Q&A with Barbara Peacock

Barbara Peacock is a director of Wessex Fine Art study courses and has run many successful study tours both in Britain and abroad. She lectures for the Arts Society, the Art Fund and National Trust. She was a tutor in the department of extramural studies at the University of Southampton.

This will be Barbara’s first year with Art Pursuits Abroad and she will leading our ‘Dorset – Hidden Country Houses & Gardens’ tour – here we ask what it is she enjoys the most about the APA study tours.

What are your career highlights so far?

My particular field of interest is the country house and its associated historic garden/landscape setting. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989 I travelled to Bohemia and Moravia (Czech Republic), as it has one of the greatest concentration of great houses in Europe, for these provinces were once part of the Habsburg Empire where the wealthy aristocracy would build their palatial summer seats and grandiose hunting lodges. After nearly 50 years of Communism, many of these once beautiful places were in an appalling state of neglect, and money to restore them was scarce. I was instrumental in co-founding a charity, The Friends of Czech Heritage, to fundraise restoration projects, and by writing articles, giving lectures and organising and leading group visits I helped raise awareness of the country’s rich architectural and artistic heritage, which even today is still comparatively little-known in the West, outside Prague. In recognition of this work, I was awarded the Czech Lifetime Achievement Award by the Czech government in 2016 followed by the British Prime Minister’s Points of Light award in 2017.

What inspired you to pursue a career in art history?

When I was about 9 I went to a very enlightened school where art history was part of the curriculum; every term a particular artist was chosen for study, and each week we would examine one particular painting, and could keep the reproduction. Although I was only there for a year, the experience made a lasting impression on me. Country house or architectural visits were very much a feature of the school holidays, and during a term’s study at the Sorbonne I visited almost every major site and gallery in Paris. Inspired by French culture, at University I read Modern Languages with special papers in French and German art, which led to my first job as Assistant Curator at Birmingham City Art Gallery.

Why are you so passionate about your chosen field?

Great buildings, gardens and works of art, and the ideas behind their creation, stimulate the mind and enrich the spirit. To work daily in this field is a true privilege and passion.

Which of the tours you are involved in is your favourite?

Possibly Dorset, as the 20th century has largely passed the county by; its rural landscape and remote, hidden manor houses still evoke the novels and landscape of Thomas Hardy.

Where is the most inspirational place you have visited?

I think Rome, both for its art and its history. Here every period is represented from classical to the wonderful Early Christian churches and the great mediaeval, Renaissance, Baroque and later monuments. Then there are the superb art galleries, private collections, the rich museums, and important historic gardens. At every turn there is something special to see and one could spend a life time exploring and learning.

Are there any destinations that you would like to visit that you haven’t already?

Yes, numerous. I know Europe well but would like to visit India, Iran, Japan and much of exotic south east Asia.

What do you look forward to the most when travelling with APA?

Sharing one’s enthusiasms with like-minded people, and discussing what we have seen or experienced.

Is there a destination or excursion that you would like to share with the APA clients?

Yes I would particularly like to share Bohemia or Moravia. Architecturally, it is a rich experience for people, and full of unexpected delights. As well as the great houses or châteaux there are probably more picturesque –and as yet-uncommercialised little historic old towns than anywhere else in Europe, except Italy. The landscape is still rural and unspoilt, its deep forests and green pastures evocative of the music of Dvořák and Janáček. And in most places there are no tourists!

What is your favourite piece of art and why?

In my case, as an architectural historian, it will be a building, but it is a very hard choice as my taste is eclectic. Maybe Palladio’s Villa Rotunda, as it is a supremely beautifully harmonious structure that lifts the spirits, but equally inspiring in a different way is the soaring Gothic of Amiens cathedral.

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