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Article Posted: 11/18/2017
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Art and Culture,Collecting,Crafts

The Hidden Master of Merton Abbey.

Born in 1850 Lexden Lewis Pocock belonged to one of the most artistically prolific families of the century complete with its artists, designer and social reformers. Despite the volume of work of the others in existence, including those of his brother Alfred lionized by the Empress Alexandra of Russia, most his own work disappeared in a great fire where the bulk of his collection was kept. Most of what remains is a fitting although scarce tribute to his craftsmanship if we dare to use the word with respect to painting. However, his oils never seem to come to the market and his auction sales are mainly restricted to known watercolours which always fetch high prices. Museums with his work are few and far between but only because very few survived in his lifetime. The Victoria and Albert and Tate are a notable exceptin. Lexden´s son took photographs in his early life of most of these large incredibly vivid and naturalistic water colours which featured his children or other close members of his family. His period at the Pre-Raphaelite centre where innovative textile designs were created, was also dedicated to teaching and we have testimony from one of his pupils to that effect. However, incredibly enough a masterwork in oil on canvas has now surfaced in private hands and it comprises of a large and early morning scene with children towing a barge in the famous pond with the distinctive buildings of Merton Abbey in the background. It depicts an early winter morning with the sun on the horizon and just about setting a woodland landscape ablaze. As the light level rises in the painting´s immediate surrounds, it achieves awesome results as the luminosity appears to intensify as it fires up the wintry crowns of the surrounding trees before settling on the foreground children and pond.

Very little is known about this painting except that it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1900 and that it was connected with the Delhi Palace Architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and at whose home in Belgrave Square it had once hung . It remained in place held inside a radiating series of elaborate gilt frames until its removal in the late fifties to be disposed of.. All paintings, not in the inventory, considered modern in the 1960´s, were sold out to dealers. Even then, the authorship was unknown and no documentary evidence had been kept of its original purchase by or person given to by Pocock. The monogram cleverly disguised in the hoary frost, was found after its sale and related to his known markings published in the guide to Victorian monograms and signatures by the auctioneers themselves. Lexden was an intuitive artist with a great love of nature having spent most of his life in the country. His background of creative blood and powerful minds were well understood in the family and perhaps this explains such talent recurring down the line in people like Alfred Lyndhurst Pocock( whose work in gem carving led to his Faberge creations for Queen Alexandra of Russia) and Nicholas Pocock of Marine Painting fame. His incredible capability of recreating a scen of great complexity in his mind enabled him to borrow from nature and add and detract to create his vision. The oil painting of the Tow Path or “Winters Tale” as it was called during the hanging at the Royal Academy in 1900 was one of very few he hung publicly despite his known ability. His watercolours were more in the Pre- Raphaelite brotherhood themes with poignant messages like that of “The Messenger”. Landscapes like “A Winter´s Tale” of such extraordinary beauty and complexity, carried light in a manner and form rare in the world of art and more so in the neglected areas of early morning or evening scenes. Only the brave would venture into twilight when nature was at its most dramatic. Devoid of romantic story concepts so dear to the brotherhood ( which were laced with Grail Legend Arthurian concepts) , this painting alters the “fraternal” line of vision as seen in the works of Burns Jones, Millet, Rossetti etc, but captures the splendour and magic in nature and its intrinsic partnership with light.

Lexden however, perhaps because of his social reforming ancestors, kept his vision in a realistic context and perhaps agreed to differ with the brotherhood which in any case did not exist as a cult for more than four years. He never quite tied himself to them as a fellow brother exclusively but was a fully integrated member of the movement without doubt. He was however one of the outstanding teachers much remembered by his pupils and conceded to the movement in his watercolours which reproduced the startling tints of medieval costumes in his models. Pre-Raphaelites were obviously involved in Holy Grail Quest studies as a singulars spiritual calling leading to such elevating works as the Lady of Shallot and the spirituality of female beauty as portrayed in works by Rossetti which almost double up with Archangels - and all unique in their own way. Love and danger as in The Messenger and the sumptuous textiles so dear to them on their models, linked with the music of running water in pictorial poetry. Curiously however, no other large oil painting reflects the simple beauty of nature nestling in to harsh days, supported as always by the ever present sun rays, needed to feed it for the night, as this one does. This composition of the resurrection of the sun is close to the recurrent messages in the Pre Raphaeite dream as idea and depiction reflect both end and new beginnings. To understand the workings of the minds of these artists one must understand the quest for the Holy Grail as a search for meaning in life and as the ultimate motivator of zeal, ambition and unrestrained creation. Perhaps the sad side of this, as seen in Icarus and his destroyed dream barely alive and nursed by beautiful nymphs is a reflection of the life giving power of love as in the wounded knight, not to mention the death of the messenger who gave life in the delivered letter to his mistress - or the Lady of the Lake whose body on the drifting boat sought a lovers funeral where love had not been hers in life. The fraternity was possibly trying to show what could never be taken for granted in lovers lost and eternal forgetfulness in death as the creative spirit faces its moments of extinction or trims the outbursts of willful ambition. All poignant but spiritually meaningful as a contribution to the understanding of the ascent and fall of man´s pride for his false, egotistical values. Lexden in his “Winters Tale” says something like that with a message of promise as hard work and early effort seeks its reward in the warming rays and enshrouding protection of light and its life-giving force. Little is known about the brotherhood´s entrenched sentiments in this respect despite handing down a whole edifice of a period and school in beautiful artistic expressions that capture the very soul of art. The artist themselves preferred to keep themselves mysteriously and demurely behind their pictures in a niche that was caught between Art Nouveau and subsequent Décor. Their works slid into the slot with unmistakable ease, awakening a new respect for Art that simple and complex decorative works of many other periods, could not evoke.

“A Winter´s Tale/The Tow Path”. It measures 127,10 cms x 101,00cms. Photograph available on

About the Author.

Michael Mifsud started his life in journalism at the tender age of 16 in the House of Commons lobbies. He went on to become a publisher (Britain´s first trade journal for drivers), a writer and successful innovative entrepreneur. He traveled extensively with the British Royal couple on tours as a member of the press team which always accompanies them. He is a keen social reformist and animal activist having rescued and brought up more than a score whilst trying to lead a busy life. He is a keen art researcher and collector and spotted many a hidden good buy at auction and dealers. He is a fellow of the International academic organization and contributes on major social issues to their journal which is well received by government libraries and international intelligence agencies for its record of open and impressive presentations which would otherwise not see the light of day. He was member of the high command of the modern order of Knights Templar (Versailles 1705) and a one time director of the British Monarchist League. He blames world leaders for not “even trying “ to feed and protect humanity whilst allowing its evil side to flourish with such depressive results.

Related Articles - Pre Raphaelites, Lexden Pocock, Faberge collection, Merton Abbey, William Morris, the pre raphaelite brotherhood, rosetti, millais, burne jones,

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