Artists snapshot of Blaydon Races 150 years on

ARTISTS have snapped into action to produce a modern-day version of William Irving’s painting of the Blaydon Races.

The modern-day Blaydon Races picture is installed at the Shipley Art Gallery
The modern-day Blaydon Races picture is installed at the Shipley Art Gallery

ARTISTS have snapped into action to produce a modern-day version of William Irving’s painting of the Blaydon Races.

Irving’s 1903 work, depicting the boisterous race day immortalised in Geordie Ridley’s song, which today marks its 150th anniversary, is on permanent exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

Blaydon Art Club and pub landlord Steve Ronchetti decided to update the painting for the anniversary celebrations. The art club meets above Steve’s pub, the Bisley in Blaydon, which has a copy of Irvine’s painting.

They took 1,600 photographs over 10 days, capturing images of pub regulars, church ministers, members of local church and community groups, and policemen.

They also pictured Mayor of Gateshead Malcolm Brain, who like Steve is a Labour Blaydon councillor.

Art group member Neill Woods then used a computer software programme to turn the images into a 2012 replica of the painting.

Yesterday it was unveiled alongside the original painting at the Shipley Art Gallery where it will stay on show this month. A copy will also be on show today and tomorrow at the art club’s exhibition at the Bisley.

Among those featured in the photographic artwork are the vicar of St Cuthbert’s Church in Blaydon and the town’s Methodist minister, the landlord of the Black Bull in Blaydon and three local policemen, one of whom is manhandling Steve Ronchetti in the centre of the work.

Steve’s daughter Jessica is also in the foreground as is art group member Irene Hepple with a baby on her lap.

The Swalwell Express, a horse drawn vehicle in the painting, has been replaced by a double decker Blaydon bus while the local bacon sandwich van takes the place of Irving’s stall.

Steve, who organises the Blaydon Races Festival, said: “We thought it would be nice to do a modern version with local people in it.

“Touches like the lads in their Newcastle United tops would be what the Blaydon Races scene would look like if it was happening today.”

Shipley keeper of art Amy Barker said: “The painting is one of our most popular items.”

An education pack has been produced, based on the painting, and school groups make regular visits to use the work to study Tyneside Victorian history and culture which involves singing the Blaydon Races song and studying the 26 characters Irving squeezed into his work.

They include Cushie Butterfield, the central character in another of Ridley’s songs which is second in popularity and familiarity only to Blaydon Races.

Irvine’s painting would have delighted Ridley, who wrote his 17 songs about people, places and events which his audience would have known.

Other colourful characters in the painting include the Whickham Chicken, George the Plunger, the card sharp the Swalwell Cat, Bob the Wrong ‘Un, Mac the Welsher, and the sozzled Billy Sup-up.

It is 10 years since the painting was saved for the region after a campaign by The Journal. The painting, which spent its previous 99 years in the North East, had been put up for auction by a Newcastle hotel where it had hung in the lobby.

Tyne Wear Museums paid £110,000 at Sotheby’s in London to bring the painting back home. The bid was backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Barbour Trust, Northern Rock Foundation, Sir James Knott Trust, Handley Trust, Kerr McGee North Sea Ltd and public donations.

William Irving, the son of a Cumbrian farmer, moved to Tyneside with his parents and later attended the Newcastle School of Art. He worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle from 1890 to 1903. He died in Jesmond in Newcastle in 1943.


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