Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Matching the Millais in 2018

Matching the Millais

As you should know by now, a famous painting will be displayed at the museum when when Fairlynch opens its doors on 28 May for the Raleigh 400 exhibition.  But it’s also being staged on Budleigh beach.  

Victorian artist Sir John Everett Millais painted his masterpiece in 1870, showing the young Walter Raleigh, the future favourite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert listening to a sailor’s tales of exotic voyages. The painting, part of Tate Britain’s collection, will be on display for three months until 31 August.

Sir John Everett Millais, a self-portrait, as reproduced in the artist’s biography published by his son John Guille Millais who was also a successful artist

Adding to celebrations on the opening day of the exhibition, members of the town’s Art Club have set themselves the challenge of recreating the scene painted by Millais. And a few additional characters will be making an appearance in the tableau, including the artist with his easel, an adult Sir Walter himself on horseback and his mother Katherine Champernowne, all in period costume. 

The part of Katherine Champernowne will be played by Rosemary Griggs, pictured, a retired senior civil servant who now has time to indulge a lifelong interest in history.  She regularly gives talks in costume and in character as Lady Katherine at Compton Castle, and also talks to other groups. 

Rosemary has done much research into Katherine’s life in Devon, and her family and will be available to chat informally with visitors to the tableau and the museum. ‘I can also include details of my costume - people are often fascinated by it,’ she says.   

The Queen Mother's carriage, surmounted by her crown, adorned with camellias from her own gardens and draped in her personal standard, travels down to Westminster Abbey for her funeral on 30 March 2002

Sir Walter on horseback will be played by Rob Batson, of Budleigh Salterton Riding School. A former captain with the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, in 2002, he led the guard which escorted the coffin of the Queen Mother on the George Gun from Westminster Hall to the service in nearby Westminster Abbey.

‘There will be reflections,’ he was quoted as saying at the time, after the funeral of such a much-loved member of the royal family.  ‘I have some time off to get to grips with what has happened and being part of history.’ 

On this occasion, for the re-creation of the ‘Boyhood’ scene, Rob Batson will be riding Doughnut, his faithful 20-year-old mount who has the distinction of taking part in the Trooping of the Colour. 

The Budleigh Salterton event will be on a much smaller scale, but he will again be playing a historic role. Sir Walter Raleigh, among his many achievements and offices,  was a loyal Captain of the Guard for the first Queen Elizabeth. 

Local families have been keen to respond to the challenge by providing models for the two children in the original painting. Eleven-year-old twins Frank and Henry Southan from Budleigh Salterton had their heads shaved last year to raise funds for cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support.  Now the boys, pupils at St Peter’s Church of England Primary School in Budleigh, are ready to help the museum project by taking part in the tableau and encouraging visitors to see the original painting at Fairlynch.

Playing the part of young Walter Raleigh, as he listens to the stories which supposedly inspired him to found the first English-speaking colony in the New World, will demand real acting skills, thinks Henry. ‘Lots of people will be taking photos of the scene, so it’s important for us all to have the right expressions,’ he points out.

Gender will not be a limiting factor in the tableau. ‘Purists might object but I can’t see any reason why the children shouldn’t be girls, or a boy and a girl,’ said organizer and Art Club member John Washington, who will play the part of Millais.

Budleigh Brownies are among the local groups who have been approached for candidates to play the part of Walter and his half-brother.

The original painting will go back to Tate Britain at the end of August, but Fairlynch volunteers and Art Club members organizing the tableau are sure that images of this new Raleigh-inspired masterpiece will be treasured by the museum and by many proud parents.

A certain number of places are available for young persons aged 10-14 to play the parts of Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert in the Raleigh Wall tableau, from 2.00 to 4.00 pm on Monday 28 May. For further details and to book a place please email Fairlynch Museum Trustee Michael Downes via   



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