To write a detailed all encompassing retrospective would be a mammoth task as Christopher’s career spanned many decades. So for the purposes of this article, I will focus on the subject matter of his work and the inspiration behind his painting. As with this website, Christopher’s work could be organised in seven major categories, but for the purposes of this article, I will focus on the four most important. Each of these four categories was tied in with his life and was a reflection of his experiences and thoughts.
English Landscapes and Village Life
Except for two years living in America, Christopher lived much of his childhood in the Berkshire countryside at Inkpen and Enbourne. Later, as a father, he would take us children around Inkpen, Enbourne and Combe. Quite often when guests came to stay, he would drive around old childhood haunts and recall memories of places and characters he had met. Christopher had a love for the countryside, small villages and cottages and many of his paintings reflect this love. The first painting (Image 1) is one of a series he painted and can be seen in the West Berkshire Hospital. It is of Inkpen, a composite scene which depicts local characters and events from his childhood. It is a cold wintery day, but the sky is a clear blue. In the middle ground one can see children playing on a frozen pond. Unfortunately, one of the children has fallen through the ice. Luckily for the boy the water is not too deep. To the side, two men are walking down the road when their attention is caught by the boy running toward them. In the foreground to the left is a wonderful old thatched cottage with its owners outside looking on. Written in the bottom right are the words, “Inkpen, Upper Green- When I fell through the ice – 1945.” This painting captures wonderfully his memories of village life, with its truly local characters and way of life, which has all but disappeared. A similar painting is another scene of Inkpen that he produced in 2010. If you observe closely, he painted the names of locals. What a wonderful record of these people, who have long since passed on.
Christopher painted many country settings and they all characteristically have the bright blue sky and capture the many colours the country has to offer. Another favourite of mine is The Bluebells in the Drover’s Wood that is almost impressionistic in its approach which is unusual for Christopher. The colours are much more vivid and vibrant almost to the point of abstraction.
An arrangement which was common with his country scenes would portray a field in the foreground and in the distance, there would be a cottage, farm or other building. In the next painting, there is a lovely church spire. In the foreground the viewer can see long shadows from trees off the painting on the near side of the field which point to the central element of the painting, the church spire that points heavenwards. Taking off from the trees shown in the distance, crows are winding their way up into the sky. The red roofs of the buildings surrounding the church help lead the eye back to the centre.
Finally, no discussion of country scenes would be complete without showing a painting that depicts Christopher’s favourite game of cricket. I shall not describe it, but rather let you look closely at the painting yourself and capture the atmosphere of the setting.
In contrast to his country scenes, Christopher also painted many townscapes. Although at first glance these would be in stark contrast to his idyllic depictions of the country, there were some similar themes. Christopher had a great fascination for things historic and as with the paintings of village life in Inkpen, Christopher captured the disappearing urban communities of towns and cities around Britain. So why would an artist, raised in the country, who loved painting country scenes want to depict run down, decaying urban townscapes? The answer can be found in his days on the council in Newbury. One of his ambitions was to preserve the character of the town. These buildings weren’t uniform. Newbury had been built through centuries. He felt that building developers would tear out the heart of a town and construct very uniform office blocks and housing estates, which would make one town look much like another. This was particularly true of the houses being built in the nineteen sixties and seventies. I believe that it was because of people like Christopher that developers started to build houses that would match the historic surroundings. There was much that could not be saved, but Christopher recorded some of the urban landscapes in paint. Here are two paintings produced of places in Reading before they were demolished for redevelopment. These two paintings were part of a series that were in an exhibition called Vanishing Reading, which took place in 1978. As with many of his paintings, these two pictures depict people going about their daily lives. In the second painting the small wooden sided buildings are dwarfed by the large multi-storey carpark. The people in the foreground seem to belong to the older world and will be out of place in the new world of development.
An unusual location for Christopher is this American scene, painted in the early nineteen nineties, of Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Although this is unusual for Christopher, it is in many ways a classic Christopher Hall location of a run-down, forgotten urban setting that is more common of his Welsh or English Urban scenes. Here, too, the viewer sees local folk involved in their daily activities. The boarded-up buildings and empty alley way shown here is sadly so typical about many mid-western towns in America that have been overrun by Walmarts, shopping malls and new housing additions on the outskirts of town. As in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, Christopher is capturing the changes that have occurred in societies and communities, a subject that he often talked about, and pictured in his work.
Scenes from Italy
Staying overseas, we move to Italy. Through the decades, Christopher returned to Italy many times and created some of his most popular and exciting paintings: paintings of craggy mountain top towns, beaches, churches and dramatic landscapes. Some landscapes were even used as backdrops for Biblical scenes, such as Jesus entering Jerusalem, which was hung on the wall of my grandparents’ dining room. Sadly, I do not have an image of this work. The other was his final commission ‘The Visitation’ showing Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, found at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. The Italian landscape with its dry mountains and olive trees is an excellent substitute if one can’t make it out to the near east.
Christopher first travelled to Italy in the mid nineteen-fifties, where he met his future wife, Maria. He returned many times and in 1957, he and Maria were married in a little church in her home town of Recanati. Several summer holidays were spent in Italy during the sixties, seventies and eighties. This early landscape Capo di Rio was a very interesting discovery for me whilst I was photographing my father’s paintings for this website. I had been used to seeing my father painting very detailed and lifelike pieces, but what is marked about this painting is its flatness. Here the fields provide a pattern of greens and yellows. The shapes continue on into the mountains in the background and extend on into the sky were clouds and patches of blue sky provide organic shapes. There is very little shading to imply depth, but in contrast to the flatness of the landscape there is depth provided by the village buildings as they retreat into the valley in the middle distance. The trees in the foreground show more details and shading. In contrast to this is a much later piece, called “Arsoli” which shows a great deal of detail. Of his Italian paintings I know, I find this piece the most exciting. A small town perched on the side of a mountain with a rocky drop below. The houses appear to lean back as if in fear of falling off the mountain, perched on one another in order to keep away from the drop below. If one looks closely, one can see rooms which protrude from some of the houses. The details showing the cracks in the rocks and especially the dark shadows in the foreground make it all look very perilous.
Mountains, although perhaps not so dramatic, are depicted in many of Christopher’s paintings of Wales. During the nineteen sixties, Christopher’s parents moved to North Wales. They had been encouraged there by the famous architect Clough Williams-Ellis who had for decades been building the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion on a promontory between two estuaries close to Porthmadoc in Merionethshire. Although my father never used Portmeirion as a backdrop, he painted many other places in the area, particularly slate mining towns, such as Blaenau Ffestiniog. In the Vale of Ffestiniog we see some contrasts. In the foreground there is a small country town surrounded by fields and trees. Almost at the centre there is a chapel that is typical of Wales on the outskirts of town on a small hill, but towering in the distance, almost ready to engulf the town are the huge slate slag heaps which are the remains of the old economy of the town. At first glance they look like little mountains, but above them the real mountains start going up into the sky. Grey is the dominant colour in many Welsh settings, but I have two favourites which have little of this colour. The first is a rather romantic piece called Harlech Castle. On a little rise in the foreground are shown three hikers resting and looking off into the distance. Up above them in the distance, almost in the clouds, is the castle itself, the details of which are lost in the haze, which adds to the sense of romance and mystery of the place. To the walkers, it must be a distant lofty goal to achieve to climb up to it. My other favourite is Ffestiniog – Bron Ewr. It is bright, sunny and green. I like the way the track leads the viewer into the painting up to the lonely house. The curve of the track is echoed by the lines of cut hay in the fields. Coming down the track are three people, the two ladies are turned away from us looking up the track, waiting for the older gentleman.
Outside of England but within the British Isles, Wales is the subject of a large number of Christopher’s paintings and you can find his work in the National Library of Wales. There are a number of pieces still exhibited at the The Museum Of Modern Art (MOMA) in Machynlleth, too.
There are many other points that could be mentioned about my father’s work: the slight changes in style, or the subtle experimentation in his art, which have been briefly mentioned in this article, but overall it is these four major categories of subject matter that are the most pronounced in his work and they speak of the man’s life from his childhood through the years of travel and his work locally on the town council. They express his fondness of the past and how life used to be in towns, villages and farms. These paintings have become a testimony of these changes and capture places and moments that he recorded sitting behind his easel for people to appreciate now and for future generations.