• The Cello in Art (13) – Rippingille

On my recent visit to Bristol, I popped into the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.  It’s a spacious building, though not overly large, yet it manages to encompass the natural sciences and world cultures as well as a selection of art forms across the centuries.  Today it’s best known perhaps for letting Banksy loose on its exhibition spaces in 2009, and right there in the entrance hall is a stone carving of an angel with an upturned can of red paint on its head.  Upstairs, there are some fine examples of British painting and sculpture across the centuries, and, small though it is, the selection of works by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Howard Hodgkin, Richard Long and others works well as a taster.

I knew nothing about the Bristol School of Artists, which has a gallery more or less to itself.  Having seen the exhibition of work by The Glasgow Boys at the Royal Academy last year and the excellent play The Pitmen Painters a few years ago and last year’s superlative ITV documentary about the Ashington Group in Northumberland, I was curious to see what the much earlier group in Bristol was about.  It appears to have been a loose association of artists, amateurs as well as professionals, who liked nothing better than to go out of an evening on sketching parties to local beauty spots like the Avon Gorge.  Its heyday was in the 1810s and 1820s, and its chief luminaries were genre and landscape painters such as Edward Bird (1772-1819), Francis Danby (1793-1861) and Edward Villiers Rippingille (1789-1859).

I was particularly drawn to this small oil painting by Rippingille, mainly because it offered a new image to add to my occasional posts on ‘The Cello in Art’ (see below).  This portrait (c.1829) is of a well-to-do young man, dressed ‘to the nines’.  He was John Whitmore Isaac from Worcester (1808-84), so he was then about 21.  Isaac is holding the instrument naturally, which suggests that he may well have been a cellist himself.  His bow-hold is not on the ‘frog’ but further along the stick, which recalls the practices of the 18th century, as demonstrated in a portrait of the composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805).

Yet Isaac’s bow is a modern one, so no doubt he changed his bow-hold at some point to that which had become standard during his own lifetime.  A bound volume of music by Haydn is on the music stand, with what look like loose sheets protruding.  If this was a real volume in Isaac’s possession, what music did it contain?  String quartets?  Trios?  Keyboard sonatas?

There the story might have ended – a delightful and unassuming portrait of a youthful West Country gentleman and cellist – had I not perused the search engines a little further.

John Whitmore Isaac’s name subsequently came up as a one-time owner of one of the most famous Stradivari cellos, the ‘Mara’ cello of 1711.  Isaac bought it, however, at a much later date than that of his portrait above – 1860 – and the ‘Mara’ stayed in his  family for over 25 years.  Did Isaac play Haydn quartets on it too, I wonder?  The ‘Mara’ then seems to have languished away from the concert platform until it came into the possession of Anthony Pini in 1950 and then into the hands of Amedeo Baldovino in 1954.  Baldovino almost lost the instrument when the ship in which he was travelling was sunk in the River Plate in 1963.  Unsurprisingly, the cello suffered severe water damage.  It was repaired for £1000 by the firm of W. E. Hill, which had owned the instrument from time to time since buying it off the Isaac family.  The ‘Mara’ is now owned by Heinrich Schiff, who bought it in 1996.

As a further footnote, connected to my study of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, which Schiff first played in 1972 and recorded in 1986, it is clear that there is no link here either with the ‘Mara’.  Instead, it is likely that Schiff recorded the Lutosławski on an earlier Stradivari (‘St Senoch, Murray’, 1698), which he owned between 1981 and 1995.

One Response to • The Cello in Art (13) – Rippingille

  1. very interesting and informative. thank you for the share


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