13th century abbey Mottisfont hosts 'enchanted' show of contemporary art in Hampshire

By Mark Sheerin Published: 06 July 2011

Photo of a tiny sculpture of a skeletal fly bearing two dead insectoid forms
Tessa Farmer, Little Savages (2007)© Matthew Welby. Image: Tessa Farmer, courtesy Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art
Exhibition: Enchanted Garden: Flower Fairies™ and Dark Tales, Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire, until October 2 2011

National Trust properties have long offered visitors the chance to transport themselves back in time and upward in social class. But a new exhibition at Mottisfort abbey has taken this escapist tendency to another level.

The 13th century abbey is currently over-run with fairies, or fairy-related art. And this promises to heighten the gothic drama of the setting and enhance the magical appeal of the 60,000-odd roses to be found in the garden.

It is not clear whether the tiny visitors are to be welcomed or not. In watercolour illustrations from the first half of the 20th century, they take on a benign form. Well-observed depictions of real life flora provide the excuse for Cicely Mary Barker to paint her imaginary fauna.

In the work of Tessa Farmer, the winged creatures appear so malevolent they give fairies a bad name. Plant and wildlife matter found in the grounds have also formed the basis for this new commission. It may be a plague of insects, if previous work is anything to go by.

Other artists in the show at the home’s new upper floor gallery space include Peter Blake, Paula Rego and Cornelia Parker. It is not often such contemporary names are seen alongside that of a popular Victorian illustrator. But for belief in sprites and the like, they surely cannot compete.
  • Open 11am-5pm. Admission £8.50/£7.60).
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