18 April 2017

Too early for Saint George’s move,
and too soon for Mr Turner’s visit

JMW Turner’s watercolour of Lichfield Cathedral (1832) is on display from next Monday for the first time in many years

Patrick Comerford

The timing of my visit to Lichfield means I missed the installation of Canon Andrew Stead as Canon Precentor in Lichfield Cathedral on Sunday afternoon and, sadly, that I am going to miss an old Lichfield custom this year, and I am also going to miss an exciting exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral.

Every year on Saint George’s Day, the officials of the Court Baron and View of Frankpledge in Lichfield – also known as Saint George’s Court – gather at the Guildhall to appoint the officers of the manor of the Barony of Lichfield.

The Mayor and Councillors install two High Constables, seven Dozeners (or petty constables), two Pinners and two Ale Tasters and there are annual reports from the Constables. Fines are imposed by the jury for any transgressions over the previous year and a feature of the event are the ridiculous reasons given for non-compliance with the rules.

It is a fun day, and when Saint George’s Day falls on a Sunday, the court moves to Saturday 22 April instead. This year, therefore, the court sits on Saturday, 22 April. Admission is free, but space is limited inside the Guildhall – so arrive early.

The painter JMW Turner (1775-1851) claimed he was born on Saint George’s Day, 23 April, although there is no proof of this. In his early years, Turner worked for the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813), who was born in Weeford, near Lichfield.

However, the timing of my visit to Lichfield this week means I am also going to miss ‘Mr Turner Comes to Lichfield’ – an exciting exhibition celebrating the works of Turner – which begins in Lichfield Cathedral next Monday [24 April 2017] and continues until 11 June.

This is a rare opportunity to see Turner’s watercolour of Lichfield Cathedral, which he painted in 1832 and which is the centrepiece of this exhibition. Until recently, this painting was in a private collection, and it goes on public display next week for the first time in many years. Alongside it are Turner’s sketches for the painting, loaned by Tate Britain.

An English Romanticist landscape painter, Turner was a controversial figure in his day. But he is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting. Although best-known for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting, and is often known as ‘the painter of light.’

The Turner exhibits are joined by 17 pictures showing how artists have portrayed Lichfield Cathedral over five centuries, seeing the same building in their own distinctive ways. These include paintings from the city’s Samuel Johnson Birthplace and from other private collections, and a new work by Peter Walker, Lichfield Cathedral’s artist-in-residence. Also included are the winning entries from the Cathedral’s 2016 art and photography competition.

This exhibition is free, but the cathedral relies on generous donations to stay open.

Other activities in association with the exhibition include a showing of the award-winning film Mr Turner starring Timothy Spall and directed by Mike Leigh, and a production of the West End play The Painter.

Lichfield Cathedral is presenting a showing of Mr Turner on Saturday 29 April at 6.30 p.m., with a private viewing of the Turner exhibition beforehand. Tickets may be bought from the Cathedral shop at No 9 in the Cathedral Close.

A fundraising gala dinner takes place in the cathedral nave next month [12 May] to raise funds for restoration work at the unique two-storey Chapter House, home to important collections including the eighth century Saint Chad Gospels and a 15th century manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Then, from 29 May to 3 June, Lichfield Cathedral and Saint Mary’s in the Market Square are presenting The Painter by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. The play is made up of a number of vignettes of Turner’s life and takes place in his studio and around London from 1799 on, covering several decades of his life. Iain Fletcher stars as Turner alongside a small cast.

Once again, tickets are available at the Shop at No 9.

The Guildhall … the venue for Saint George’s Court, which takes place this year on Saturday 22 April (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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