City Break

Back to my home city of Birmingham for a short break to reacquaint myself with places I used to visit and to discover new ones.

I stayed at Woodbrooke Quaker Conference Centre, Selly Oak, a favourite place with its good food, lovely people – day-to-day running by volunteer Friends, and of course, peace and quiet. No TV or music, no loud conversations or children running around, maybe a bit of chanting from people on courses.

Luckily there was a mindfulness retreat on during our stay, run by Buddhist sisters– so lots of Tai chi on the lawns early morning, people walking quietly through the surrounding woodland, or moving slowly round the circular labyrinth cut into the grass, for the purpose of silent meditation.

Another great place to visit nearby is Winterbourne House and Garden, part of the University of Birmingham, where you can
‘experience an Edwardian [Arts and Crafts inspired] historic house and garden nestled in a leafy corner of Birmingham – home to over 6000 different plant species. Intricately tied into the history of the site, enjoy a peaceful stroll in tranquil surroundings.’  I walked around Edgbaston Park Nature Reserve (feature image) within the grounds,  a haven of peace in a noisy busy city.

I haven’t been to the Barber Insitute of Fine Arts, also part of the University, for a long time and thought it time to catch up on what it has to offer. It’s situated bang in the middle of the campus and is a truly magnificent building – younger than you think on first sight.

One of Birmingham’s finest Art Deco buildings, purpose built and opened by Queen Mary in 1939′  and inside, it holds  a magnificent collection, featuring many of the greatest names in Western art.

Monet, Manet and Magritte; Renoir, Rubens, Rossetti and Rodin; Degas, Delacroix and Van Dyck – as well as Botticelli, Poussin, Turner, Gainsborough, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Bellows and Auerbach

The Barber holds one of the most outstanding and internationally significant collections assembled in Britain during the 20th Century. The collection

Maria Marow Gideon and her brother William, 1786/7 by Joshua Reynolds

The Barber Institute owes its existence to the vision of Dame Martha Constance Hattie Barber and her husband, Sir Henry. Their story

One particular painting stands out, by a female aritst I haven’t heard of  – Vigée-Lebrun. It’s so beautiful –  the mesmerising eyes draw the viewer in. I have placed another portrait in the collection by a favourite artist of mine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Sixty-five years between the two portraits; each radiates an eternal beauty created in its own style and form – and of its time.

A Portrait of Countess Golovina, 1797-1800, Russia by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun
‘The Blue Bower’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1865 – portrait of his mistress Fanny Cornforth. Rossetti was one of the original founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

So much more to see at the Barber Institute; I’ve barely scratched the surface of this rich and varied collection.

No Peaky Blinders for me – it’s more Peeky Wonders in good old Brum.

(Dee’s photos were taken at the Barber Institute whose policy is: ‘ You are welcome to take photographs for your personal enjoyment – and share them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media’.)