Review of ‘Michael Barnfather's Derbyshire’, by Michael Barnfather

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 24th March 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Michael Barnfather
Published by Halsgrove
ISBN 1-84114-187-9 (2003)

This is another treasure of a book from Halsgrove, following on from a sequence of local titles notable for the quality of their colour photographs.

Michael Barnfather, however, is a professional landscape painter rather than a photographer. He needs little introduction in this part of the world, especially perhaps in Bakewell where the Granby Gallery has held exhibitions of his work every two years since 1980. As an artist, Michael's first love is Derbyshire and the unrivalled scenery of the Peak. My family has a personal interest in one of his oil paintings, unfortunately hanging on someone else's wall (and, unfortunately, not included in this book) because it shows our old home. Its captured ambience and setting have a beauty way above any photograph we were ever able to take.

Perhaps the explanation lies in Michael Barnfather's own words: 'I have a sixth sense about a location. If I can't see a subject immediately, as I drive along I get a feeling that if I go to a different position then maybe there would be a good subject there.' This intuition is finely honed, for there is not a scene amongst this Derbyshire collection which you can simply flick past. Here a yellow wintry sky reflected in the snow blanketing Monyash; there a fox keeping its tense distance from the Sterndale farmer and his dog; and there a luminous watercolour with rays of light reflecting off Derwent reservoir.

People and animals give the images a sense of movement; from over 70 paintings, watercolours and sketches in this book, barely a single scene is without a living creature of some sort. Michael points out that his human figures are often memories or a reminder of people who may have been present at some stage of his deliberations. Closing in on the still-life detail, you notice the ladder propped up against a time-worn barn; Elton church clock showing time for tea; the rambler poring over a map; a Union Jack fluttering above Winster church (see cover picture) and the smudge of a very distant High Tor far beyond Black Rocks. take.

Michael Barnfather includes a personal device or signature in his paintings but it looks so natural that few would guess what it is. And he is also particularly fond of cart wheels.

The introduction and captions in the book are by Peter Slade, co-owner of Alexander Gallery, the artist's agent. Michael Mosley of Granby Gallery, Bakewell, adds personal recollections of his long-standing, very successful association with Michael Barnfather. Finally, just before settling to study the illustrations, the reader is led through the background to a painting of Milldale, something to be appreciated by all who dabble in this branch of the arts.

Review by Julie Bunting

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