Explore the world through watercolours at the Rural Life Museum

By Emily Mears | 18 August 2009
a watercolour painting of a square with palm trees and parked cars

Courtesy Lucy Willis

Travels with Watercolour - Home and Abroad, by Lucy Willis, the Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, until August 31.

The Rural Life Museum is, as its name suggests, dedicated to all things rural. An ancient-looking plough weighs down a model cow and in every room a forgotten practice is remembered.

Separate from the somewhat dark and old world of the museum is a bright and airy gallery space where this summer's exhibition is composed of paintings by the watercolour artist Lucy Willis.

Winner of the BP Portrait Award in 1992, Willis has been sitting in the shade of success for quite a while. It was an invitation by The Artist magazine to take groups abroad to paint, however, which really allowed her to showcase her skills.

Travelling to India, Zanzibar, Egypt and Morocco, to name but a few, Willis tackles new terrain with an easy swoop of her brush. Her summer exhibition maps her journeys to distant lands and back again.

It is Lucy Willis' way with light that is particularly beguiling. She can capture it as it filters through flowers, rebounds around Tunisian towers and settles on her own garden gate.

a watercolour painting of a domestic yard with chickens in a cage in the foreground

The Bronzebeater's Courtyard, Lijiang. Courtesy Lucy Willis

In Cairo Night the light takes centre stage. Human shadows flick across the floor; a turquoise hue fills up the tower-block hall and the burning orange of the mosque's dome glows like a lamp in the dark.

Wax crayon curtains washed over with indigo frame the painting in theatrical style. It is as though we are peeping into a magical scene which, separated by the curtains, appears suspended like a dream.

Turn the corner, however, and Willis comes home. The brisk chill of a Devonshire coast replaces the simmering heat of the east. In Mist from the Sea little figures leap to and fro, pirouetting about the sand in wetsuits. Bathers brave the blustering waves, and in the background a haze of grey creeps along, blurring the sea with the shore.

A change of place brings a paler palette. In The Somerset Levels from Pedwell Hill wishy-washy blues rush across a clouded sky, billowy trees blossom in golden greens and the ground is not faded terracotta but a deep rusty red.

For a glimpse of the past and some beautiful art head to the Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury.

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