There are a number of holiday sketching classes which are held annually during the summer months by various artists of repute, among whom may be mentioned Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole and Mr. Frank Calderon.
These holiday classes are, as a rule, most enjoyable affairs, for although enthusiastic hard work is the order of the day, it is of a wholly congenial kind, and there is a cheerful holiday atmosphere about painting amidst picturesque surroundings out in the sunshine and in the open-air which is doubly delightful to those who have been working, perhaps, for five or six days a week in the heated atmosphere of a London studio.
Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole, the well-known painter of exquisite woodland scenes and of wide-spreading pastures and sky, holds a delightful sketching class at Fittleworth, one of the loveliest parts of Sussex, for a month or six weeks each summer, from mid-July to the end of August, usually, after which he goes with a party of students to some picturesque spot in the West Riding of Yorkshire for another month’s work.
The Fittleworth students’ headquarters are at a most attractive, old-fashioned farmhouse, with its two or three adjacent cottages, a couple of miles out of Fittleworth, overlooking a winding stream in the midst of harvest fields and wide-spreading meadows with grazing flocks, that provide endless subjects for the landscape painter’s brush to depict.
Genre pictures galore also present themselves to be painted, and most country folk will pose if you know how to ask them, and do not expect them to waste their time for nothing. The members of the class commence early, and ten o’clock finds them all hard at work making serious studies of the subject of the day, whatever that may chance to be, the work, in fact, being just that of an art school held out in the open.
A personal lesson from Mr. Rex Vicat-Cole at Fittleworth, Sussex, a beautiful village set amid wide meadows and by a winding river, admirably adapted for those studying landscape painting
Mr. Vicat-Cole spends the morning hours from ten to one with his pupils, criticising and advising. His system of teaching is to keep students sketching at one subject until they have learnt all they can about it, the different ways of treating it, the composition, and so on; they are not taught or allowed to make “pretty pictures,” and sincerity in the work is above all, insisted on.
Often, however, the studies they make are pictures in themselves, many of which have subsequently found their way to the walls of the Royal Academy.
During the long summer afternoons and evenings students are free to do as they please, sketching anything that may chance to take their fancy, and thus avoiding all possibility of getting “stale”.
Often they scour the country for miles around on bicycles or afoot, to be rewarded after a long climb by some splendid sunset effect seen through pine woods as the result of a long climb, or discovering the delightful mills and old-world inns and cottages which await them in the lanes of the Fittleworth valley.
Posing an animal model for a sketching class. Work at Fittleworth begins early, and is supervised during the morning by Mr. Vicat-Cole himself
Mr. Vicat-Cole constantly sees and criticises the students’ afternoon and evening work, and Mr. David Murray, R.A., has for many years past been in the habit of passing in review the work of the summer sketching classes during the winter months.
The fees for a four weeks’ course with Mr. Vicat-Cole’s summer sketching class come to six guineas, while students joining for a shorter time pay £1 16s. a week. These fees, however, are reduced to a guinea a week for students engaged in teaching art or in earning their own living. Rooms can usually be had from about 5s. 6d. a week per room, with attendance, and food costs about the same everywhere. The girl students usually have separate bedrooms and share a sitting-room; some of them get their people to spend their holidays with them, and take a set of rooms in the neighbourhood of the sketching class, and sometimes a girl will take a house and lodge the others at cost price. There are, as a general rule, at least one or two married women in the class, and Mrs. Vicat-Cole is often to be found at her easel working with the rest, so that any young girls of the party are not without due chaperonage.
Mr. Frank Calderon invariably chooses a picturesquely situated English farm with good outhouses and barns where live-stock abound and the owner is a good-natured individual, ready to hire out horses and cattle to stand as models when required. Such a farm becomes the headquarters for his “Summer Sketching Class for Landscape and Animal Painting”, which, as a rule, lasts from the first week in August to the middle of September. Most of the students come with the object of putting in some good hard work at painting animals, posed out of doors under every imaginable circumstance and variety of lighting under the open sky.
A young student receiving help from Mr. Frank Calderon. The artist chooses for his sketching class students a farm where good models can be had for animal painting out of doors.
The class meets at the farm at ten o’clock each morning, to find the model of the day already posed according to the prevailing weather. On sunny mornings the model -probably a fine cart-horse or a sturdy mare and foal-will stand, with a specially trained custodian who has learnt from long experience the best way of persuading animal models to keep to a single pose, at the side of a wide-spreading green meadow, where the students can place their easels underneath the shade of the surrounding trees, though those who prefer to do so can sit out in the sunshine protected from the glare by big green-lined painting umbrellas. On dull days the farmyard itself often affords a pleasant setting for the model, while in really wet weather, nothing daunted, the students assemble as usual to take up their positions with their easels inside a barn with wide-open doors, while a hardy cow tethered up in the rain, if given a little provender, will stand contentedly chewing the cud for hours on end to have her portrait painted.
At one o’clock work ceases while the students enjoy a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit brought with them, with the welcome addition, perhaps, of glasses of warm milk supplied on the spot by the farmer’s wife.
At 2.30 work begins again, but, as a rule, from a different model. Sometimes an old white horse-posed in the shade, where patches of brilliant sunshine which have pierced through the trees and make a seemingly simple subject into a puzzling enough study of light and shade-sometimes a donkey will be chosen, while numbers of fine dog models are always kept at hand, with a boy to hold them, should students prefer to work from these.
Mr. Calderon, meanwhile, goes from easel to easel both morning and afternoon, advising and criticising, or explaining away some technical difficulty in the matter of animal anatomy. At 4.30 all systematic class-work stops for the day.
A farmhouse can seldom accommodate so large a party as Mr. Calderon’s sketching class-usually consists of, and many of the students are therefore perforce picketed out in rooms in the nearest village. These have been specially inspected beforehand by Mrs. Calderon, who is invariably of the party, and not only herself chaperones all the girls, but, as a rule, contrives to take a big enough house to have room for those girls whose mothers do not care for them to go into separate lodgings.
The cost of living varies from about a guinea to thirty shillings a week. Students can generally manage comfortably on twenty-five shillings a week, especially if two girl friends put up in the same cottage and share a sitting-room and meals. When circumstances admit of it, Mrs. Calderon and the students get up various small festivities in the evenings, and one year, when the members lodged within a stone’s throw of each other along a village street, they hired the village hall and gave an impromptu fancy-dress dance.
The fees for Mr. Calderon’s summer painting class are as follows:
Six weeks – 8 guineas
One month (four consecutive weeks) – 6 guineas
Two weeks – 4 guineas
Twelve lessons at student’s convenience – 5 guineas
The difficulty of getting enough accommodation for a large class of students (for at least thirty or forty pupils, the greater number of whom are girls, as a rule join the class during the summer) in a small village in August, when country lodgings are at a premium, is naturally very great, and intending students should, if possible, make their plans for joining the summer sketching class not later than early June, for all the best and cheapest rooms are invariably snapped up early, and late comers have to put up with more expensive or less comfortable quarters.
Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia Vol III; Various Authors. Publisher London S.N. 1910-1912