Holman Hunt in the Tate – and at Clive Vale Farm

We went up to London to see the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition at Tate Britain….
Viewing big exhibitions is an absolute ordeal.. The massive crowds are soul-destroying. This was in its last few days, so we thought it might be emptier – no chance. I don’t know why we do it.
     We got there about 11.30am – no tickets until 3.30pm. As the Tate is partially closed due to building works, there is only one Ladies – enormous queue, a crowded, hot tea room – enormous queue and struggle for a seat, and then an even more enormous queue to actually get into the exhibition. Battleaxe doesn’t do queues very well.
     When you eventually edge your way into the exhibition, the crowds are five/six people deep in front of the paintings. You either have to join in the slow snail-trail shuffling round each room, where you find yourself deposited for a brief moment in front of each picture, viewing it from about two feet away with everyone breathing down your neck so you can’t appreciate it, or see nothing.
     Generally, we opted for nothing.
     Why are so many people into this? It is as if looking at sights, or the viewing of things, are ends in themselves. Its as if they were sacred objects – like Hindus having ‘darshan’ of a God, or alternatively like ticking them off on a checklist. Wherever you visit, there are crowds and crowds, just looking…Why?
     Having said that, I particularly wanted to see Holman Hunt’s painting of Fairlight, ‘Our English Coasts’, which was painted when he was staying right here – on the site of this house – the former Clive Vale Farm.
     When he worked on his canvas, Hunt would have seen the same view I can see now out of my study window – without the houses, of course. In 1852 it was fields and downland.
     We spotted the painting. I elbowed my way savagely through a crowd of Chinese people to stand right in front of it and gawp at the whirls of paint on the canvas. Did it hold any particular resonance? Not really.

We wonder whether another painting Hunt produced at Clive Vale Farm, ‘Sunlight on the Sea – Fairlight Down’, shows our view – from a bit higher up the hill behind us. Possibly you can see the farm buildings there in the middle.
     This painting is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber – sadly, it was not in the Tate Exhibition.
     From what I read, it is surprising that Hunt had time to do much painting while he was at Clive Vale Farm.  By the time he had stomped over to Fairlight Glen to sketch for ‘Our English Coasts’, taught Edward Lear Italian, and helped him with his painting, entertained Millais and taken a few walks with him to Winchelsea, entertained Arthur Hughes, Thackeray and Coventry Patmore….still, they didn’t have any telly back then.
     The Battleaxe household has just acquired a new, bigger telly – Smart, apparently, but we won’t use that – who wants to surf the internet on TV? We made up our minds to have a new one on Saturday morning, I ordered it on-line Saturday at 4pm via Amazon, at 10am on Monday morning a guy was standing on our doorstep with it, and at 10.30 it was all set up….wow.
     It is only 150 years since Holman Hunt and friends were here, tramping earnestly through the muddy fields – how different the world is now. But the great change had already started in 1852. The railway came to Hastings in 1851, bringing the first waves of tourists and trippers.  In 1862, the land at Clive Vale Farm was sold for development – the new suburb of Clive Vale appeared, and the view above would change for ever.


  1. Anonymous
    February 12, 2014 / 5:35 pm

    What a great blog. I'm an MA student studying the Pre-Raphaelites and I live in the Clive Vale area so this was a nice find. I thought that scenery looked familiar. Can I ask what exactly is at the old Clive Vale farm now, other than your house. I'm having a little trouble picturing exactly what is there now…I'm on Athelstan road and would like to know roughly how far it would be from me…

  2. Stephanie Gaunt
    February 12, 2014 / 7:56 pm

    Thanks for that! Clive Vale Farm was on the site of Hamilton Gardens, off the continuation of Alfred Road, across Saxon Road. The farm was replaced in C19 by Clive Vale House, which was demolished in the 1970s. The sheep in 'English Coasts' were drawn from those in the farmyard.

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