(News) Art UK Story: Five Uplifting Paintings from Swindon’s Collection

Vanessa Bell, Nude with Poppies, 1916 (c) Henrietta Garnett; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As we know, you’re fully and frightfully aware that we’re now in week five of lockdown. Though many have adapted wonderfully to these challenging times, it’s clear that for many of us, it isn’t getting any easier.

We’re missing our friends and families, and some of us are perhaps feeling low, upset and fearful about our current situation. Which is why it is so important for us to support one another, find ways to connect, and keep that positivity flowing wherever we can.

The link between art and wellbeing has never before felt so important, and it’s wonderful to see museums, galleries and arts organisations moving quickly to make their work available online, or highlight their existing resources.

Here at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and Art on Tour, we’re particularly grateful for a fantastic online resource which does great work to share our art collection. Art UK is the online home for every public art collection in the UK, and makes it really easy to browse artists and collections until your heart is content.

So we are thrilled and thankful that they’ve published our story about five uplifting pieces from Swindon’s art collection! We hope that these five artworks will break through the monotony of lockdown, and bring a bit of vibrancy and positivity to your day.

Here’s a link to the story –


We hope it helps!

Whilst you’re there you might notice that Art UK publishes numerous fantastic pieces about collections, exhibitions, artists and artworks. Don’t be afraid to get lost in these wonderful stories about the nation’s art collections!

Stay safe and well!

Katie and Mags

(Blogpost) Jack Smith: From Social-Realist to Sounds and Silences

(c) Jack Smith, Sounds and Silences; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Episode Six of Art Snaps focuses on artworks currently on display at Swindon’s Civic Offices. The exhibition presents 18 highlights from Swindon’s collection, which span about 100 years of modern British art, and represent nationally important artists as well as home-grown talent.

The exhibition opened in September 2019, and in May 2020 the Art on Tour engagement programme was due to launch a series of “Walk and Talks” alongside the exhibition. Sadly, these are not to be (for now at least).

So our most recent Art Snap focuses on three artworks on display at the Civic Offices; offering up information and insights about Sylvia Gosse’s The Printer (1915), Claude Francis Barry’s Tower Bridge, London – A Wartime Nocturne (c.1940) and Jack Smith’s Sounds and Silences (early 1980s).

Of course, the excitement doesn’t stop there…

At the end of the episode, I promised to publish blogposts about artworks from this exhibition too. I’m not one to break my promises, which is why this piece looks at Jack Smith (1928 – 2011) in a bit more depth.

In the Art Snap, we look at Sounds and Silences from the early 1980s and I speak about Smith’s progression as an artist, who began his career by dabbling in Social Realism but went on to develop a very different style of work, which focused on giving visual form to sound.

So let’s look at that fascinating output in a little more detail, starting with Mother Bathing Child (1953).

(Image available here: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/mother-bathing-child-201895/search/actor:smith-jack-19282011/sort_by/date_earliest/order/asc/page/1/view_as/grid)

The piece was created when Smith was a member of the Kitchen Sink School, which was influenced by social realism and depicted the lives of the working class. In fact, images like Smith’s gave the movement its name, for the artists took inspiration from their own surroundings. In Smith’s case, subject matter for his early paintings came from the crowded house which he and his family shared with two other artists.

Yet, from the offset, Smith wasn’t necessarily creating work in the spirit of the Kitchen Sink School. He claimed that his work had nothing to do with social comment; it was simply a response to his own surroundings, a celebration the ordinary. So without a specific socio-political outlook, it makes sense that he began to shift his focus to the formal qualities of these everyday scenes.

Shirt in Sunlight (1956) presents a simple still-life of a shirt hanging on a line, but instead of focusing on the realism of the scene, Smith produces a study of light. He has captured the shape the sunlight makes when it streams through the window, and the way this hits the shirt so that some of the martial is almost bleached out. This marks the beginning of a new approach, in which Smith aimed to capture an experience or sensation of reality, which in this case is an experience of light.

(Image available here: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/shirt-in-sunlight-82606/view_as/grid/search/makers:jack-smith-19282011/sort_by/date_earliest/order/asc/page/1)

We can see this idea pushed even further in Smith’s painting Night Sky (1957), in Swindon’s collection. The painting doesn’t represent anything specifically, though it is tempting to see stars and a meteor. Rather the artist means to represent light with dazzling white and blue forms against a dark background of thick brown and black.

This piece is currently on show in Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition Pop and Prosperity, which showcases work from the 1960s. Though it was painted in 1957 it reflects a broader shift within British art, which embraced abstraction in the late 1950s and 1960s, much more readily than it had before.

(c) Jack Smith, Night Sky; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

By the time Smith painted Sounds and Silences in the 1980s, his work had undergone a complete transformation. His focus was less on light, and more on how to represent sound. As a result, his painterly style of the 1950s became smooth and measured, dominated by bright colours, angular lines, signs and symbols, which almost seem to have a language of their own.

Sounds and Silences is a special piece in the collection because it represents a space where visual art and music collide, and really makes us think about the many ways we can begin to describe our experiences of the world. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into Jack Smith’s interesting career. If you’re not quite ready to return home, take a look at our Sounds and Silences Art Burst activity. Yes, they are technically designed for kids, but if you’re a grown up with the time and inclination, why not give it a go?! Or pass it on to a family who might have some fun with it!?

Thank you for reading!

Blogpost by Katie

Five Minutes of Fame on BBC Wiltshire

Art on Tour (or Art on Tour at Home, as we’re increasingly referring to it) is all about bringing more art to more people, all within the safety of their own homes. We’ve spent the last few weeks on a huge learning curve, trying to work the dreaded technology and find the best ways to bring Swindon’s art collection straight to you.

Now we’ve got the ball rolling, the challenge is spreading the word, and ensuring people know that these resources are free and so easily accessible!

So we were thrilled to be invited to have a chat with Sue Kinner on BBC Radio Wiltshire last night, and tell our fabulous county what we’ve got to offer. Our Project Engagement Officer had a lovely time talking to Sue about how we’ve transformed Art on Tour into a digital project.

Amidst an almost impressive number of “ums”, Katie talked about our Art Snaps Podcast, Art Bursts Family activities, and the Go Bananas Daily Art Challenges. She also gave information on how all these fabulous resources are available; through this very blog, on Facebook @ArtonTour2020 and Instagram @swindongalleryartontour.

Thanks to Sue’s expert interview skills, Katie was able to sum up the entire project in just 5 minutes, so if you want to get the lowdown in one quick hit, check out the interview here – https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p088bqq6

We’re on just over half way thorough, but we do of course encourage you to listen to the rest of Sue’s show, which also includes some great tunes!

To round this one off, we’d like to thank BBC Wiltshire for helping us spread the word, and indeed everyone who has supported us so far by taking part or sharing our links with others. Keep up the good work!

Katie and Mags

New Episodes of Art Snaps Available

Hello again out there! We want to say a huge thank you for everyone who has listened to our Art Snaps podcast so far, and for the lovely comments we’ve received.

If you enjoyed the first three Art Snaps released last week, we’re excited to let you know that there’s another double helping available through our You Tube Channel!

The next two instalments continue to explore Swindon’s collection of modern British art, through artworks in the collection which have fascinating stories to tell.

Episode Four looks at pieces by Gwen John and Augustus John, who are arguably two of the most influential portrait painters of the early Twentieth Century. Though brother and sister, these two artists could not have been more different, in personality and in the way they worked.

Through an examination of early works on paper from Swindon’s collection, the Art Snap considers how their time at the Slade School of Art shaped them, and the kind of portraitists they went on to become.

Episode Five was inspired by the gorgeous bank holiday weekend we’ve just had, and explores artworks that ooze vibrancy and renewed energy. If you need a bit of a lift at this difficult time, this Art Snap looks at three works by Cecil Collins, Ivon Hitchens and Denis Wirth-Miller, which always boost my spirits!

Here’s a link to our YouTube page – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwLHgHbvoC0OF8zDXyv-EPQ/

Or you can use the Art Snaps tab for a breakdown of all the episodes.

We hope you enjoy these next two Art Snaps, and please do share them with anyone in need of a hit of art history to brighten their day!  

Enjoy, and stay safe and well.


Introducing the Art Snaps Podcast

We’re very excited to announce our new podcast Art Snaps! A series of 10 minute-long themed episodes will explore Swindon’s Collection of modern British art. These will be about artworks on show in exhibitions at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, on display at our Art on Tour venues, or currently in storage.

Now, we know a digital image can’t replace the real thing, but hopefully Art Snaps will be a somewhat reasonable alternative, and provide a bit of relief for those of us feeling perhaps a little bored and isolated.

If nothing else, it has given our Art on Tour Project Engagement Officer the opportunity to experiment with her new microphone…

Since spring is well and truly here our first Art Snap looks at three artworks characterised by great colour and vibrancy; Florestan by Gillian Ayres, The Spanish Chair by Mary Fedden and Cambridge July by Mark Lancaster. I love each of these works, which use colour in such different and interesting ways.

But that’s not all… Since I’m feeling particularly generous I’m releasing the first three… YES, THREE… Art Snaps in one go.

Our second Art Snap looks at three artists exploring abstraction in post-war Britain, in new and exciting ways. Stars of this show are William Gear’s Presence on White, Terry Frost’s Grey, Red and Black Verticals and Richard Smith’s Once.

These artworks are on show in Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s current exhibition Pop and Prosperity. So for those who didn’t get to see the exhibition before the closure, Episode Two offers a delicious slice of what you can look forward to once it is safe to reopen.

Episode Three is all about The Bomford Gift, and focuses on three artworks donated by the generous Jimmy Bomford in the mid-1940s.

The works discussed are by L.S. Lowry, Henry Moore and Jankel Adler, and are just a sample from the 21 artworks donated by Bomford, which form the core of Swindon’s art collection.

Each of these paintings has an interesting place in the narrative of British art history. Find out more by listening/watching via our YouTube channel.

All the links to these episodes are available under the Art Snaps Podcast tab.

Enjoy and stay well.


Welcome to Art on Tour!

Welcome! Thank you for checking out the Art on Tour 2020 blog. Here we will be sharing news and resources from this exciting project, which is all about taking more of Swindon’s modern art collection to more people in more places throughout the year.

Back in January, we started planning an extensive learning and community engagement programme, which is all about bringing art to life in Swindon. We’ve been finding ways to work with local businesses, schools and venues to transform the way people engage with our collections; to take art out to them, and bring them relevant and unique experiences.

Just as things were starting to take off, our plans, like so many others, were sadly derailed by the outbreak of COVID-19. We do very much hope you are all well and safe in your homes. 

Despite the delay and cancellation of much of our planned work, Art on Tour will not be stopped! After a bit of regrouping and rethinking, we decided that the best way to keep people safe AND deliver super exciting engagement work, is through the power of digital media.

You can discover Swindon’s collection of modern British art (which, we like to brag, is often considered the best outside London) through blogposts, podcasts, family activities and educational resources. Whatever works for you! It’s all accessible right here on the Art on Tour blog.

We hope that this will keep you entertained throughout our necessary lockdown whilst Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is closed to the public (until 1st May). Please share this with anyone you feel will be interested in a bit of art, whether to learn something new or entertain their families during this difficult time.

You can keep up to date with news and new resources by following this blog, our Facebook page and/or Instagram page. We’d love for you to share your thoughts, ideas, and even your own artistic endeavours with us too.

Thanks for reading!