‘Ever since I was a small boy I’ve been enchanted by stately homes’ says artist Chris Bennett ROI. ‘I saw them as storybook worlds surrounded by storybook gardens. Exploring these spaces with my parents, staring fascinatedly up at paintings of people dressed in wonderful costumes, is one of the reasons I became an artist.’

From the Orangery, Belton House by Chris Bennett ROI; Acrylic, 50 x 70 cm - £1,600

Chris’ fascination with stately homes continues to this day. In the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2018 (28 November to 9 December 2018), the artist is exhibiting work inspired by Belton House, Ickworth House, and Kentwell Hall.

Belton House is a National Trust property in Lincolnshire recognised as a paragon of Carolean architecture, and the most complete example of a Tudor period English country house. Thousands of visitors explore the house and gardens each year, including Chris Bennett ROI, who was inspired by the majestic setting to paint these stunning works.

The Sundial, Belton House by Chris Bennett ROI: Oil, 50 x 70 cm - £1,600

‘When I first watched the television programme ‘Moondial’ I was captivated by the setting, Belton House; I always wanted to pay the place a visit. When I finally got there, it was love at first sight. The first thing I had to paint was the ‘moondial’ itself, seen against the long shadows of the late afternoon sun.’

Statue in the Orangery, Belton House by Chris Bennett ROI: Oil, 33 x 39 cm - £800

‘Stepping inside the orangery at Belton House was another instant beguilement’ says Chris, ‘this time for the spellbinding presence of a marble statue, gleaming brightly against the dark foliage. The sculpted figure seemed almost to be alive under the shards of light filtering down through the canopy of leaves onto the cool surface of her body, innocent among gentle explosions of green.’ 

Chris was also inspired by Ickworth House, a National Trust property in Suffolk known as one of England’s more unusual stately homes. The neoclassical design features a vast 105-foot-high central rotunda with an iconic portico, flanked by narrow wings in the Palladian fashion.

Dome of Ickworth House Behind Trees by Chris Bennett ROI: Oil, 33 x 39 cm - £800

‘Ickworth House is very local to me, and my wife and I often go for walks there’ says Chris. ‘Visitors stroll through this enchanted parkland and stumble upon the building itself, which hides somewhat among the trees.’ In his painting, Chris captures this sense of discovery. ‘It’s an extraordinarily happy place, populated by families, children on scooters, dog walkers, couples young and old, and hikers’ says the artist. 

Door at Kentwell Hall by Chris Bennett ROI: Oil, 33 x 39 cm - £800

The final port of call on Chris Bennett’s artistic tour of England’s stately houses was Kentwell Hall, which dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086. This stunning moated mansion has been used as a set for films, television, and now painting, as Chris put paint to canvas to show us the building’s beautiful entranceway. ‘The doorway, with its mullioned windows bathed in the morning sunshine, seemed like something from a dream’ says Chris.

Chris Bennett ROI isn’t the only artist exhibiting in the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2018 to be inspired by stately houses. During a recent Spring bank holiday, David Curtis VPRSMA ROI drove his 1979 VW campervan in a Classic Car Run organised by his local village. The first stop on the route was Normanby Hall in Lincolnshire. Normanby Hall is a council-owned property and gardens, offering visitors free access all year round, including family activities and environmental education.

‘After a tour of the fabulous gardens, I came upon a series of Victorian greenhouses which led to the servants and gardeners’ quarters’ says David. ‘I felt the scene could be a memorable work if I could prevail with the complexity of the drawing, and the close tonal effects pervading the composition. I think the finished painting evokes a sense of past times; the gardeners’ room would have been a refuge from the busy outdoor working environment.’

The Gardeners' Room, Normanby Hall by David Curtis VPRSMA ROI: Oil, 54 x 70 cm - £3,250

From exquisite architecture and art, sweeping parklands and carefully cultivated gardens to the quieter, humbler spaces, and the communities past and present which maintain, support and enjoy them, stately houses offer us so much scope in the way of inspiration. Chris Bennett ROI and David Curtis VPRSMA ROI’s paintings in The Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2018 reminds us of this fact.

See Chris and David’s paintings on display in the ROI Annual Exhibition at Mall Galleries from 28 November to 9 December 2018. If you would like to purchase an artwork, you can do so by contacting info@mallgalleries.com or calling 020 7930 6844.

Browse the Exhibition Catalogue