Enjoying the work of Alister Maynard
When Lady Cowdray asked a locksmith to break open an old locked trunk which had stood by the front door of Cowdray House for many years, little did she expect to find inside a treasure trove of artwork! Unseen for 40 years were sketches, drawings, allegorical portraits, Trompe l’Oeil paintings and room designs by her grandfather, the talented 20th century artist, Alister Maynard who died in 1976. Lady Cowdray rightly decided that they should be enjoyed by everyone and many fascinating and colourful works are now displayed around Cowdray Estate locations, a large selection being visible at Cowdray Golf and our events venue Capron House in Midhurst. She has since put together a book which will be sold in a special Cowdray Edition and selected prints of Alister Maynard’s pictures will be available in the Living Area of the Cowdray Farm Shop.
Marina Cowdray has vivid memories of her grandfather:
“I remember my grandfather as a tall thin man, always elegantly dressed in a suit and tie, living with his wife, Molly, at 12 Victoria Grove, Chelsea. I remember the smell of the oils when I walked into his small but light studio overlooking the garden, the piles of brushes stacked tidily in an old clay pot, the oil paints perfectly laid out on his palette and the dark wooden easel supporting the canvas. After his death I lived there for a while with my grandmother and I have often walked past the house since. Their bedroom looked out through scalloped lead framed windows which he depicted in many of his paintings.
“My grandfather was fundamentally self-taught although he studied for a brief period at Chelsea School of Art, but he was one of the fortunate few able to use his artistic skills to the full. He had the chance to travel the globe fulfilling commissions from various Heads of State. Works for the Shah of Persia and the King of Nepal are part of the art collection you can view in the bar and dining room at the golf club. He was also a well-respected designer for Asprey and John Lewis. His designs appear in Kensington Palace, Brighton Pavilion, The Dorchester Hotel and The Connaught Hotel. He designed interiors, clocks, jewellery, wallpapers, carpets and fabrics. He had exhibitions throughout his life and although he sold much of his work, he was not a businessman and found the commercial side of life a challenge, often forgetting to charge for his work!
“Whilst in the army and based in India, Alister Maynard was inspired by the intricate designs he discovered there. His finely detailed work is painted in a style often used in Indian miniatures and takes inspiration from all the vibrant colours of India. He wrote a book called The Background to India which gave a clear insight into the country and explained the various Indian religions in depth.
“His work clearly demonstrates that he found some of his inspiration in religious symbolism – the Buddhist symbol in the carriage wheels, the Jewish Star of David in the ceiling centres in the Palace in Kathmandu, the Shirivasta in the carpets which appears as an endless knot. The Hindu sun God, Surya, also appears in several of his carpet designs and table inlays.
“Alister also loved myths and legends. His paintings were often theatrical. He interpreted perfectly that life is not what it might appear and that we are all actors on the stage of life. “His allegorical paintings also demonstrate that we are connected to everything, animals included. He painted flowers with a sense of lightness and delicateness – the lotus flower depicting peace and wholeness. Many spiritual teachers of that time entertained my grandparents’ minds. Alister painted Rabindranath Tagore and loved his poetry. He listened to the Dalai Lama and was riveted by the story of how he was discovered. He looked at life deeply through the lens of an artist. His colours were vivid at a time when there was so much suffering going on in the world through the First and Second World Wars – his paintings can indeed light up any wall and I hope that many people get to see them.”
This article appears in the Cowdray Summer newsletter which is in circulation across the estate. Pick up a copy when you are next passing.