Earlier this month we took over Woodlands Community Garden for an afternoon of al fresco drawing! We were very fortunate not only with the weather but to also have five models posing for us amongst the flora and fauna of the West End of Glasgow.
Drawing outdoors, or 'En Plain Air,' has been a favoured method of working with painters since John Constable pioneered the technique in the early 1800s. By the end of the century it had become an integral part of Impressionism, essential for observing the changing light and movement that was impossible to replicate in a traditional indoors studio.
The appeal of the al fresco romanticism was not only utilised by painters. Photographers, too, were drawn to the beauty of nature's backdrop. Not least by Cecil Beaton, a multitalented photographer, painter and designer.
Beaton quickly became affiliated with the Bright Young Things, moneyed London socialites of the 1920s, documenting their bohemian, theatrical escapades. Many of the photographs he took were situated outdoors or against a false backdrop, providing an avant-garde finish which contrasted the severity of traditional portrait photography.
Friendships soon blossomed between Beaton and the young Bohemians and he became particularly close with Stephen Tennant, an androgynous socialite who was known to be the "brightest" of the Bright Young Things. Obsessed with beauty, it is said that in 1910, when Stephen Tennant was 4 years old, he ran through the gardens of his family's Wiltshire estate, Wilsford Manor, and was literally stopped in his tracks when he came face to face with the beauty of the "blossom of a pansy (source)." He filled his garden with statues, sea shells and animals, marvelling at the natural splendour and posing amongst the greenery in costume.
Tennant lived out his years as a recluse in Wilsford Manner, "reeking of perfume" and surrounded by jewellery, drawings, photographs and postcards, his house unkept, dirty and rotting. Although clearly suffering from mental illness, he was happy in his imagination, uncaring of his deteriorating surroundings and overweight, unhealthy body; 'but I'm beautiful,' he would reason, 'and the more of me there is the better I like it!'
After several years of fashion and society photography Beaton was fired from his position as staff photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue for inserting antisemitic text into one of the illustrations. The scandal did not, however, taint his career too fiercely as upon his return to England he was recommended to the Ministry of Information by the Queen and became Britain's leading war photographer, vastly accelerating his career and broadening his photographic range.
Our session at Woodlands Community Garden may not have matched the glamorous heights of Stephen Tennant and Cecil Beaton, but there were some wonderful poses and even more wonderful drawings. Stay tuned for more special events!