Under the Cedar Tree 

24th July - 4th October 2022

Athelhampton House and Gardens, 
Athelhampton Road, Dorchester 
Dorset DT2 7LG 
Sunday - Friday (closed Saturdays) 
10 am - 5 pm


In these paintings I have searched for connections between the Gardens and some of the history of Athelhampton. As such, the shapes and forms employed by Inigo Thomas have taken on new meanings and relationships with one another.

In the painting Stone Crown Elegy the Jacobean inspired shapes of the Corona Garden merge with the format of a historical, coded letter to draw attention to the fate of Chidiock Tichbourne. The paintings de Lafontaine’s Fountain: I-III reflect the shape of the Great Court’s central pond and investigate this gentleman’s enigmatic identity. The Lion’s Mouth garden finds itself the centrepiece of Tresco Lion, a painting relating to 15th century armour and the tales of Hercules. The pyramidal forms frequently found in the Gardens are angled in a selection of artworks so as to reach beyond the estate’s integration. Referencing the Martyn effigies at Puddletown, the Pyramidal Pilgrim artworks are on display in the Kitchen Garden Glasshouse. Reminiscent of ancient Egyptian tombs, Mayan and Cambodian Temples and the Argolis Pyramids of Greece, these artworks are also linked to paintings by Marevna and the prose of Thomas Hardy, a good friend of de Lafontaine, and whose initials can be found on the lintel of the culver dovecote.

I have not tried to rewrite history in these paintings but to find a thread of connectivity running between the present and this ‘Seated Old Relic’. This thread has undoubtedly crossed over many paths and this is perhaps the very value of abstract painting. Unlike a photograph which captures a singular moment in time, an abstract painting enables many connections to be made within a storyline. It offers a chance to hold onto a moment from the past in a physically tangible way whilst referencing topical concerns of the world of today. We come, often on holiday - enjoying our free time - to view historical homes and all their mystery and majesty. The tradition of painting is malleable enough to interpret these histories in the context of today’s myriad concerns; from climate change, the ecological crisis, the destruction of Nature, the often frightening effects of mass-consumption, exponential population growth, disease and war to the fictitious dangers and paradoxical benefits of our Digital Age. Indeed, the storyline of the Martyns has not ended with their departure from Athelhampton, but provides the very backdrop of historical house and garden.

The unique opportunity of being able to exhibit these paintings upon the very walls which provided their inspiration - whether it be a person, a stained glass window or the feeling of a restless spirit - adds to this thread of connectivity. When I first visited Athelhampton I knew it was a house still breathing, still living, as much alive inside as the Gardens are outside. I think it is only through paint that this can be celebrated and communicated.  Even if not all aspects of the estate’s history and previous residents are known today, painting lends itself very well in the search to discover those questions which may not have full or complete answers. The estate does not always reveal its true self and it is through this withheld, or unrequited gift, that so many continue to find delight and enjoyment in visiting Athelhampton House and Gardens.

                                                Belinda Smith, July 2022