Gwen Raverat Exhibition at her Grandfather Charles Darwin's home, Down House

By William  |  9 May 2019 10:00:00

It was a risk - could we - in the single day we had the room - get all 70 of the Gwen Raverat prints and paintings professionally hung for the momentous exhibition English Heritage had commissioned of her work - an idea that has been in the making for over a year - to show Darwin's granddaughter's work in the very house he lived in and she  frequently visited. It meant working around the public visiting the house, but they were most obliging.

With its unique place in the history of science and evolution, Down House, my great great grandfather's home, is a place of pilgrimage to this god of science. You can stand in the study where Darwin wrote 'On the Origin of Species', stroll through the gardens that inspired him, and discover the recreated bedroom of his and wife Emma's newly recreated bedroom which overlooks the gardens. There's Sir David Attenborough to take you on an interactive multimedia tour around the house, while you discover how the great man developed his ground-breaking theories.

Without the English Heritage team (Meredith Cason, Down House Manager; Dr Olivia Fryman, Curator of Collections; and Dr Wendy Monkhouse, Senior Curator), we would have struggled, but their in-depth experience of the best way to present pictures meant we have ended up with a powerful presentation of my grandmother's work in her grandfather's home, a place she often visited in her yout

Gwen wrote movingly about Down House: For instance, the path in front of the veranda [at Down House] was made of large round water-worn pebbles, from some sea beach. They were not loose, but stuck down tight in moss and sand, and were black and shiny, as if they had been polished. I adored those pebbles. I mean literally, adored; worshipped. This passion made me feel quite sick sometimes. And it was adoration that I felt for the foxgloves at Down, and for the stiff red clay out of the Sandwalk clay-pit; and for the beautiful white paint on the nursery floor. This kind of feeling hits you in the stomach, and in the ends of your fingers, and it is probab

ly the most important thing in life. Long after I have forgotten all my human loves, I shall still remember the smell of a gooseberry leaf, or the feel of the wet grass on my bare feet; or the pebbles in the path. In the long run it is this feeling that makes life worth living, this which is the driving force behind the artist's need to create.


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