Friday, 29 July 2011

Postcard from Capel Curig

They say that you shouldn't go back, but for me the rewards have usually outweighed the disappointments. I am writing this in Cobden's Hotel in Capel Curig, to which I have returned as a birthday treat to myself. Fifty years ago, a Sunday treat would be an outing in Uncle Albert's Austin, later replaced by a new (and ugly) Morris Oxford. Destinations included the Marches, but most often we would travel to Capel Curig, because of a connection between my aunt Betty and the daughter and granddaughters of the artist Alfred Oliver, who had a studio here.

Alfred Oliver was one of the last Victorian and Edwardian naturalistic painters. Some idea of his style can be gained from a story told in the family. Apparently, when his "The Snowdon Horseshoe from Lyn Mymbyr", showing the mountains perfectly reflected in the lake, was exhibited in London, a critic complained that the image was impossible. Oliver's response was to invite the critic up to Capel, and on the first clear morning of his visit, to row him out on the lake and demonstrate how accurate the picture was.

(Meanwhile, on the other side of Moel Siabod, JD Innes and Augustus John were taking landscape painting in an entirely different direction.)

My own appreciation of Alfred Oliver's skill came from a painting of a single tree - a silver birch, if I recall correctly. It hung at the western end of the studio. In the half-light, and against the dark wooden background, it was almost as if a door opened into a wood.

The only other memory of the studio was a poignant one. Above a door at the back was mounted a twin-bladed propeller. I was told that it was a memorial for his son, killed in action in the first world war. Probably he was the T.A.Oliver cited in a Roll of Honour from 1917.

I can't find the studio, or even where it stood. The family (Humphries? Humphreys?) sold it around 1980, and it has probably been redeveloped as a guest house.

However, the sheep tracks which I used to wander and the view from the lake are virtually unchanged. If only the cloud would break so that I could capture the latter image.


Viv said...

I am the granddaughter of alfred oliver and would love to get in touch re your above post.

Frank H Little said...

Hello, Viv, remember me as a skinny schoolboy in the 1950s when I was lodging with Albert & Betty Garrett? If you are on Facebook, you can message me there:

margaret williams said...

My husband myself and two friends visited Capel Curig in the early seventies. We had gone to visit my husband's friends who ran a hotel there, Pat and Norman Bassnett. Pat's Mum lived in a studio with tree growing in it and a propeller of a plane on the wall. We had tea there and it was lovely, lots of lovely paintings. We had our photo taken in front of a huge painting the full size of the wall. I think the roof of the studio was made of corrugated iron. My sister has just come back from Snowdonia and it brought back lovely memories.

Frank H Little said...

I'm so glad to have confirmation of my memory of the studio. So Pat (Viv's sister) is now Mrs Bassnett? I don't suppose you know which hotel it was?

Viv has not got back in touch and I haven't heard directly from Pat. I wish them all well.