The Paintings of Ivor John Powell

The vision of a border Welshman

Longtown Castle by Ivor Powell

51. Longtown Castle

34.5 x 44.8cm. Daler Board with new frame

NLW(PG 5879)

Longtown Castle presents a visually exciting prospect. Viewed from the inner bailey, its towering keep, set high up on its vantage point, leaves strong impressions on any visitor. Though Ivor knew the castle from his youth, this particular composition was his response to a visit he made to Longtown, with his son Roy and a fellow artist, to enable them to do some painting. The landscape was strongly conceived and engaged him in his characteristic tonal explorations, but he also could not resist celebrating, in a comic way, what would have been a good-humoured excursion to the castle with the two young painters, who he included in the right foreground. While one canvas is on the easel, another is being passed between them. In the background, a tractor and trailer are shown hurtling down an impossibly steep bank (the slope to the keep has to be climbed by steps). While the driver has a flamboyant red and white head scarf (unlikely working attire), the occupant of the trailer also seems to be using it for fun rather than work. However, like his canal studies, this composition is haunting as well as comic. The crows flying above the castle tower prompt us to give a darker interpretation to the speeding tractor. Its driver and helpless passenger are surely doomed as they drop down from the castle mound, while the two young artists working at their paintings are unaware of their plight. (Had Ivor seen a print of Bruegel's Fall of Icarus, where Icarus plunging into the sea also seems to pass unnoticed?). In painting the keep so thoroughly, he contrasted its durability with the uncertainties and fragilities of the human life beneath it.

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