I’ve recently been asked to do a painting of The Circus in Bath. I remember looking at the scene in the summer last year, however it was difficult to get a view of the remarkable architecture because of the central trees in full leaf. I knew I would have to return in the spring before the new buds appeared. Fortunately I made it just in time. They were already starting to spring forth obscuring some of the detail. I spent the afternoon taking reference photographs and did two watercolour sketchbook studies to help me remember the scene.
In 2010 I came 1st runner up in the Bath Painting Prize with my watercolour of the Royal Crescent. I decided to do this scene in the same long landscape formate to emphasise the curve of the architecture. After drawing the main composition in pencil, I put down some base washes of yellow, rose madder and blue to set the tone for the distinctive honey colouring of the stonework and sky. Like the Royal Crescent, The Circus is constructed from Bath stone, a Limestone comprising granular fragments of calcium carbonate.
Before embarking on the architecture itself, designed by John Wood the Elder, I decided to paint in the main aspects of the trees, including the early spring buds. As one is painting, a deeper appreciation of the thinking behind the classic Georgian architecture is formed. Wood’s inspiration was in fact the Roman Colosseum, another great piece of architecture I have painted, both from the inside and out. The Colosseum was designed to be seen from the outside, whereas the Circus faces inwardly. Work began in 1754 and completed in 1768. Sadly, Wood died less than 3 months after the first stone was laid. His son, John Wood the Younger completed the scheme to his father’s design.
Next came the time consuming task of painting the windows and columns. The Circus (Latin for ring, oval or circle) consists of 3 storey townhouses with a mansard roof. Three classical orders are used, Greek Doric, Roman/Composit and Corinthian, one on top of the other. The danger when doing detail of this nature is to make it too tight and photographic. A camera can do a better job than the artist of capturing detail. I wanted to retain the freshness of the location sketchbook watercolours, so as you can see, I kept my leather bound sketchbook open in front of me at all times as a constant reminder.
After laying a fresh green wash for the foreground grass, I returned to the branches of the trees to add more detail. The final painting will form part of the Inspired Exhibition at the Octagon in Bath which opens on the 25th April and ends 10th May..
P.S. You may have noticed an Origami camel on my drawing board. It was made by my talented 9 year old nephew, Noah last weekend in a matter of minutes!