Castle Howard has a ball with record crowds for A Christmas Masquerade

The Great Hall at Castle Howard at Christmas , including the 26ft decorated tree. Picture: Charlotte Graham

CASTLE Howard’s Christmas opening drew a record 67,000 visitors as A Christmas Masquerade lit up the North Yorkshire stately home.

The figures have been released as the house, near York, closes for the winter, with teams busy removing dozens of Christmas trees, not least the 26ft tree that dominated the Great Hall and tens of thousands of decorations and baubles that graced every public room as part of Charlotte Lloyd Webber’s festive installation with a commedia dell’arte theme.

“It has been a superb year, and a real credit to those involved in making Castle Howard the most festive place to visit throughout November and December,” says chief executive officer John Hoy, who has enjoyed his second Christmas at Castle Howard.

Christmas at Castle Howard drew an extra 5,000 visitors by staying open until January 5

“For the first time, the house stayed open into the New Year, closing on Sunday, January 5 and enabling us to welcome over 5,000 additional visitors.”

Alongside the Christmas decorations, family traditions continued to be honoured with opportunities to meet Father Christmas, while Santa Paws took up residence in the estate’s garden centre to greet well-behaved dogs of all breeds and sizes for the first time. More Twilight Evenings, when the house stayed open after dark, were fitted into the seven-week opening.

The good weather throughout those seven weeks allowed families to enjoy Skelf Island, the new adventure playground, as part of the Christmas experience. Launched in July 2019, the playground has had a successful impact on footfall and, in addition, the Friends of Castle Howard membership has almost doubled, the scheme experiencing a 48 per cent rise throughout 2019.  

Although the house will be closed until March 21, the grounds, woodlands and Skelf Island playground remain open throughout the winter.

Snap decision as Richard Beaumont takes father’s advice: business career first, then focus on photography

Dawn In The South Bay, Scarborough, by Richard Beaumont

THIS week is the last chance to see Scarborough photographer Richard Beaumont’s exhibition at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

In his debut show, Scarborough And Its Surroundings, he takes a personal look at his coastal hometown.

The Harbour Entrance At Whitby, by Richard Beaumont

“As a schoolboy in the 1960s, I wanted to be a photographer,” says Beaumont. “I didn’t particularly see it as a way of making money; I just wanted to create pictures of what interested me at the time.

“My father had other ideas about a possible future career and carefully steered me towards studying the science subjects, university and a career in business, saying that there would be time for photography when I retired.”

Scarborough photographer Richard Beaumont: debut exhibition

That time has come. “Following retirement in 2013, the passion was still there and I gradually began to revive my interest,” says Beaumont. “In 2017, I successfully completed a postgraduate diploma in photography at the British Academy of Photography and now accept the occasional assignment and continue to build my portfolio.”

Summing up his photography, he says. “I like to observe as well as see and create a bit of language in each shot that I take.”

The Lighthouse And South Cliff, Scarborough, From The Outer Harbour, by Richard Beaumont

Scarborough And Its Surroundings – A Personal View runs in the SJT corridor gallery until Saturday, January 12. Gallery opening hours are 10am to 6pm, Mondays to Saturdays, except during show times (mostly evenings, but some afternoons too, so please check the website,, before travelling). Entry is free.

Rugby and whisky enthusiast Paul Blackwell “likes to paint a bit” for Village Gallery show

Duncombe Park, in pastel, by Paul Blackwell

NORTH Yorkshire artist Paul Blackwell will exhibit his Treescapes at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, from January 14 to February 22.

Blackwell and his wife, fellow artist Anne Thornhill, ran a gallery in Grosmont, on the North York Moors, for more than 20 years before selling up and moving to an 18th century farmhouse overlooking the Esk Valley near Whitby. Here they have a barn studio, where they both continue to work.

Ash Tree In The Late Autumn Light, in pastel, by Paul Blackwell

Blackwell uses many different media, from oil and acrylic to pastel and pastel pencil. “Paul is passionate about wildlife and the natural landscape and a lot of his work is done from the 14 acres they have as a small nature reserve,” says Village Gallery owner and curator Simon Main.

Blackwell reveals he has always had two passions in his life. “The first is rugby and the second, malt whisky,” he says. “But I also like to paint a bit: landscapes mainly.

Paul Blackwell and Anne Thornhill’s home and studio in the Esk Valley

“My work is a reflection of my interest in the complex and emotional interchange of colours, as I attempt to convey the vibrancy and radiance of a landscape and the depth of its emotional impact.

“I often use the medium of pastel as it’s particularly suited to my way of working, using colour juxtapositions to create energy and dynamism, rhythm and balance.”

The Strid Woods, in pastel, by Paul Blackwell

After starting work on site, usually in monochrome, Blackwell enjoys exploring the colour structure once back in the studio. Frequently keeping the formal content simple, he creates a uniformity of atmosphere and feeling through his application of colours, as can be seen at Village Gallery from next Tuesday.

Gallery opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. In addition, the gallery will play host to a preview evening on January 13 from 5pm to 8pm, when Paul Blackwell will be on hand to discuss his work. Free tickets are available from Simon Main on 07972 428382 or 01904 411444 or at

Nothing special happened in YORKshire’s artland in 2019…or did it? Time for the Hutch Awards to decide

Veteran Yorkshire arts journalist CHARLES HUTCHINSON doffs his cap to the makers and shakers who made and shook the arts world in York and beyond in 2019.

Alan Ayckbourn at 80 in Scarborough. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

New play of the year: Alan Ayckbourn’s Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from September 4

Sir Alan Ayckbourn penned one play to mark his 80th birthday, then decided it wasn’t the right one. Instead, writing more quickly than he had in years, he constructed a piece around…birthdays. Still the master of comedy of awkward truths.

Honourable mention: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, November 28 to December 14.

Lili Miller (Catherine) and Pedro Leandro (Rodolpho) in A View From The Bridge at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Ian Hodgson

You Should Have Seen It production of the year: Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, York Theatre Royal, September 20 to October 12.

Once more, the sage Arthur Miller bafflingly did not draw the crowds – a Bridge too far? – but Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster found resonance anew for this age of rising intolerance in Trumped-Up America and Brexit Britain.

Chris Knight as Donkey in York Stage Musicals’ Shrek The Musical

York’s home-grown show of the year: York Stage Musicals in Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, September 12 to 21

Nik Briggs swapped directing for his stage return after five years in the wind-assisted title role and stunk the place out in Shrek tradition in a good way. Jacqueline Bell‘s Princess Fiona and Chris Knight’s Donkey were terrific too.

Honourable mention: Pick Me Up Theatre in Monster Makers, 41 Monkgate, October 23 to 27

Rigmarole Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling

Company launch of the year: Rigmarole Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling, 41 Monkgate, York, November 14 to 16

MAGGIE Smales, a previous Hutch Award winner for her all-female Henry V for York Shakespeare Project, set up Rigmarole to mount Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic Anglo-Aussie family drama. More please.

Comic capers: Mischief Theatre in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Touring play of the year: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Grand Opera House, York, February 5 to 12

Crime pays for Mischief Theatre with a riotous show, so diamond-cutter sharp, so rewarding, in its comedy, that it is even better than the original botched masterplan, The Play That Goes Wrong.

Honourable mention: Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23

Sarah Crowden and Susan Penhaligon in Handbagged at York Theatre Royal

Political play of the year: Handbagged, York Theatre Royal, April 24 to May 11

In a play of wit, brio and intelligence, Moira Buffini presents a double double act of 20th century titans, Margaret Thatcher and The Queen, one from when both ruled, the other looking back at those days, as they talk but don’t actually engage in a conversation.

Emma Rice: director of the year

Director of the year: Emma Rice for Wise Children’s Wise Children, in March,  and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, in September, both at York Theatre Royal

Emma Rice, once of Cornwall’s pioneering Kneehigh Theatre and somewhat briefly of Shakespeare’s Globe, has found her mojo again with her new company Wise Children, forming a fruitful relationship with York Theatre Royal to boot. Watch out for Wuthering Heights in 2021.

Director John R Wilkinson in rehearsals for Hello And Goodbye at York Theatre Royal

York director of the year: John R Wilkinson, Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, November

Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson had long called for the return of in-house productions in the Studio and what he called “the blue magic of that space”. He duly delivered a superb reading of Athol Fugard’s apartheid-era South African work starring Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci.

Oh what a knight: Sir Ian McKellen

Comedy show of the year: Sir Ian McKellen in Ian McKellen On Stage With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others…And You, Grand Opera House, York, June 17

A delightful variation on the An Evening With…format, wherein Sir Ian McKellen celebrated his 80th birthday with a tour through his past. His guide to Shakespeare’s 37 plays was a particular joy.

Honourable mention: John Osborne in John Peel’s Shed/Circled In The Radio Times, Pocklington Arts Centre bar, March 27

Bonnie Milnes of Bonneville And The Bailers

Event launch of the year: Live In Libraries York, York Explore, autumn

In the wood-panelled Marriott Room, veteran busker David Ward Maclean and Explore York mounted a series of four intimate, low-key concerts, the pick of them being Bonnieville And The Bailers’ magical set on October 25. Along with The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths, Bonnie Milnes is the blossoming York songwriter to watch in 2020.

Meet The Caravan Guys:Theo Mason Wood, left, and Albert Haddenham discuss masculinity in How To Beat Up Your Dad at The Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival

Festival of the Year: The Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival, by the Ouse, July and August

Under the umbrella of Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe, but celebrating its own identity too, The Arts Barge found firm footing with two locations, an ever-busy tent and, hurrah, the newly docked, freshly painted barge, the Selby Tony. The Young Thugs showcase, Henry Raby, Rory Motion, Katie Greenbrown, jazz gigs, a naked Theo Mason Wood; so many highs.

Honourable mentions: York Festival of Ideas, June; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, November.

Terry Hall: leading The Specials at York Barbican. Picture: Simon Bartle

York Barbican gig of the year: The Specials, May 9

Still The Specials, still special, on their 40th anniversary world tour, as the Coventry ska veterans promoted their first studio album in 39 years, Encore, still hitting the political nail on the head as assuredly as ever.

Honourable mentions: David Gray, March 30; Art Garfunkel, April 18; Kelly Jones, September 14.

Mocking Malvolio: Cassie Vallance’s Fabian, back left, Andrew Phelps’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Fine Time Fontayne’s Sir Toby Belch wind up Claire Storey’s Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Happiest nights of the year: Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Twelfth Night, Castle car park, York, July 4 and September 1

JOYCE Branagh, Kenneth’s sister, set Shakespeare’s comedy in the Jazz Age, serving up “Comedy Glamour” with a Charleston dash and double acts at the double. “Why, this is very midsummer madness,” the play exhorts, and it was, gloriously so, especially on the last night, when no-one knew what lay just around the corner for the doomed Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Samuel Edward Cook in Glory Dazed

Most moving night of the year: Glory Dazed, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, January 26

Cat Jones’s play, starring York actor Samuel Edward Cook, brings to light issues surrounding the mental health of ex-servicemen as they seek to re-integrate into civilian society while struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The post-show discussion with ex-soldiers from Hull spoke even louder.

Serena Manteghi in Build A Rockdet. Picture: Sam Taylor

Solo show of the year: Serena Manteghi in Build A Rocket, autumn tour

NO sooner had she finished playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Hamlet than Serena Manteghi revived her remarkable role as a seaside resort teenage single mum in Christopher York’s award-winning coruscating  play.

Honourable mention: James Swanton in Irving Undead, York Medical Society, October 10 to 12.

A Blessed encounter: interviewing Yorkshireman Brian

Favourite interview of the year: Brian Blessed, giving oxygen to his An Evening With Brian Blessed show at Grand Opera House, York, in August

The exuberance for life in Brian – Yorkshire man mountain, actor, mountaineer and space travel enthusiast – at the age of 83 would inspire anyone to climb Everest or reach for the stars.

Old soul in a Newman: John Newman’s hot, hot gig at The Crescent

Gig of the year: John Newman, The Out Of The Blue Tour, The Crescent, York, June 30

THE unsettled Settle sound of soul, John Newman, and his soul mates parked their old camper van outside the almost unbearably hot Crescent, threw caution to the wind and burnt the house down  on a night that must have been like watching Joe Cocker or Otis Redding on the rise in the Sixties.

Honourable mentions: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock’n’Roll Revue, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 25; The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, December 14

Van Gogh: ‘ere, there and everywhere at York St Mary’s

Exhibition of the year: Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, York St Mary’s, York, now extended to April 2020

This 360-degree digital art installation uses technology to create a constantly moving projected gallery of 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous 19th century works in the former church. Breathtaking, innovative, and, yes, worth the admission charge.

Honourable mention: Ruskin, Turner and The Storm Cloud, Watercolours and Drawings, York Art Gallery, from March 28

Agatha Meehan, centre, as Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

Christmas production of the year: The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25

AFTER its £15.8 million transformation from the West Yorkshire Playhouse to Leeds Playhouse, artistic director James Brining gave West Yorkshire’s premier theatre the grandest, dandiest of re-opening hits. Still time to travel down the Yellow Brick Road with Agatha Meehan, 12, from York, as Dorothy.

Dame Berwick Kaler’s fina;l wave at the end of his 40 years of pantomimes at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Anthony Robling

Exit stage left: Berwick Kaler, retiring on February 2 after 40 years as York Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame; Tim Hornsby, bowing out from booking acts for Fibbers on June 29, after 27 years and 7,500 shows in York; Damian Cruden, leaving the Theatre Royal on July 26 after 22 years as artistic director; James Cundall’s Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, in September, after hitting the financial icebergs .

Richard Bainbridge R.I.P.

Gone but not forgotten:  York Musical Theatre Company leading man, director, teacher, chairman, bon viveur and pub guvnor Richard Bainbridge, who died on July 6.

Van Gogh’s immersive exhibition given extension at York St Mary’s

Take a seat and bask in Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at York St Mary’s

VAN Gogh: The Immersive Experience is to be given an extended run at York St Mary’s, having drawn 50,000 visitors since July.

The Vincent Van Gogh exhibition was set to close on January 5 but now will be open until the end of the Easter holidays on April 19.

Explaining the decision, creative director Mario Iacampo said: “We have had such a warm welcome in York, and incredibly positive feedback about how people have been moved by the experience, so we’re delighted that we’re able to continue as a part of York’s vibrant winter programme of events and activities.

Van Gogh: art spread out all around visitors at York St Mary’s

“York St Mary’s is a wonderful venue for this kind of immersive digital art: right in the heart of the city for easy access, yet able to be adapted, so visitors feel as though they are in the French countryside, or overlooking the Rhone, during their time with us.”

The multimedia experience centres around a 360-degree projection in the nave of the deconsecrated church, making use of the stone arches and high ceiling.  Animated versions of more than 200 of Van Gogh’s most famous works are projected on to the walls, while a specially written emotive soundtrack and relaxing reclined deckchairs encourage visitors to sink into the environment around them for a Zen-like experience. 

The main show runs on a continuous loop lasting 35 minutes, and visitors can spend as much time as they want in the nave.

Feeling blue: the Van Gogh Immersive experience

At the end of a visit, a virtual reality experience takes visitors through a day in the life of the artist in Arles during Van Gogh’s time there, depicting locations that inspired his work, starting with the bedroom in the farmhouse that he painted three times.

Paul Whiting, head of marketing and communications at Visit York, said: “We’re delighted that this innovative exhibition will be extended into 2020. It’s a wonderful addition to the media arts offering of the city, combining a beautiful, atmospheric venue with a uniquely immersive art installation. It’s great news that visitors and residents will have further opportunities next year as they enjoy their ‘Only in York’ experience.”

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, will be open from Wednesday to Sunday in January, February and March, daily during half term and then from March 30 until April 19.

Admission prices are £13, £11, concessions, and £9, children, with booking strongly recommended.  For more details and opening times, visit

The doorway to Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles . Pictures: Charlotte Graham

Here is Charles Hutchinson’s feature on Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, as first printed in The Press, York, on July 15.

WHAT is the difference between an exhibition, a show and an immersive experience, like the one you can encounter at York St Mary’s?

Let Mario Iacampo, the man behind the cutting-edge Van Gogh attraction in Castlegate, York, define it.

“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is not an exhibition and it’s not a show, which I believe requires a live element; it’s somewhere between the two,” he says. “I wanted to create a Zen environment where you can sit down and watch at your leisure.

“To make it an ‘experience’, first of all there has to be emotion; then there has to be music to go with it; thirdly, there has to be the immersive experience, all around you, even on the floor.”

Iacampo, the creative director and founder of Exhibition Hub, has worked with animation artists at Dirty Monitor to create the 360-degrees digital art installation of 19th century Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings evoking his life story.

Having drawn 82,000 people in Naples and 150,000 in Brussels, it is making its British debut in York, Britain’s first UNESCO City of Media Arts, where it will be on show until January 5 2020.

Why did you choose York, Mario? “We were looking at venues around the UK for a while, and I like to present the ‘experience’ in historical buildings,” he recalls. “We went to the Council of Churches and we started studying possibilities.

“York has a huge number of tourists coming to the city, and it’s placed in the middle of the country, which is why we thought York would work well.

“Then the history adds to the impact of the presentation, and using the columns and alcoves of the church are a big part of the interpretation. York St Mary’s was ideal.”

Nine months of preparation and a fortnight of construction then went into making the York installation. After adapting the technology to the 3D design of the York church – the building has four alcoves, compared to six in Naples – the immersive experience projects animated displays on to the walls of the former St Mary’s Church, where black-out blinds and a dozen projectors have transformed the normally light and airy building into a constantly moving projected gallery of 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous 19th century works.

At one end is a re-creation of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, the subject of three of his paintings with its cramped bed, two chairs, yellowed window, battered Panama hat and row of jackets.

The central Nave houses a 35-minute immersive display, with a carpeted floor filled with deckchairs, from where visitors can enjoy the 360-degree displays seated, standing up or even lying down as the images move over the walls and floor – and their bodies, should they be horizontal.

Rather than merely projecting the original paintings, the immersive experience provides the twist of digitally animating the works: wheat sways in the breeze, water pours out of the confines of the painting’s frame, and the stars twirl and swirl in the night sky. Spookily, a skeleton suddenly smokes a cigarette. Steam from a train gradually immerses all the walls.

Everything comes alive all around you: the sun’s ever-changing position will lead to ever-changing shadows on the walls. There is so much to take in, visually, orally too, that you will want to stay longer than the 35-minute installation loop. At £13, make the very most of an artistic experience like no other in York previously.

The immersive experience is divided into, or rather flows seamlessly through, three sections: his painting years at Arles; his family, showing the repetitions in his portraits; and his years in the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 18 miles from Arles, still prolific years, but troubled by mental illness, ending in his suicide. The moment his self-portrait with his bandaged head suddenly emerges on the wall shocks anew.

For an extra £3, you can experience a 12-minute Virtual Reality rollercoaster ride from Van Gogh’s house to the settings of his best known works. Breathtaking. Truly breathtaking. And what’s more, part of the money raised from the VR experience will be donated to SASH, the York charity for the homeless, at Mario’s request.

“Sadness will last forever,” says one of Van Gogh’s quotes liberally sprinkled around St Mary’s, yet Mario points out: “He committed himself to the asylum because he felt he needed help, but he was also extremely prolific during that time, and they’re not all sad. Yes, there are some dark works, but he also painted what he saw around him, the gardens, what people were doing.”

Why did he pick Van Gogh for an immersive experience, rather than, say, Picasso or Dali? “You have to choose an artist whose paintings are ‘filled in’ with colour. You put up Starry Night and it fills the building. It really ‘pops’ into life.

“It’s the same with Monet, who we’ve also done for an immersive experience. You could do the same with Dali, but Picasso, maybe not,” says Mario.

“You also choose an artist that people understand, as you’re creating an experience for the general public, not for academics, though they have been complimentary. “ Van Gogh’s profusion of letters, 844 of them, primarily to his younger brother Theo, have helped hugely with the psychological aspect of the experience, cutting out the need for guesswork in interpreting his works. “It’s much easier when you have those letters, says Mario.

Van Gogh, by the way, signed his paintings “Vincent” for “the simple reason” no-one could pronounce his surname.

For the record, Mario pronounces it Van Goch, as in clock.

Christmas at Castle Howard turns into masquerade as the carnival takes over

The tree in the Garden Hall, part of Castle Howard At Christmas: A Christmas Masquerade. All pictures: Charlotte Graham

THE decorative Christmas displays at Castle Howard, near York, are the most theatrical yet.

Running until January 5 2020, A Christmas Masquerade has taken over every public room in the historic Yorkshire house for this themed event.

Each one is dressed in ornate and elaborate feathers, sequins, baubles and twinkling lights as visitors join the Howard family in their preparations for a Venetian-themed Christmas Carnival, complete with masquerade ball and entertainment from Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine and Puchinello, all  part of the Commedia dell’arte troupe.

Producer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and theatrical designer Bretta Gerecke once again have led the team of set dressers, florists, baublographers, artists and seamstresses to create the immersive masquerade experience.

 “Castle Howard is a house that was built with a sense of theatre and extravagance inspired by Venetian design – Vanbrugh was both an architect and a playwright – and at a time of year when glittering opulence makes its way into almost every home, we couldn’t think of a better opportunity to explore a tradition enjoyed by generations of the Howard family: the masquerade ball,” says Charlotte.

Lady Georgina’s dressing room, themed around clown Puchinello at Castle Howard

“Many of the themes, colours and styles that we have used to recreate a Venetian masquerade ball fit perfectly within the theatrical grandeur of each room.”

The experience opens with the grand staircase in the main hall, setting the scene for the lavish displays that follow.  Using the Venetian palate, the staircase is lavishly decorated with sapphire blue, magenta, purple and gold. 

At the top of the stairs, visitors gain a taste of the entertainment for the forthcoming ball:  multicoloured Harlequins, one of the characters in the Commedia dell’arte, the troupe of wandering artists that delighted 17th and 18th century audiences with a mix of pathos, romance and slapstick.

On the China Landing, an estate-cut twig tree has been painted in the Harlequin colours and hung with a plethora of ornaments following the Venetian theme, while two masks give a further hint of the ball’s lavish theme.

The following suite of four rooms highlights the four key characters for the Commedia dell’arte  visiting Castle Howard over the Christmas period.  Lady Georgiana’s bedroom is handed over to Colombine, a character who started life in the troupe as an elegant dancer, before joining the “Zannis” and becoming partner to both Harlequin and Pierrot. 

The Hon Nicholas Howard and Victoria Howard in the Turquoise Room, decorated entirely in scarlet

Pinks, golds and silvers fill the room to reflect the custom-made Colombine ballgown on display in the room, as if the mistress of the house were preparing her own costume for the ball.  The room also hosts the first of a special collection of masks, hand-created by Venetian master craftsmen for Christmas at Castle Howard: the Rosetta Mask.

The adjacent dressing room is a huge contrast, to reflect the first of the troupe’s clowns,  Puchinello, leader of the Zannis and inspiration for the modern English use of the word “zany”. This wacky room features an upside-down white Christmas tree, with a circus fairground feel.  The very British Punch and Judy explode out of a present in a nod to the seaside tradition that has its origins in these Venetian artists.

A popular contemporary vision of clown Pierrot finds him sitting in a moon, and this provides inspiration for the Castle Howard dressing room: a dreamlike and tranquil space decorated with a starry ceiling, gold, silver, black and white, with the character himself in a familiar pose at the back of the room.

Harlequin’s bedroom is one of the most lavish in the house: red, gold and green with a beautifully decorated tree, atop which sits another ornate Venetian mask.  This is the space where the Master of the House will prepare for the ball, his Harlequin costume awaiting on a mannequin.

The rich, bright colours of the theme inspired the Antiques Passage, an explosion of colour featuring a jewellery box of hues and shades presented through exotic birds and butterflies.

The 26ft Christmas tree in the Great Hall of Castle Howard, decorated with 3,500 baubles

The Castle Howard tradition of the enormous Christmas tree continues in the Great Hall, where a remarkable 26ft real tree is installed and covered with 3,500 baubles.  “As far as we’ve been able to tell, this is the largest Christmas tree in a stately home in the country,” says Abbigail. “It’s certainly several feet bigger than the trees in Buckingham Palace.”

However, the Masquerade theme is still very evident in the room; the view up to the balcony features acrobats on the handrail with a monochrome and a colourful Harlequin balancing there.

The influence of the Commedia dell’arte becomes even more prominent in the three rooms on the first floor that show the theatrical experience of masquerade and pantomime from both backstage and audience perspectives.  The display includes historic items from Castle Howard’s collections, featuring dresses, masques and fans that would have been worn and used by ancestors of the present custodian, the Hon. Nicholas Howard. 

On  display too are wigs, make-up and other accoutrements that would have helped the actors’ preparations for the stage.  The centrepiece of the High South is a life-size “paper theatre”, inspired by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, which uses the architectural features of Castle Howard in a colourful pantomime display.

Returning to the ground floor, visitors will have another behind-the-scenes peek in the room dedicated to the ruler of Venice.  The new library includes the Doge Tree, dedicated to the “Duke” of Venice ­– or in Castle Howard’s case, the master of the house – and laden with opulent Venetian glass ornaments and fabrics, with books on display all about the Venetian masquerade – essential for planning any authentic ball.

All set for Christmas at Castle Howard

The Garden Hall’s traditional bare twig tree returns, but this year features candle-lit decorations of brightly coloured Venetian Glass to create a kaleidoscope effect in the room.

A special model of Castle Howard created last year by artist Mark Bond returns to the Cabinet Room, now joined by a new model showing the exterior landscape down the Lime Avenue.  Tiny depictions of actors and their supporting crew from the Commedia dell’arte can be seen making their way with horses and carts on their way to the house in this tiny display, while ladies in their ballgowns can be found on the North Front of the main model, arriving for the ball to entertainment from a miniature Punch and Judy show.

In the music room, one of the paintings almost comes alive, as characters step out of Marco Ricci’s The Opera Rehearsal and don costumes ready for the ball.

The Crimson Dining Room is a glittering Venetian feast, the table set with a centrepiece of lions and exotic monkeys.  As Charlotte Lloyd Webber explains: “We have tried to amplify and reveal aspects of the house that you may not have noticed with the designs. A painting of the Grand Canal in the Crimson Dining Room, for example, is reflected in the gondola-themed decorations in the room.”

Crimson turns to scarlet for the drawing room – the only colour used in here – with two mannequins wearing bespoke garments created for the room and a Venetian Fraudis Jolly, a masquerade mask made of playing cards.

The China Landing at Castle Howard

Resuming the figurative flow of the water in the dining room picture, the Long Gallery –the epicentre and pinnacle of each year’s Christmas designs – recreates the glittering waterway as the setting for the Venetian Carnival that has been teased throughout the house. 

Visitors join the guests at the waterside Ball, its setting drawn from the imagination of Brette Gerecke, using artistic skills and set-dressing normally seen from afar on the theatrical stage. The “canal” itself is made from nearly 250 metres  of moulded aluminium foil, on which 4,300 customised iridescent sequins have been painstakingly glued in a task that took three people four days to complete.  

At the heart of the Long Gallery is a three-metre-wide suspended revolving Harlequin mask, one side multicoloured, the other covered in sequins of gold, silver and bronze.  One of the windows at the octagonal centre of the gallery has been replaced with a stained-glass window to shine coloured diamonds all over the space, even on darker winter days, when an artificial light provides the illumination!

A mask in the Crimson Dining Room at Castle Howard for Christmas

Leaving the Long Gallery, visitors descend to the chapel, which this year has been dressed by Slingsby School working with Castle Howard’s charity of the year, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  Alongside a traditional Nativity scene, children have created animal-themed decorations with hand-written eco-wishes.  Visitors are invited to swap real coins for chocolate ones in a donation box, with proceeds going to the charity.

Each weekend during the Christmas opening until January 5, those visiting will be joined by members of the Commedia dell’arte troupe for live entertainment around the house, while soundscapes and music arranged by the Hon. Nicholas Howard provide an additional sensory appeal to the proceedings.

Head of marketing Abbigail Ollive says: “Christmas at Castle Howard is an experience never to be forgotten, with many people returning year after year to get their festive ‘fix’, whether to take inspiration back for their own home designs, or simply just to marvel at how an already beautiful property can be transformed into this magical place – a veritable festive film set that you can walk through and admire!

“Each year’s designs are totally different, and the jewel-like sapphire blues, ruby reds and golden amber bring a whole new colour palette to this winter’s displays.”

Castle Howard: A Christmas Masquerade runs until Sunday, January 5 2020, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are on sale at

Charles Hutchinson

Katharina Klug sends her ceramic vessels into space at Lotte Inch Gallery

Katharina Klug at work on the wheel at her Cambridge studio. All pictures: Zuza Grubeska

THE Space In Between is filling Lotte Inch Gallery, in Bootham, York, with a sophisticated exhibition of monochrome porcelain vessels by Cambridge ceramicist Katharina Klug until Christmas Eve.

“This show plays with juxtaposing shapes, form and line and places these individual parts within the context of a larger installation work,” says Lotte. “It’s a show too that sees the boundaries between craftsmanship and artistic expression grow hazy.”

Known for her manipulation of graphic lines painstakingly hand drawn on to the surfaces of her fine porcelain vessels, Katharina’s body of work explores the spaces that lie between lines and objects as she moves her artistic practice towards something almost more sculptural, omitting certain elements to create new ones.

“The identifiably Katharina colour pallet and beautifully realised vessels remain simultaneously of themselves, and of something bigger, more powerful,” suggests Lotte.

Katharina Klug with one of her porcelain vessel groupings

Discussing The Space In Between, Katharina says: “This show, for me, is a further step into more installation-based work. I enjoy the challenge of a narrative-driven context.”

She asked herself: “What lies in between? What can you see only because you can’t see another? Can leaving things out, draw others? All these questions started me off on to this body of work. I’m delighted to have the chance to show it in its entirety at Lotte Inch Gallery in York.”

Katharina continues: “In the last few years, my work has become more about vessel groupings and ideas that involve more than the one individual pot. It’s almost like creating a larger canvas that’s split into several vessels.

“The monochrome works are an accumulation of vessels which together build up installations that let the viewer see them together as one piece.

“There are so many examples of collectives in the natural world that morph into new manifestations. The idea of many forming one keeps feeding my interest in making these pieces.” 

Katharina Klug working out “the space in between” her ceramic pieces

Katharina particularly enjoys how “the placing of the individual vessel creates a new composition with new views”. “Depending on the space, the pieces can be arranged to suit the environment but also to create a new dialogue in between,” she explains.

“I’m hoping the pieces get played and experimented with, to find new things beyond what I had imagined.” 

Katharina lives and works in Cambridge after moving to Britain from her native Austria in 2009. All her pots are made by hand on the wheel with pastels used to draw naïve, spontaneous patterns on to their surface: “the perfect canvas to explore space,” she says.

Her work has been shown in galleries around the country and beyond and is held in many private collections, and collaborations have involved her working with Heal’s, the British furniture and furnishing store chain.

Recognition has come with the silver award in 2013 and 2015 in Craft and Design Magazine’s ceramics category; a shortlisting for the International Nasser Sparkasse Ceramics Prize in Westerwald, Germany, and an honourable mention for two entries in the International Ceramic Festival in Japan in  2017. She has been a selected member of the Craft Potters Association since 2016 too.

Lotte Inch Gallery, on the first floor at 14, Bootham, York, is open on Thursdays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm; otherwise by appointment on 01904 848660.

Charles Hutchinson

Cats make for the purrfect Christmas present at Kentmere House Gallery

Can They Be Mine?, oil on board, by Susan Bower

KENTMERE House Gallery, in Scarcroft Hill, York, will be open every weekend until December 22, complemented by late-night openings on Thursdays.

“Those who have everything may be the bane of your life, but you can be absolutely certain that they don’t have any of the paintings available from this gallery because all are originals,” says owner and curator Ann Petherick.

“We have the usual Christmas Aladdin’s cave to rummage around in, with a price range from £50 to £2,500, plus books from £10.

Bertie, watercolour, by Frances Brock

“There’s a slight emphasis on cats in this year’s collection – anticipating the imminent arrival of the film musical, perhaps?! – including Susan Bower’s Can They Be Mine?, a watercolour by York artist Frances Brock and a delightful linocut by Norfolk artist Hannah Hann, discovered in a small gallery in Norfolk.”

On display too is new work by Kentmere House favourites such as John Thornton, Rosie Dean and David Greenwood, along with work from nationally known printmakers Valerie Thornton, John Brunsdon and Richard Bawden.   

“And if it’s all too difficult, there’s the gallery’s gift voucher service, allowing the recipients themselves to make the choice and with the gallery adding five per cent to the value of any voucher,” says Ann.  

Two Cats On A Rug, linocut, by Hannah Hann

“Alternatively, if you buy a painting as a gift and the recipient would prefer another, return it by the end of January and a full credit will be given against another painting.”

Kentmere House Gallery can be visited each Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm, plus Thursdays from 6pm to 9pm. “You are also welcome at any other timeswith a telephone call in advance to check on 01904 656507 or 07801 810825 – or just ring the bell.”

The gallery will re-open after the Christmas break on Saturday, January 4.

York Minster From Dean’s Park, pastel, by David Greenwood

Yorkshire Shepherdess’s happy Christmas is on the cards for air ambulance charity

The Yorkshire Shepherdess Gathering Her Animals And Children In Time For Christmas: Anita Bowerman’s new charity Christmas card for Yorkshire Air Ambulance

YORKSHIRE Air Ambulance ambassador Amanda Owen and her farming family feature in a new charity Christmas card painted by Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman.

Owen, alias The Yorkshire Shepherdess, is at present drawing more than 1.5 million viewers to the second series of her Channel 5 documentary Our Yorkshire Farm on Tuesday nights.

She was first the focus of a Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA) charity card last year, showing Amanda surrounded by her beloved sheep and dogs on a harsh winter’s day.

Crimson Glory Vine (Vitis Coignetiae) at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, one of Anita Bowerman’s 12 paintings from her artist-in-residence year

Painted by Anita, it became the charity’s best-seller, with cards flying off around the world.

This year’s card for the YAA already is proving more popular than ever and once more all the proceeds will go to the charity.

Harrogate artist Anita Bowerman painting Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, at her moorland farm for last year’s Yorkshire Air Ambulance Christmas card

“I’m absolutely delighted to feature again on the Yorkshire Air Ambulance Christmas cards,” says Amanda. “Anita Bowerman is a fantastically skilled artist who has a unique ability to depict children and animals in wonderfully intricate detail. 

“I’m hopeful that these cards will go worldwide and raise much-needed funds for this incredible charity. 100 per cent profit goes to the YAA.”

Amanda, hill farmer, mother of nine, photographer, public speaker and author, lives with husband Clive and their family at Ravenseat in Upper Swaledale, North Yorkshire, one of the highest, most remote hill farms in England.

Maytenus Boaria Tree at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, September, by Anita Bowerman

She has always supported the work of the YAA, given the remote area where they live and the nature of the charity’s work, but it was an introduction through Anita that brought Amanda and the charity closer together.

“I was contacted by Anita last year to ask if I’d be happy to collaborate with her and the YAA by painting me and my sheep as a scene for one of their Christmas cards,” says Amanda.

Travelling Home For Christmas:, one of Anita Bowerman’s Christmas card designs for Yorkshire Air Ambulance

“Obviously it was a real honour for me to accept, and the card went on to be the Charity’s best-selling Christmas card.

“I hear they were sending them out all around the world, and as far away as Canada. We have kept in contact since and when I was asked to be an ambassador, I was absolutely delighted. I genuinely couldn’t think of a better organisation to be involved with.  I was very emotional when they first asked me.”

The Winter Walk At RHS Garden, Harlow Carr, December, by Anita Bowerman

Amanda adds: “I’m aware that living as remotely as we do, the YAA is a vital service that can make the difference between life and death. We have had our fair share of medical emergencies, though we’re fortunate to have never yet ourselves required the services of the YAA.”

Painting Amanda and her family and animals is always such a joy for Anita. “In the card you can see Amanda with some of her children, sheepdogs, a robin, Tony the Pony, an owl, a robin and much more,” she says.

“The holly hanging above them is kept in this ancient barn all year. The original painting can be seen in my Dove Tree gallery and studio in Harrogate.

The Snow Lays Deep And Crisp And Even: Anita Bowerman’s third design for her 2019 Christmas cards for Yorkshire Air Ambulance

“It’s a privilege to be able to support the vital work of the YAA through the sale of these cards, and having Amanda as an ambassador is a bonus.” 

Priced at £4 for ten cards, they are available at or from Anita’s gallery in Back Granville Road, Harrogate. (Visit for location details and opening times.)

Anita has illustrated two more cards for the YAA this Christmas: Ribblehead Viaduct and Malham Cove. Meanwhile, copies of last year’s card are still available at

The Tarn At RHS Garden Harlow Carr, November, by Anita Bowerman

If you are seeking Christmas presents or cards, Anita will be hosting champagne and canapes events to mark the eighth anniversary of her gallery on December 5 from 6pm to 8pm and December 7, 10am to 3.30pm.

“I’m also artist-in-residence this year at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, in Harrogate, where I’ll be appearing in the shop there every Saturday, from 4pm to 8pm, during Harlow Carr’s Glow winter illuminations until Christmas,” says Anita, who will be doing mini-demonstrations and chatting to visitors.

Glow: the winter illuminations at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Harrogate, pictured in November 2017

“I’ve finished all 12 paintings of the gardens, one for each month, all made using moss, twigs and leaves, and now have my prints and cards in the shop.”

The Glow winter illuminations at Harlow Carr light up the gardens after dusk every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until December 28, from 4.30pm to 8pm, except on Boxing Day, with last admission at 7pm.

On those days, special lighting effects transform Streamside, the Queen Mother’s Lake, Winter Walk, the Doric Columns and Alpine House.

New for this year, as part of the Glow adventure, you can enjoy illuminated sculptures, such as a silver angel; meander through a tunnel of twinkling lights as you enter the Kitchen Garden, and finish the trail at a festive-themed marquee with Christmas carols.

Glow tickets can be booked at

Did you know?

Yorkshire Air Ambulance serves five million people across Yorkshire, carrying out more than 1,500 missions every year. The charity operates two state-of-the-art Airbus H145 helicopters and needs to raise £12,000 every day to keep saving lives.

Charles Hutchinson

Chris Gorman’s film footage of Anita Bowerman at work at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate, during her year as artist-in-residence.