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Blue Sky Thinking

Posted on 29 June 2017


There are two versions of the Tunbridge Ware view of Herstmonceux Castle and our Object of the Month for July is an example of the less common one.  Whilst the mosaic of the castle is the same on both versions, the one we are illustrating is set in an oval background with the sky in mosaic as opposed to a plain background veneer. 

There are only two topographical subjects in Tunbridge Ware with this feature, both by Henry Hollamby. A mosaic sky can also be found on Shakespeare’s Birthplace, a view that was particularly well received and commended by the Prince of Wales at the Bath & West of England Show in 1881.

The choice of a mosaic sky is an interesting one. Veneers in shades of brown do not really lend themselves to depicting a blue sky.  It was however possible that Hollamby was hoping that the technique, with which he was already familiar, of soaking veneers in the local chalybeate water would actually result in a true blue. It is documented in the 19th century that Tunbridge Ware makers were treating maple and Hungarian ash in this way to achieve silver, different shades of grey, and sometimes deep violet.

How successful Hollamby was, we are unlikely to know. Sadly with the passage of time, veneers that were soaked in the mineral water have not retained their assumed colour.  Whether Hollamby ever achieved a true blue remains a mystery. It could just have been blue sky thinking on his part.