Behind the scenes of a Reedart Painting Holiday in Italy

Having stayed at the Villa Capanne in 2014 and fallen in love with the refined rusticity of their accommodation, Alan, Susan and their guests were certainly in for a treat in 2015 when they returned to Umbria for a second Reedart Italian Painting Holiday, this time in the newly-renovated Chiesa Del Carmine: a stunning, no-expense-spared ancient church and adjoining farmhouse nestled deep in the heart of a picturesque valley. Far enough from civilisation to sit and enjoy the silence of the unspoilt Italian countryside, but close enough to the spectacular Robert Trent Jones Championship golf course at the Antognolla Golf Estate and nearby hilltop towns, Chiesa Del Carmine was the perfect spot for Reedart Holidays to settle into.

Chiesa Del Carmine
Chiesa Del Carmine

Borgo San Jacopo 2

There were trips aplenty on this Reedart Italian Painting Holiday too – stopping off to sketch at Todi, enjoying lunch alfresco in Gubbio and browsing the market at Umbertide and buying cheese, ham and souvenirs to take home. As always, there was a good mix of guests who were here to paint – from beginners and hobby painters – to the more advanced and those who were simply here to eat, drink and explore some of Italy’s hidden gems thanks to Alan and Susan’s unrivalled knowledge of the area.

 

 

A painting of Leon playing the piano for guests at Chiesa Del Carmine
A painting of Leon playing the piano for guests at Chiesa Del Carmine

The group had the added bonus of fellow guest Leon’s piano playing skills this year, who often took himself over to the baby grand piano in the lounge in the evening. It was a magical moment which made the holiday even more memorable for those who had come along to paint, and those who had not.

This particular trip was a memorable one for two guests in particular – with Arthur’s special birthday approaching, his wife Diana commissioned Alan to paint a portrait of her husband. It was to be a surprise so she asked Alan if he could work from photographs. He could, but if possible it would be better try and do a sketch of him and take his own photographs. So Alan devised a cunning plan. On the last evening of the holiday, he began to sketch various guests after dinner as they were all relaxing in the living room of Chiesa Del Carmine. Eventually it was Arthur’s turn and he willingly obliged to sit without suspecting that Alan’s humble charcoal sketch would develop into a 20″ x 16″ portrait in oils!

Arthur's birthday Portrait by Alan Reed
Arthur’s birthday Portrait by Alan Reed

Arthur was delighted with the result….

I am the ever so proud and thrilled owner of the most marvellous portrait of me. Unusually for me, I was struck dumb, and did not know what to say. Now a little recovered, I can tell you directly how thrilled I am. I think it captures the very essence of me. Just perfect. Thank you so much for taking so much effort to capture the very being of me. I am thrilled. We both enjoyed both our original Easter visit to your home, and our wonderful week with you in the summer, and hence we are both equally looking forward to next year. You cannot imagine how happy you have made my celebration week, for my larger birthday number than I really like to think about”

A sketchbook watercolour of Gubbio by Alan Reed
A sketchbook watercolour of Gubbio by Alan Reed

For those who would be painting, the owner of Chiesa Del Carmine light-heartedly offered €250 to the best painting of the villa and left it up to Alan to judge the worthy winner at the end of the trip. Thanks to Alan’s expert guidance and tuition over the past seven days, the guests’ painting skills had undeniably come on leaps and bounds and so the eventual winner proved to be a difficult choice for Alan. The winner was John Chapman, whose painting of Chiesa Del Carmine hangs proudly in the venue today.

Seven fun, inspiring, adventure-filled days exploring Italy, roaming from sea to city to countryside and sampling some of the finest food and drink left the guests of Reedart Italian Painting Holidays heading home feeling fantastic. Many were struck by how incredible value for money the holiday was – food, drink, travel and accommodation was all included in one price for the entire week. They had journeyed to some unforgettable places, enjoyed some magical moments and really bonded with their hosts – so much so that when Alan and Susan mentioned they were heading to Florence for a couple of nights before flying home all of their guests who flew out with them from Newcastle asked if they could come too!

Susan scoured the internet for suitable accommodation, found apartments for everyone in a convenient spot near Ponte Vecchio as well as places for them all to eat and drink together. It was a perfectly unexpected ending to a perfect trip. Due to their popularity, Reedart Italian Painting Holidays became a fully-fledged arm of their 31 year old family business.

A sketchbook watercolour of Florence by Alan
A sketchbook watercolour of Florence by Alan

The couple returned to the area in October 2015 to look for new places they could take their guests – not least because some of them would soon be joining them for the third year running! A truly organic business venture that is driven by a love and passion for Italy and a long-lasting relationship with Chrissie and David who own Casa San Gabriel and run the estate, it’s little surprise the first of two holidays in 2016 sold out almost immediately…

Would you like to join us?

21st – 28th MAY 2016 – Fully Booked.
4th – 11th JUNE 2016 – Fully Booked

June & October 2017 – Fully Booked

June 2018 Fully Booked

2019 Please contact us directly to register your interest.

 

 

 

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.

Mission to Commission

After the resounding success of the first Reedart Painting Holiday in Umbria, Italy in early 2006; Alan and Susan found themselves back in the region just a few months later in search of reference for a commission Alan had been contacted about. It was also an exciting opportunity for Alan and Susan to return to their beloved Italy and spend a week eating, drinking, exploring and sketching.

Casa Panfili by Alan Reed
Casa Panfili by Alan Reed

Their starting point was Umbria, where Alan would sketch the beautiful Casa Panfili owned by Alastair and Betty Stuart. After one night here the couple moved on to San Quirico d’Orcia in the Province of Siena, Tuscany to meet up with their friends Karen and Jonathan Marks. The group were staying in the Hotel Relais Palazzo del Capitano, a stunning boutique hotel set in a 15th century mansion, and spent the next two days eating, drinking and exploring the distinctive hilltop towns of Pienza, Siena and Montalcino.

Alan painting on location
Alan painting on location

 

Foodies Alan and Susan thoroughly enjoyed the local cuisine, sampling everything from antipasti and steak to fresh white truffle pasta.

After a long day of exploring the various hilltop towns in the area, Alan and Susan headed straight for the tranquil gardens at their hotel, the Hotel Relais Palazzo del Capitano in San Quirico d’Orcia to relax. This trip was a perfect opportunity for Alan to sketch some of Tuscany’s unspoilt countryside and became a popular new addition to his burgeoning Italian Collection at the time.

Alan and Susan with friends Karen and Jonathon Marks
Alan and Susan with friends Karen and Jonathon Marks

The next stop on their week-long trip was to Colle di Val d’Elsa in the province of Siena, Tuscany. Alan’s brother had worked at local Michelin star restaurant Arnolfo for a summer in 1992 and the group decided to drop by to introduce themselves. Despite not feeling quite as dressed for the occasion as they hoped, the group were warmly welcomed and treated to an unforgettable Michelin star meal at the restaurant.

The last stop on this particular trip was to Lucca, a picturesque city which lies alongside the Serchio River in Italy’s Tuscany region. Renowned for its impressively preserved city walls which date back to the Renaissance era, the group couldn’t resist taking part in a popular tourist pastime of cycling around the city walls which overlook the historic city, cobbled streets and beautiful tree-lined paths.

Another wonderful trip exploring more of Italy’s tourism and hidden treasures, Alan and Susan returned home to their gallery in Ponteland.

Until next time….

PART 2:
After a busy year travelling to and from Italy in 2006, Alan and Susan did not return to Italy until May 2007. This time, it was for a very special occasion!

The couple were jetting to Venice with their friends John and Liz Wilthew their friends from church who were celebrating a rather special wedding anniversary. Having never visited Venice before, John and Liz were certainly in good hands with Alan and Susan as tour guides. As it was a special occasion, the group stayed at La Calcina Guest House – also known as Ruskin’s House – which boasts beautiful views of Venice and a superb terrace on the water.

John Singer Sargent exhibition poster Venice
The John Singer Sargent exhibition the group attended at the Museo Correr whilst in Venice

How better to enjoy their first trip to Venice than with coffee in the piazza at Café Florian, an evening at the opera at the iconic La Fenice opera house – and for Alan – the chance to see an exhibition of one of his favourite artists: John Singer Sargent at the Museo Correr was unmissable!  For Alan and Susan, it was a pleasure to be back in Venice catching up with old friends – especially Nai, whom had become almost like family over the years. This trip to Venice was also a perfect opportunity for Alan to commission something special of his own…

The shop "Il Mercante Veneziano" where Alan bought a handmade sketchbook
The shop “Il Mercante Veneziano” where Alan bought a handmade sketchbook

A visit to the Il Mercante Veneziano resulted in a beautiful hand-crafted leather sketchbook which Alan had made for his wife Susan. Every page, to this date contains a painting based on a memorable event or trip from when they met in 1990 to 2007.

 

 

To Umbria Again: The First Reedart Painting Holiday

After the hustle and bustle and excitement of launching their first overseas exhibition in Marostica, Italy in November 2005 – an undisputed highlight of Alan’s career – Alan and Susan were already planning another exciting new aspect of Alan Reed Art : painting holidays in Italy.

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Alan and Susan had kept in touch with Chrissie and David after first being introduced to the couple through a commission request to paint their cottages and the view from Casa San Gabriel in Umbria two years previously. During their last visit, they had talked about bringing guests to the cottages for painting holidays and after falling in love with the area Alan and Susan were so excited at the prospect of sharing this hidden gem with others that they decided to give it a go.

Painting on location in Spello with Reedart Painting Holidays Italy
Painting on location in Spello

The first Reedart Painting Holiday in Italy took place in April 2006 at Casa San Gabriel. Alan and Susan were joined by another couple from the North East called Kevin and Nicola Brown and a young man from Canada called Matthew. With a beautiful, traditional Italian cottage at Casa San Gabriel to themselves furnished with everything you could ever need, the group spent a week exploring the hilltop towns of Cortona, Gubbio and Spello with their sketchbooks in hand to paint on-location under Alan’s expert teaching.

Enotecca in Spello
Guests enjoying a wine tasting evening at an Enotecca in Spello

Alan and Susan took their new role as tour guides in their stride, confident that their guests would fall in love with this beautiful part of Italy and really develop their painting skills. It was important for Alan and Susan to ensure that non-painting guests still had a memorable holiday too and so they took trips to Fabriano’s famous paper mills, local shops, beauty spots, cultural landmarks – and even bagging an invite to a local gentleman’s 61st birthday street party in Spello where they all enjoyed a simple lunch of freshly baked bread, broad beans, Pecorino cheese and white wine together, sampling some real local Italian culture.

 

A mid-afternoon snap of Assisi on a Reedart Italian Painting Holiday
A mid-afternoon snap of Assisi

It was little things like this that added a sense of authenticity and true value to the very first Reedart Painting Holiday – not to mention the confidence Alan and Susan instilled in their guests as they drove from town to town or picked out local restaurants to dine at, having explored the area at length themselves.

All too soon the week came to an end and their guests went their separate ways – full of praise for Alan, Susan and their “home from home” cottages at Casa San Gabriel in Umbria. Before heading back to Newcastle, Alan had a number of appointments to make while in Italy. Word had spread about the painting of Casa San Gabriel he was commissioned to paint another holiday home in the next valley which led to a number of other new commissions of the area.

Sunday evening life in L'Aquila
Sunday evening life in L’Aquila

One memorable stopping point on this trip in particular was to L’Aquila in central Italy for three nights where Alan would be sketching for reference for a another potential commission. Describing the town as delightfully “olde worlde”, L’Aquila isn’t on the tourist trail and so the locals certainly took Alan and Susan to their hearts. L’Aquila is the capital of the hilly Abruzzo region and during their stay Alan and Susan ventured to the Monti della Laga National Park to do some exploring.

 

Gran Sasso and the chorus of crocuses
Gran Sasso and the chorus of crocuses

One memorable stopping point on this trip in particular was to L’Aquila in central Italy for three nights where Alan would be sketching for reference for a another potential commission.

Describing the town as delightfully “olde worlde”, L’Aquila isn’t on the tourist trail and so the locals certainly took Alan and Susan to their hearts. L’Aquila is the capital of the hilly Abruzzo region and during their stay Alan and Susan ventured to the Monti della Laga National Park to do some exploring.

The magnificent Gran Sasso
The magnificent Gran Sasso

Neither could forget how the snow was piled at least ten foot high either at the side of the road as they drove to the Gran Sasso – the centrepiece of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Despite the mountains being covered in snow, Alan and Susan were taken aback to find the air was warm and spring had sprung, covering the ground in beautiful purple crocuses.

Despite their numerous trips to Italy over the past decade, it would seem Italy still had a few surprises up its sleeve for Alan and Susan to discover.

The Light

Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica
Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica

It was a surreal moment as Alan sat surrounded by some of his closest family members and friends sipping coffee in the bright sun in the Piazza degli Scacchi in Marostica as his painting of Marostica on the exhibition posters stared back at him ten times over…

It was the 17th of November 2005, two days before Alan would launch his very first overseas exhibition in Italy and here they were, sitting beneath a number of promotional posters advertising the exhibition to the locals of Marostica in Italy’s Veneto region. “The Light” was a long a time coming considering how much time artist Alan and his wife Susan had spent gathering reference around Italy for his ever-expanding popular collection of Italian paintings and unlike the ancient oil paintings that tourists and locals alike were used to seeing hung in galleries, or the fly-by-night souvenir paintings sold for pennies at local markets – Alan’s lively, unique watercolour paintings of some of Italy’s most loved locations and some hidden gems proved popular with the Italians. Carefully loading around 40 paintings onto a private courier, Alan, Susan and their parents flew to Bergamo to meet them, joined by friend’s Loretta, Hilary, Carrol and Franco, Cath and Mike.

Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster
Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster

Much of their first day in Marostica was spent hanging paintings with the help of Alan’s father.

Within the town of Marostica there are two medieval castles, an upper Castle known as Castello Superiore and a lower castle known as Castello Inferiore. In front of the old Castello Inferiore and its ancient library is a prominent chess board.

Every even year during the month of September a game of chess is played using live pieces.

The custom began after the First World War where members of the local chess club began playing chess in the main square and decided to play a game of chess using people as the game pieces. After the Second World War, comedy writer Mario Mirko Vucetich wrote a play in which two noblemen fell in love with the beautiful daughter of a local lord. They challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of their beloved – only to be stopped by the Lord of Marostica who did not wish to see them duel and so forbade the encounter. Instead, it was decreed that the two rivals would play a game of chess and the winner would win his daughter’s hand in marriage and the loser would marry her younger sister.

Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition
Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition

With such a rich history and artistic background, the lower castle was a popular place to host events and exhibitions and so with the help of publisher and exhibition curator Alberto Brazzale whom they had met in Rome not long ago the space was booked to run from the 19th of November 2005 until the 6th of December.

The Commune di Marostica were too incredibly helpful to the couple promoting and facilitating the exhibition – one lady in particular named Francesca did an excellent job of promoting The Light on Alan and Susan’s behalf whilst they were back in England running the busy Alan Reed art gallery in Ponteland.

Although Marostica was not on the tourist track, the couple’s friends Paul and his wife lived nearby and they fell in love with the area. Sending across images of his work to Alberto across to Italy via CD (it was 2005 after all!) the exhibition began to come together.

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Invite to The Light, Marostica

The couple vividly remember how they rose early each morning with eager anticipation to introduce Alan Reed Art to a new audience.

Alan was to be interviewed by respected art critic Signora Maria Lucia Ferugatti on the afternoon of the 18th, the day before the exhibition opened.  Signora Ferugatti was impressed and wrote rave reviews about the exhibition for the local paper and regional news.  The opening date passed by in a wonderful blur of opening speeches, chatting to locals and listening to their stories about the history of the town, followed by a very welcome visit the next day by their dear friend Nai who had travelled by train all the way from Venice to Marostica to be there.

Lovers of Italy’s slow food movement, the group enjoyed a number of fantastic meals whilst in Marostica, and to this day Susan still recreates the divine polpette meatballs they ate at Osteria Madonnetta.

The exhibition was without doubt a high point in Alan’s career.  Now a fully-fledged international artist, light remains an incredibly important theme that weaves throughout his work.  From painting against fading light “on location”, to establishing a light source in the painting and creating highlights, contrasts and shadows using watercolour to bring the painting to life.

Demo in Marostica
Alan’s live painting demonstrations at The Light

Returning to Marostica on the 2nd of December, Alan did a series of live painting demonstrations at the exhibition which delighted visitors.

Crediting the whole event as a stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable experience getting to chat to the locals in Italian and introduce Alan’s work to them, there was just enough time to enjoy a wonderful supper at their hotel restaurant, Due Mori where they had been upgraded to a room that overlooked the castello beyond and also to their indispensable assistant Francesca’s family home for a home cooked meal.

Alan Reed Art was moving in the right direction – and fast. Selling several originals, The Light was a collection of Alan’s paintings of Italy, London, Edinburgh and even Chicago and all showcased his lively style of working with watercolours to create light and darkness in his paintings.

Skating in MarosticaLimited edition Print

Leaving Marostica on the 6th of December after taking the exhibition down, there was just enough time to relax and soak up the scenery – including one particularly lovely scene of ice skaters on the piazza. Begging Alan to capture the scene for a future Christmas card, Skaters in Marostica later became one of Alan’s most popular Christmas card designs, and now you know the story of how and where it all began.

A Foodies Paradise

Touching down in the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Nice in March 2005, Alan and Susan picked up a hire car and headed an hour’s drive away across the borders to Liguria – also known as Italy’s Riviera for a week-long trip of research and getting reference.

The couple had booked a space at the hugely popular La Dolce Vita event in London (a three day event hosted by Italy magazine aimed at promoting all things Italian) later in the spring, so their trip to Liguria would be a fantastic research opportunity for Alan to sketch and add to his collection of Italian paintings which he would be showcasing at the La Dolce Vita event. Despite its reputation as a jewel in Italy’s coastline, Alan and Susan arrived in Liguria on a dull, grey rainy day.

Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed
Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed

They had decided to book a hotel once they arrived, giving them more freedom and scope to explore the area but with the weather being so bad they decided to drive to their next destination and see whether they could check in at their hotel a few days early.

As luck would have it, heading straight to Alba turned out to be the best decision they could have made… Stopping for directions on the way, Alan and Susan were told “you will eat well” in Alba, and they certainly did! Alba is known for its slow food movement – no fast food culture grows here, but instead an appreciation for seasonal, organic local produce.

As Alan and Susan would discover, there were no menus in Alba’s Osterias. Instead, you were served what was seasonal and fresh that day – like pizza topped with deliciously soft stracchino cheese which is unavailable to buy in England due to its quick sell-by-date.

The food in Alba was unlike anything they’d ever eaten before…

The couple still vividly remember one favourite Osteria Sognatori in Alba where they were treated like old friends and served a culinary feast of antipasti, salami, cheese, pasta and ravioli to start, before moving on to a main of meat and fresh vegetables served with local wine. Finishing their meal with coffee and the customary grappa, Alan and Susan were amazed to find the whole meal at Osteria Sognatori cost just €45.

Tommaso' vineyard in Veneto
Tommaso Bussola vineyard in Veneto

Alan and Susan spent the remainder of the trip in the Piedmont region of Italy driving to nearby hilltop towns of Bra, La Morra, Neive, Mango and Nebbiolo, stopping to visit their hotel owner’s vineyard in Barolo in between and sampling some fantastic local produce to bring back home.

Picking up salami and cheeses at various other stops on their trip, Alan and Susan were taken aback by the beautiful scenery in the Piedmont region.

 

Six days of adventure passed all too quickly and it was time to head to the airport via Liguria and Monte Carlo – but not before Susan stopped a local fisherman to ask where they might find the best seafood restaurant in Noli, Liguria to enjoy one last fantastic meal here.

 

A sketch from Alan's sketchbook of the beach at Liguria
On the beach at Noli, Liguria – by Alan Reed

 

Sketchbook watercolour from the couple's trip to Alba, Piemonte
Sketchbook watercolour from the couple’s trip to Alba, Piemonte titled: “On the way from Mango to Stephano Belvo”

With a sketchbook full of reference of vineyards, street scenes, rich Italian landscapes and a head full of memories of bustling streets lined with wine bars and friendly locals who “never get English people here” – Alba was not yet on the tourist radar, but Italy enthusiasts Alan and Susan had certainly discovered a true hidden gem.

 

Fast forward from March to September 2005 and Alan and Susan were packing their bags for Italy once again. Thanks to an influx of incredibly cheap Ryanair flights during this time, there was no excuse not to, and so the couple booked to stay at La Mason, a complex of apartments near Verona.

Landing in Bergamo, they headed for the Veneto along the motorway following La Serenissima, once an ancient trade route between Venice and Milan. They spent 7 days exploring the area. Travelling off the beaten tourist track,  Alan and Susan also discovered one of the most incredible seafood restaurants they had ever eaten at.  Said to be a favourite of one of the famous Formula 1 champions, they were in good company as they dined at Il Tenere where the owner, an enormous hulk of a man sat down in front of them and asked them what they wanted. Instead of being presented with menus, they were treated to an incredible meal of fresh fish and local wine.

Alba and Veneto

Such is the life of an international artist,  Alan visited the historic towns of Marostica, Asolo, Asiago, Padua and Vicenza on this particular research trip.

Providing him with an abundance of reference for a forthcoming exhibition, the trip was also a perfect opportunity to meet up with their old pastor Paul in Marostica and Alberto Brazzale, the publisher whom they had met a year earlier in Rome.

 

Working on location, often battling against quickly fading light conditions gave Alan’s work a painterly sense of immediacy and energy. Painting directly with his paintbrush using watercolours rather than pencil or charcoal gives Alan’s work a truly distinctive style enjoyed the world over – from their gallery in Ponteland to London’s La Dolce Vita and even at the airport in Italy!

 

Alan Reed artist sketching in Veneto
Alan sketching on location in Veneto

Alberto and Tommaso
“We try to make two working trips to Italy each year, every trip is different and deepens our love affair with the country.”

From the very first Italian Collection of paintings assembled on his very first trip to Venice in the early 90s, to an ever-expanding collection over ten years later, Alan Reed Art had certainly seen The Light when it came to focusing on Italy as a collection of paintings, not least because it meant jetting off to Italy for research purposes, painting on location and getting to uncover some memorable hidden treasures, but more on that later…

 

 

 

 

 

A Gift of Life

Having booked to stay at the beautiful Hotel Paris in Florence to celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary in February 2000, Alan and Susan couldn’t help but feel their trip was overshadowed…

For Susan, it was a trip mostly spent curled up fast asleep in the back of the car while Alan drove, unable to fully enjoy the sights they had looked forward to –  as Alan sketched “en plain air”. Having been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease – a hereditary disease, she was slowly but surely suffering from kidney failure.

Alan Reed Art
The Artist’s Wife – a painting of Susan in St Mark’s Square, Venice

Susan bravely faced the difficult task of coping with nausea, headaches, extreme exhaustion and painful cramps. Their trip to Florence in February 2000 was certainly a turning point for the couple – their shared love of travel was suddenly cut short as Susan became too poorly to enjoy the adventures they had planned to take together. The Alan Reed Art Gallery in Eldon Gardens was busier than ever, which meant a trip to Rome without Susan, so Alan accompanied by his mother in 2001, to gather more inspiration for his exceptionally-popular Italian Collection of paintings which still resonate with lovers of the country today.

Since the kidneys are capable of functioning at up to 10 percent of their normal capacity, Susan hadn’t realised how ill she was until now. Faced with dialysis three times a week or a kidney transplant – something had to be done soon to rid Susan of the toxins in her body. To make the situation even more difficult; Susan has a rare tissue type which made finding a transplant match virtually impossible. With only three percent of the population predicted to be a match due to Susan’s French and Maltese heritage, Susan’s mother stepped in eager to help. It was at this point that Alan insisted that he get tested to see if he could be a possible match too. Remarkably Margaret was not a match, however the couple were amazed when Alan turned out to be a 50 percent match!

“When a man and woman marry, they are no longer two, they are one flesh” – The Book of Matthew 19:6

A twist of fate so beautiful and rare – Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital who undertook the operation told the couple that out of the estimated 120 kidney transplants they perform each year, there have only been 15 husband and wife matches since 1996.

Because Alan was going to be a live donor, it didn’t matter that the kidney wasn’t a 100 percent match – the couple’s faith and prayers gave them confidence that the transplant would be a complete success.

Alan Reed Painting HolidaysBorn-again Christians Alan and Susan underwent surgery on June 27th 2001, with the power of prayer and faith in God. The couple recovered in adjoining wards, with Alan deemed fit enough to be discharged just four days later. Susan would be on anti-rejection drugs and steroids for the rest of her life, but with a knowingly smile she knew that the kidney transplant was going to be a success, having felt it “burst to life” almost immediately.

Fast forward 14 years and Susan is still in good health. The kidney transplant was a fantastic success, giving Susan the chance of a normal life and bringing the couple even closer. Remaining by each other’s side during highs and lows, the couple were now free to pursue their love of travel and the adventures that would come their way – resulting in their beloved Reedart Italian Painting Holidays. 

Follow their story here.

To Old Friends

There are people we meet throughout our lives that leave an inexplicable mark on us. These people shape us in wonderful ways and guide us through some of the darkest storms we face. Nai is one such person for Alan and Susan Reed. Almost like a second mother to Susan, and a delightfully enigmatic and wise lady, now in her eighties – this is the story of Nai.

 

Nai from her balcony in Dolomites
Nai from her balcony in Dolomites1983 

Navigating a new world with her two young children Louise and Oliver as a young twenty-something herself, Susan rented a small apartment at the top of Via Garibaldi for her young family after moving to Venice in 1983. A beautiful old building in the Castello District, it wasn’t long before Susan was introduced to the lady who lived in the apartment above – a hardworking Italian housewife and mother of two sons. Taking Susan under her wing almost immediately, Nai adored Louise and Oliver and helped Susan learn the language. It was the perfect friendship – Nai took Susan and the children to places across Italy they could only have dreamed of. Picnics in the park, to Dodges Palace – one of Venice’s gothic landmarks and across to Burano Island, famous for its lace and coloured houses – just to name a few.

Once the children settled in at nursery, Susan would spend many mornings accompanying Nai shopping in the hustle and bustle of Venice – to the barge on the canal where they would buy the most succulent fresh fruit and vegetables, to favourite lesser-known bakeries, and to the tabaccheria for her cigarettes “Esportazione” (the same brand that she had smoked since the war) before heading back to her house to cook lunch for Nai’s husband Mario.

Nai's Cigarettes
                          Nai’s Cigarettes
Alan's sketches from Nai's house
Alan’s sketches from Nai’s house

Nai’s home in Via Garibaldi was very much a traditional Venetian family home where much of the furniture belonged to older family members who lived there previously and kept in immaculate condition. Alan took great delight in sketching the various rooms and corridors of this old house during the couple’s visits many years later. Giving Susan a first-hand experience into the wonderful family values and Italian culture is something she’s never forgotten. Whether through watching Nai’s mother in law, the head of the household sewing intricate swatches of lace by hand for the family’s bedding and linen, or the unforgettable dishes Nai taught Susan to cook from scratch. From fresh artichoke hearts – “carciofi” floating in salted water and divine when cooked, to a simply delicious starter of zucchini and pasta, drizzled with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan. Wine was always enjoyed with every family meal, followed by a caffe corretto – espresso and Nai’s favourite tipple – a shot of grappa.

Nai's Grappa
Nai’s Grappa

A fiery spirit, grappa is fondly remembered as the liquid courage carried in Italian soldiers’ flasks in World War One to sanitise their drinking water, warm them up and lift their spirits. While its common name is “grappa”, the drink’s formal title is acquavite di vinaccia, derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life” – Nai remains a figurehead of her family even now in her 80s – perhaps thanks to, her water of life! Susan couldn’t have had a better teacher in Nai, and it’s no surprise that when she decided to return home to England after five incredible years, they remained close. Returning to Venice often and sometimes with with close friends such as John and Liz Wilthew in 2007, it was Nai who saved the couple time and money by purchasing tickets to the famous Teatro La Fenice, before welcoming the group to her home the next evening for a fabulous family meal – a perfect example of how fond Nai and Susan had become of each other.

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Alan and Susan often stayed with Nai on their trips to Venice over the years, and one trip in particular to the Dolomites in 2006 remains sharp in their memories. Knowing the Dolomites like the back of her hand, Nai and her sister used to explore the mountains in the North Italian Alps every summer in their youth. The family owns a beautiful rustic chalet in the area, and so Nai invited Alan and Susan to come and stay with her one year.

Now in her 70s, Nai would fervently send the young couple off out into the mountain range for a days’ exploring – sharing invaluable tips of where the best place to catch the sunset was or stop for a picnic for lunch. As if by magic, the stony grey and white mountain range would light up a beautiful shade of pink before falling into darkness and giving way to a starry night sky, providing incredible scenes of inspiration for artist Alan. As is tradition in Italian culture, Alan and Susan would drive off in the morning to explore but return to Nai in the evening – calling her at ten to eight on the dot so she could put the pasta on as part of the meal for them to enjoy together as they arrived home. Alan recalls fondly being asked to make the coffee after dinner, a sure sign that he was officially one of the family.

Nai’s kindness and compassion has never wavered over the years, despite the thousands of miles that keep the old friends apart. Whenever Alan hosts an exhibition of his artwork, he dutifully sends Nai an invitation – which she fondly keeps in her bedside table as a way of keeping up with the couple’s news and adventures. Despite her husband Mario sadly passing away over 20 years ago, Nai remains a wonderfully independent lady. She leaves Venice for a month every August to enjoy the cooler weather in the Dolomites, or packs up her famous tiny suitcase (containing little more than a clean blouse and her essentials) and travels across Italy, often to Rome to stay with nuns and enjoy a simple meal while she soaks up the history of her beloved country. Susan’s much-loved personal tour guide, confidante and wise old friend; Nai has been an integral part of Susan’s adulthood, giving her a taste of the flavours of life and cementing her love of Italy which in turn has inspired the couple to create Reedart Italian painting holidays.

Susan Reed Pasta Recipe
                                               Susan’s Pasta Recipe

Susan’s winning pasta zucchini recipe – inspired by Nai’s original dish for you to try at home…

Ingredients:
175 grams of Orecchiette
2 Large Zucchini
Clove of garlic
Olive oil
Fresh Parmesan
Flat leaf parsley
½ lemon
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Method:
Slice the zucchini as thinly as possible (I use the flat side of my grater) In a large frying pan heat the olive oil with the garlic left whole (just to add flavour) and fry the zucchini in small batches so they brown quickly, when cooked drain on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil until they all are done. Discard the garlic sprinkle the zucchini with salt and freshly ground pepper and stir in with the cooked pasta and pine nuts. Serve, add a squeeze of lemon juice, freshly grated parmesan and finish with chopped parsley

The Grand Tour…

Flanked by sprawling vineyards, olive trees and succulent lemon groves; Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and an area of such outstanding natural beauty that it makes almost everyone’s to-do list when planning their sightseeing adventures across Italy.

Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed
Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed

Alan and Susan first visited Lake Garda on a week-long trip with two friends, Bob and Heather in September 1999. Though not a research trip, unlike their previous trip to Rome to discuss the possibility of showcasing Alan’s ever-expanding Italian Collection of paintings, Lake Garda proved to be a bountiful source of inspiration for Alan – none more so than the popular beauty spot Limone, situated on the North West shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy.

Hiring a car for the day, Alan and Susan drove to Vicenza in Northern Italy – a city off the beaten tourist track but one bathed in history and splendour nonetheless. It was on this trip that Alan and Susan had the opportunity to meet up with old friend and Pastor Paul Finch, his wife Elaine and his family whom she was close with whilst living in Venice several years previously. The trip was a chance for Alan and Susan to explore more of Italy’s history and heritage together, providing Alan with a unique source of inspiration for his collection of Italian paintings which remained hugely popular both in originals and Alan’s new limited edition series of prints.

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed

Fast forward to the long-awaited millennium and Alan and Susan were preparing for another trip to Florence to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Their plan was to hire a car whilst there and visit Siena, a city in the centre of Tuscany dominated by magnificent medieval architecture and true Italian spirit. Alan and Susan had booked to stay at the beautiful Hotel Paris in Florence  on this trip, just a stone’s throw away from Florence Cathedral and the city sights – a perfect way to celebrate their  7th wedding anniversary.

Alan and Susan’s love for Italy has only deepened over the years, especially after these early years of exploration – in sickness and in health the couple have made wonderful, lasting memories. Susan remembers spending much of their trip curled up fast asleep in the back of the car, as she was beginning to suffer from kidney failure.

A husband and wife team through and through, Alan remembers one day in particular during their trip to Siena in which he pulled over and sketched by the side of the road in San Gimignano as Susan slept soundly, resting in the back of the car. Having caught sight of local workmen burning olive branches, a painting he would later complete known as Burning of the Vines.

Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed
Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed

The couple’s adventures across Italy provided Alan with some fantastic references for his popular collection of Italian paintings – along with wonderful memories sitting people watching in busy piazzas, relaxing by the shore of Lake Garda and impromptu sketching of some truly unique, real scenes of daily life in Italy.

It was a buoyant time for the young family, and for the Alan Reed Art Gallery back in Old Eldon Square too. Despite Susan’s ill health, the couple made the best of a bad situation and squeezed every last drop out of life – unsure of what the future would hold…