[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]
BEST, Gladys [1898-1956]
“The Guildhall Exeter”
watercolor on paper / 16 inches by 12 inches
What would Sigmund Freud discern from psychoanalysis of the Community Collection? Assuming that roughly two hundred works of art might represent us collectively, could he put us retroactively “on the couch” and derive some community-wide profile? Even if he could, would we want to see it? In that unlikely context, Gladys Best’s watercolor of the 1930s—a vignette of British cityscape before the ravages of WWII and postwar urbanization—reinforces a sense of retrospection, of longing for the civility and simplicity of our lost youth.
Exeter’s official website attests that the Guildhall has been “the centrepiece of Exeter’s civic life for more than 800 years,” the oldest municipal building in the U.K. still in use.
A structure of outstanding architectural interest, it is not merely an ancient monument but remains a busy working building—still in regular use for a variety of civic functions and full meetings of the City Council.
Best is only one of several artists to render its Jacobethan chutzpah, tempered here with watercolor softness. This work found its way to Agincourt in 1948, a gift from a war-weary British family who had come to recuperate with Iowa friends following the Blitz.
Biographical information on Gladys Best is scant. Born at Plymouth, Devon, in 1898 [to a family of hydraulic engineers], she died sixty-seven years later in Exeter, the county town and the subject of this painting.