A Venetian Fairytale

Having visited Italy at least twice a year for work over the last decade Alan and Susan returned after a three year interlude whilst working on commissions in Oman to studying in Florence, where Alan participated in a challenging portraiture course at the renowned Charles H. Cecil studio.

Fast forward a year later and Alan and Susan found themselves back in their beloved Venice for 5 nights, this time with Susan’s mother and sister coming along for the adventure too. While they stayed in the beautiful Carnival Palace hotel, Alan and Susan were overjoyed to stay with dear family friend Nai who had taken Susan under her wing when she was in her early twenties and lived in Venice with her two children Louise and Oliver for several years.

 

Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed
Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed

Keen to continue to develop his new skills in portraiture, Alan asked our friend Nai Fasano if she would sit for him while he painted her. What better way to preserve the memory of their dear old friend than with a portrait? Scanning through his trusty Italian pocket sketchbooks today, it’s clear to see how much Alan’s confidence had grown since his first tentative classes learning the art of portraiture and the sight-size method just a year previously.

Having forged an internationally-successful career as a watercolourist, working with oils and swapping figures in the distance of his cityscapes for the finer details of a person’s hair, skin and facial features was undoubtedly a new challenge.

 

Giardini della Biennale
A sketch of Giardini della Biennale

During their trip to Venice in September 2012 the family visited some of the city’s best known landmarks: an afternoon at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where 20th century modern art devotee Peggy Guggenheim lived, now the location of her museum, an unfinished 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.

They enjoyed a stroll through the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale’s Gardens), supper at the Gam-Gam Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter and coffee beneath the beautiful architecture of  before pausing at a rather special, significant place for both Alan and Susan…

A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks
A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks

Hanging proudly on their staircase at home in Northumberland, Alan’s portrait of Susan sitting inside St Mark’s speaks louder than perhaps any of the other pieces of artwork in the house. It was here Susan found her salvation – a beautiful, completely unexpected moment where she felt the presence of God and thus began her rebirth as a Christian. As always, Alan would sketch fervently, often painting on location come rain or shine to gather reference for his popular Italian Collection – a series of original paintings and prints of Italy.

 

 

Girl in the Red Coat
Girl in the Red Coat, Venice.

On this particular trip Alan took reference of St Mark’s Square on a rainy winter’s day and decided to add his granddaughter Emily, in a vivid red coat into the crowd of people scurrying across the piazza keen to escape the impending snow shower, similar to a painting he had completed of Newcastle’s iconic Grey Street. Unintentionally reminiscent of the 1973 Donald Sutherland film “Don’t Look Now”, in which a married couple grieving the recent death of their daughter, often pictured in a red coat visit Venice, “Girl in the Red Coat” went on to become one of Alan’s most popular giclee prints after the original had sold.

Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan

 

A beautiful balance of inspiring architecture, reflection, gaining reference for future paintings and a chance to enjoy a trip away with family, Alan and Susan were about to embark on a brand new adventure that brought the business and Italy closer than ever.

An Exciting Agenda

February 2004

Sitting in a quiet corner of Pani’s Cafe in the heart of Newcastle city centre Susan and Loretta are babbling away in broken Italian. Half English, half Italian phrases carry through the air to the kitchen, where a superb Italian feast is being prepped for the busy pre-theatre rush later that evening…

Having lived in Venice for several years in her early twenties, Susan was introduced to Loretta after a meal at Pani’s and the pair would often catch up over a coffee or bowl of pasta so Susan could practise her Italian. It was during one of these meetings that Loretta mentioned she knew a publisher in Italy who she would love to introduce Alan and Susan to, with a view to publishing a book of his work.

Sketching in Vicenza 2004
Sketching in Vicenza 2004

With their gallery on Main Street in Ponteland now well on its way to being well established, the couple were looking forward to the future of Alan Reed Art and decided to meet with the publisher, Alberto Brazzale in Rome in September 2004.

Meeting Alberto for the day at the hotel where they were staying in the Trastevere area, he talked confidently about his previous work and explained how he sought sponsorship from local companies and banks in Italy to publish his books. Giving Alan and Susan some exciting ideas to go home and discuss, Alberto also suggested some new locations Alan might like to visit and paint to add to his collection of Italian paintings.

One of Alberto’s suggestions was to visit Vicenza, a historic city in the Veneto region highly regarded for its Palladian architecture. Knowing very little about the area, Alan and Susan later met with old friend and pastor Paul and his wife who now lived there in the November of 2004.  It was a joyous trip for both parties as Susan was delighted to be reunited with old friends from the church congregation she was part of whilst living in Venice, and Alan sketched some new scenes for his Italian Collection of paintings. As the couple mulled the idea of creating a book about Alan’s Italian-inspired artwork, and possibly even hosting an exhibition in nearby Marostica, unbeknown to them, another idea was brewing. They just didn’t quite know it yet…

After their meeting with Alberto the pair were off to Umbria again! This time, they would be meeting their good friends Bob and Heather at Rome airport and heading two hours into the sunset to Umbria to stay with Chrissie and David at Casa San Gabriel.

Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed
Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed

Cultural heritage is not Umbria’s only selling point – this produce-laden province is beloved by Susan in particular for the wild boar and truffles of its woods that grow in abundance here. Umbria is rustic, rural, romantic Italy at its undiscovered finest, where sheep roam free in the unspoilt valleys and medieval villages and landmarks that dot the landscape.

Alan and Susan wasted no time in introducing Bob and Heather to the area – driving along its winding roads to the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and onto the wild and wonderful Piano Grande basin where lentils grow in abundance and a patchwork quilt of red, purple and blue wildflowers carpets the view below during the summer months. Unquestionably one of the most spectacular sights in the area, the scenery and the silence up here are exhilarating no matter what time of year you visit.

The foursome stood still, drinking in the view. For Alan, it was a wonderful opportunity to sketch and catalogue some of the world’s most far flung locations that would delight customers at the gallery. Despite their wonderfully rural location, Susan spotted a small caravan parked up in the distance serving sandwiches and light lunches. They decided to stop for lunch here and headed over to the mysterious caravan…. Greeted with wild boar sandwiches and a glass of wine, Alan, Susan, Bob and Heather enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the top of the Piano Grande basin – one they still vividly remember today.

Spending a week together touring the sights of Tuscany and the Umbrian Valley, a little over an hour’s drive from Casa San Gabriel took the group everywhere. From the pretty hilltop town of Cortona to chocolate and salami shops in Norcia and onwards to the peaceful mediaeval town of Gubbio on the slopes of Monte Ingino. Their base at Casa San Gabriel, nestled deep in the Umbrian Valley proved a perfect spot to stay – Chrissie and David were the perfect hosts and opened up their own home for dinner one evening on the terrace of their home with breathtaking views of the valley where Bob and Heather celebrated their 25 th wedding anniversary and Bob presented her with a beautiful ring to mark the occasion.

Shortly before their trip came to an end, the foursome discovered the crumbling ruins of an old church tucked away just a ten minutes walk from where they were staying. While Alan sat and sketched the ruins, Susan and Heather sat in the sun and chatted about how wonderful it would be to have the money and time to renovate the church and make it into something….

Chiesa del Carmine 2004
The ruins of Chiesa del Carmine 2004

The Chiesa del Carmine was renovated, not by Alan and Susan – or Bob and Heather, but by the landowner and is managed by none other than Chrisse and David who own Casa San Gabriel. Standing in the very same spot ten years later, in 2014, Alan and Susan thought back to that conversation with Bob and Heather and the concept of Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy was born