the distance how the water is covering up the far end of the causeway, as people scramble back onto the beach before the sea swallows it up again!