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Dan Snow explores work of artist Arthur Spooner

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

From BBC News:

Dan Snow

Dan Snow looks at Arthur Spooner's Goose Fair, housed at Nottingham Castle

Nottingham-born artist Arthur Spooner was a painter who recorded events in the city of his birth.

A BBC One programme has retraced the career of Spooner (1873 – 1962) whose paintings are scattered across Nottinghamshire.

Hidden Paintings of the East Midlands was fronted by Dan Snow and looked at Spooner’s work housed at Nottingham Castle, Portland College and Welbeck Abbey.

“Paintings are not always what they seem,” said The One Show presenter.

He added: “I’m fascinated by paintings that can be used as a historical source and if you’re interested in the history of Nottingham, there’s a name that crops up again and again, Arthur Spooner.”

Spooner’s most famous painting was of a scene from Nottingham’s renowned Goose Fair.

The work, painted in 1926, shows one of the last times the event was held in the city centre, before it moved to the Forest Recreation Ground.

Spooner was not an internationally renowned artist.

His work was considered old fashioned but he carried on, regardless of what his peers thought, documenting life in Nottingham.

As a result, we can learn more about events in Nottinghamshire.

But did he always paint the scene as it happened?
Accurate representation

One of Spooner’s commissions involved depicting life at Welbeck, in North Nottinghamshire, for the Duke and Duchess of Portland.

Welbeck had been turned into an auxillary hospital during the First World War and Spooner’s scenes depict soldiers’ rehabilitation in the idyllic surroundings of the estate.

It could be a case of Spooner providing good PR for the Duke and Duchess but Derek Adlam, the curator of the Portland art collection said this was not the case.

“I’m sure they are an accurate representation of what was here,” said Mr Adlam.

“The kindness of the Duchess, the facilities of the hospital… We don’t really know whether the nurses were dealing with serious trauma or more in the nature of a convalescence hospital.

“[Spooner] was a sound pair of hands when you wanted an occasion painted or an [accurate] record made.”

However, just to show you cannot always trust the artist, Spooner revealed in a newspaper interview in 1960, that the prominent figure of a clown in his Goose Fair picture was in fact a self-portrait.

Check out the episode on iPlayer.

Dan Snow: ‘The trick of life is only do what you’re good at’ – interview

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

From the Guardian:

Historian Dan Snow, son of Swingometer Peter, on canvases, castles and why he’s not ‘a complete loon’
   Dan Snow at Conwy Castle in Wales. Photograph: Howard Barlow for the Observer
The 32-year-old historian Dan Snow is the precocious son of Peter “Swingometer” Snow, a three-time veteran of the Boat Race and the BBC’s all-action heir to Schama and Starkey. In November he married the prison-reform campaigner Lady Edwina Grosvenor, Lady Diana’s goddaughter, and has a habit of turning up in the news – last year, for a swashbuckling rescue mission to Calais, where, inspired by a programme he made on the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk, he rocked up in France with three boats to pick up Brits stranded by the Iceland volcano; more recently for his one-man quest to make the AV referendum intelligible with YouTube tutorials. This invites the obvious question: Dan Snow, is there anything that you are not really good at?

“That’s complete nonsense! I’m rubbish at most things,” he snorts, standing neo-heroically, high on the battlements of Conwy Castle in north Wales. “My resumé is actually very narrow, it’s all to do with talking nonsense. I’m terrible at languages, science, ball sports, all sorts of the things, but the trick of life – as I learned from military history – is to reinforce success, only do what you’re good at.”

So, we can add self-effacing to the list. Tonight, we can also see Snow in a slightly different guise. He is one of 11 celebrity presenters given the chance to raid the public-owned art stash for BBC1’s Hidden Paintings. The premise is that 80% of the paintings that belong to us are not on regular display and Snow has chosen to dig out the work of the little-known photo-realist Arthur Spooner from Nottingham (this means, confusingly, that Snow’s film will only be broadcast in the BBC East Midlands region, but all 11 programmes will be available on iPlayer).

“We were lucky enough to go down to the bowels of Nottingham Castle, and Aladdin’s Cave is a term too often used in history television, but there were these dusty, frameless canvases, thousands of works of art of great value,” he says. “It’s a reminder that we have precious museums all round the country and a timely one because they are in real trouble at the moment, on the frontline of the cuts.”

Next up is a series about great castles, which sent Snow to Syria, Poland and now Conwy, and he is developing an interactive TV-internet hybrid that will “hopefully be a bit groundbreaking, but God knows”. You sense, however, that what drives him is the recognition of his peers. “With my last book, some of them started to think I might not be a complete loon after all,” he says. “I’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the dream.”

Check out the episode on iPlayer.