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Sculptors to the manor drawn
Not the least of the many peculiarities of Lord Redesdale, paterfamilias to the sextet of attention-seeking Mitford sisters, was that he had a low opinion of the home they all shared, Asthall Manor, near Burford. In her superb biography of Nancy Mitford, Selina Hastings waxes lyrical about the place — “grey stone and gabled, overlooking a quiet churchyard comfortably populated by the solid and lichenous tombs of prosperous wool merchants” — then brings us down with a bump in a paragraph beginning: “Farve never cared for Asthall.”
“Well, daft old Farve!” any visitor might think who was lucky enough to be strolling around this glorious Cotswold property in its stunning situation beside the River Windrush. In fact, any of us can be in this happy position at present. Until July 15, for an outlay of a mere £7.50, we can visit on form, an exhibition of outdoor sculpture which is laid on every other year by the manor’s owner, Rosie Pearson.
This is the sixth one (which hardly seems possible since I well recall the first) and the most ambitious yet, with a total of 169 works on view. Most are in the garden, with others in the aforementioned churchyard, over the road beside the event’s Potting Shed café (home-grown seasonal produce on sale to visitors) and farther away at the Old Swan and Minster Mill, in Minster Lovell.
The exhibition is reviewed in The Oxford Times today by our art critic Theresa Thompson. On the same page, incidentally, can be found a preview of musical events at another lovely Oxford manor house with strong literary connections.
Visitors might seize the opportunity of the Garsington concert series, which begins on July 1, to eye up the manor with a view to possible purchase. It can be yours for a mere £6.5m.
I was lucky enough to be among those invited — half of Oxfordshire, it seemed — to the on form private view last Saturday. Despite an iffy weather forecast, the rain held off, and it proved a jolly occasion indeed for those of us roaming the grounds, admiring the works, and picking up glasses of rosé, quails’ eggs, and strawberries and clotted cream from staging posts strategically placed on the route (not that there is one, since you can wander at will).
Highlights for me were a meeting with an affectionate little black dog called Elvis — that’s him, above, in appropriate ‘Rock’ collar — and the chance to become reacquainted with one of the artists, Paul Vanstone, between whose giant heads (Close, £25,000) I am standing in the photograph at the top of the page.
While I was talking to Paul, Rosemarie occupied herself with young Oliver Hawkins, whose design company (www.marshallmurray.co.uk) represents Paul and offers his clients advice on the best place to site their purchases. That he was, by a mile, the best-looking man among the multitude is testament to her good taste in these matters.