Mental well-being is incredibly important to our physical health and sense of happiness. It is often hard to find opportunities to take time out from our busy lives to relax and reflect on things, but art can be a great medium to transport you to another place, even just for a moment.

Members of the Cultural Services teams at Southampton City Council have chosen works from the City’s renowned Collection to provide viewers with a calming, contemplative and peaceful visual experience: an antidote to the uncertainty and strain that we feel today.

Alex – Community Engagement Coordinator // Assistant Curator of Maritime and Local Collections

Early Summer, William Alfred Elleby (1856–1932)

Growing up in Herefordshire I’ve always had a fondness for the countryside. Each time I drive home I am always surprised by how green everything is, the smell of the orchards and the sunlight stretching over the fields for miles. I don’t know where this painting was created, but it reminds me very much of my childhood. Going on long rambling walks with family; eating blackberries straight off the bushes, brambles scratching at bare legs, trying to pet the sheep and complaining about the hills but only wanting a picnic with a view. The falling summer light in the painting also reminds me of the amount of time my parents (dad) got us lost on these walks too. Right now, in the middle of Southampton, unable to go anywhere, and feeling rather trapped, I find myself retreating into these memories with friends and family, as I am sure we all are, and think things aren’t that bad after all.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Claire – Customer Support Officer

Forest Edge I, Elizabeth Magill

No matter what’s on my mind, this painting makes me stop, take a breath and transports me to another place entirely. The cool shades of blue take the heat out of any emotion and the soft blending of the paint conveys an early morning mist. The way that the land is silhouetted removes the details that I could get bogged down in and lets me focus on the stillness and how serene the Forest Edge Magill has portrayed, must be. The idea that I could step into this landscape, walk for miles without seeing a soul, just listening to the sounds of the wildlife and work off any tension I’m holding feels idyllic. I’m ready to go off and forget the world for a while.

Oil on canvas. © Elizabeth Magill. All rights reserved, DACS, 2020. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Lisa – Projects and Relations Officer

La Bretonne, Fairlie Harmar

I find a sense of calm in her face and her look of capable good humour.

If I copy her facial expression it feels familiar, it’s the one I use for amused slight disapproval or appraisal. The one you pull when you have to clean up after something funny has happened. Her face is that of a woman who has seen it all, can cope with anything, and is shocked by little. To me she is strong, competent and trustworthy. In troubled times we all need people like this.

I wonder if her look of amused reserve and faint surprise was specifically aimed at the Artist? “How have you got time to paint me when I’ve got all this to do?”

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Tom – Assistant Curator of Art

Cliffs above Rottingdean, William Nicholson

In my late twenties I started taking maths lessons at the city college in Brighton. I would take the bus from my home 20 miles away in Eastbourne. The journey took about an hour and half and contained a great range of Sussex landscape. I thought of it as a series of short episodes. When the bus had climbed to the top of the cliffs at Rottingdean, the site of Nicholson’s picture, I knew I was about 20 minutes away from my destination. I frequently admired the strange undulation painted in the foreground from my seat.

I took the bus to maths first thing every Friday morning. At this point of the week, I was newly off grid and finally able to relax. I liked surrendering to the buses’ progress, letting it take as long as it was going to and being swept along. Taking what was, on the face of it, a pretty inefficient journey felt like a subversive move, a kind of reclamation after days of doing things as quickly and directly as possible.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Liza –  Lead Learning Officer

Convention, Dorothy Cross

I’ve always found beauty in nature, be it dead or alive. When I look at this piece I don’t recoil in horror, it makes me think. I think conversation, I think of community; I think of coming together, I think of continued life after death. It gives me hope. I also secretly wonder if the snakes would snap in half real easy! But that’s what make a good artwork, right? It has the ability to engage you at many different levels.

Desiccated snakes and blown glass. © courtesy of Dorothy Cross and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Clare – Curator of Art

The Fisherman, Jean Louis Forain

Being Curator of Art, it is difficult to say which painting is my favourite as it changes depending on what I am working on or giving close attention to, it can also change according to my mood. But when asked what I find calming within the collection, I immediately think of The Fisherman by Jean Louis Forain, and this has never deviated over the 19 years I have been associated with the Gallery.

I find calmness within its subtlety of composition and colours, the way the light dances across the water and the uniform reflection of the distant land and bridge in the background. But what of the reflection of the fisherman and his companion, and the pier on which they both sit awaiting their first catch? It makes me visualise them as being part of a dream, a figment of the artist’s imagination, or a memory he is recalling onto the surface of the canvas.

My very first trip on a plane was couriering this painting to Venice for an exhibition. It was my responsibility to oversee its unpacking, condition checking and safe installation onto the wall; something which is vital for the care and preservation of our collection. Having this sole duty helped confirm my passion for this painting, as even in times of sheer due diligence, The Fisherman offered me a place of solace and peace, reassuring me that everything was going to be ok.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Jess – Exhibition Projects Officer

Fast Breeder, Fiona Rae

What constitutes as calming has probably altered massively in the last few weeks and months, for all of us. I am personally finding that what used to be a source of relaxation might not currently be accessible or isn’t quite having the same effect as it once did. I think this also applies to what artworks I find to have a calming influence – In the past my mind would have wandered to an exotic landscape or a beautiful open space but now those subjects bring me firmly back to the current situation and actually provoke a little anxiety and sadness.

The work I have chosen, Fiona Rae’s Fast Breeder, might seem the complete opposite of calming with its energetic, bold gestures and abstract surface full of movement. However, on the day the Gallery temporarily closed its doors I spent some time going around taking photographs of what was currently on display (partly for work but mainly so I had a little record to look back on during the weeks in lockdown) and this particular painting stopped me in my tracks. As I was photographing the work I found myself studying the various layers and textures and imagining the different levels of control and movement that would have gone in to making each mark. The longer I spent with the painting the more subtle detail I noticed. The way the different types of paint the artist used reacted with one, leaving some areas with the texture of the canvas coming through and others as smooth and fluid as water. It transported me away from what was going on around me as I lost myself in the detail – the whole process felt incredibly meditative. I felt so much calmer after spending time with this painting and it will change the way I look at it for a long time to come.

Oil and acrylic on canvas. © Fiona Rae. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Emalene – Mayflower 400 co-ordinator

Spring on the Stour, John Anthony Park

I’m sitting on the bank with my toes dipped in the water. The sun beats gently down on to my shoulders. The birds are singing. A gentle breeze rustles the leaves. I lie back and breathe deeply. All is calm.

Oil on canvas. © The Artist’s Estate. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Dan – Collections & Exhibitions Manager

Watching Cowes Regatta, Philip Wilson Steer

Living near the sea, I love going out on the water and this tranquil painting immediately transports me to a glorious blue-skied sunny day with light airs, drifting along in the middle of Solent. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get out there again!

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Jo – Archives Assistant

From a Lakeland Window: Hydrangeas, Augustus William Enness

This makes me smile, feel cosy and contented. The landscape is peaceful, natural and empty of human influence, so different from living in a city. It allows for thoughts of being alone for a while and having the space to ‘just be’ which is priceless. I can imagine sitting at that window on a Sunday afternoon looking out over the hills and seeing shapes in the clouds (in my case mostly animals and dragons). I find the blues, greens and violets are a calming combination and the inclusion of the flowers which I love, make me happy. These are the reasons why I find calm in this painting.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Stu – Exhibition Projects Officer

La Vague, Gustave Courbet

It’s home, actually, it’s nowhere near home, but it might as well be… like the sea in Mounts Bay, Cornwall, it’s serene, beautiful, a little dangerous and totally ambivalent to you. The sea doesn’t care if I find the sound of waves breaking over rocks and stormy water helps to bring a nostalgic and warming calm my mind, which is nice as well, reminding me that I’m just here to try and capture a little of that comfort and take it with me. It’s not my story, I’m not even an extra… I’m content with that.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Andy – Learning Officer

The Coronation of the Virgin, Allegretto Nuzi

This is the oldest artwork in our collection by some margin, and I find the whole image entrancing, connecting the modern viewer with that of the artist who was working about 650 years ago. That scale of time is a reminder of continuity over a long period, which I find a comforting thought. The figures in the painting also seem particularly peaceful: angels serenely playing music, Moses (with the horns) watching the proceedings contemplatively and Mary herself tranquilly accepting her crown from Christ. Everybody is pausing and watching, and waiting.

Tempera on board. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Andy – Exhibitions Projects Officer

Waves Breaking on Shore, Sunset, Sydney Laurence

Laurence is known for his dramatic landscape paintings and photographs of Alaska. He specialised in marine subjects with moonlight and sunset scenes employing a subdued style.

Of all the subjects epitomised by the arts, the sunset is one of the most represented and inspiring. A sunset is almost impossible to observe without dreaming. A contemplative strangeness in the hope that the sun will not set at all and just float on the horizon giving us more time to sit in that golden moment:

“Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colours [and then] retire to the forest without picking a pawpaw for supper.”
― Adriaan Kortlandt

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Nathan – Customer Service Co-ordinator

Venice: Canal Scene with a Church, Louis Vivin

It was difficult to settle on my choice for this collection! After taking into account both the piece and the artist himself, I feel happy… this is the one. Louis was a self-trained artist, who for a large part of his life painted in his spare time, whilst working for the Post Office. I have never trained in art and sometimes it stresses me out – his work reminds me that you don’t need to go to an art school and join the rat race to pursue what you enjoy, you can just paint and see where it takes you. Art is for everyone and I feel inspired and calmed when reflecting on Louis’ journey to sharing his art with the world. I have chosen this painting specifically, because I love the use of colour; that it is both two and three dimensional; and that it captures a moment in Venice, a place I have warm fondness for. The buildings are cluttered and vibrant, yet the water only reflects simplicity and calm back. That’s my favourite thing about water and is something Louis was able to do in his art. To me, very calming.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Rebecca – Conservator

An Extensive Landscape, Philips Koninck

Neil MacGregor called it more of a ‘cloudscape’ rather than a landscape. Doesn’t looking at huge skies give you a sense of calmness?

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Clive – Customer Service Assistant

Southampton in the Year 1856, Philip Brannon

I first saw this painting at Westgate Hall, and been mesmerised with it ever since. I found myself looking into the finer detail of the old town, imagining what life was like back then, searching out the local landmarks. The West Marlands Park where the Civic Centre now stands, a steam train steaming along past Southampton West, the Northam toll bridge, made of wood at this time, the steam powered floating bridge. Further along are the new docks, the outer dock, which is now Ocean Village with the inner dock. The Royal Pier, opened by the mother of the future Queen Victoria in 1833, 20 years away from a major refit that will see its heyday until the outbreak of the First World War. With no Western docks, you can follow the shore line along the walls to the lido and on to the railway, which followed the water line. Imagine how the High Street must have looked at this time, up to the Bar Gate and beyond along Above Bar Street. Explore the parks where little has changed. I can still spend so long looking into Southampton in the Year 1856.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Maria – Curator of Maritime & Local History Collection

View of Southampton West Wall, Anon

I really like this painting because it shows Southampton as it was before the creation of the Western Docks in the 1920–30s, as a town by the sea. The Western Docks project in effect moved Southampton away from the sea, to such an extent that today it is difficult to appreciate the close connection, which in the past would have been obvious to anyone arriving here. The trees, the sea and the sailing ships in the picture makes for a very calm and attractive scene, I think.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Peter – Customer Service Assistant

The Eagle Tower, Caernarfon, Paul Sandby

l like the superb colour in this painting from the father of English watercolour. He also paints an area of the UK that is underexposed and very scenic.

Watercolour on paper. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Jemma – Curatorial Trainee

The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight, Frederick Lee Bridell

This is one of my favourite works in the gallery, and although I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Rome, the beauty of art is that it can connect you to another time and place, you can go wherever you like just by looking. It makes me reflect on the many artists who have painted this scene over time, and makes me consider how differently scenes can seem when they are lit by the daylight or seen at night. I think this is a wonderful work to spend time looking at, and one to return to for contemplation as there are many details to notice. I like to think that the people walking towards us in the foreground are perhaps heading home, their way lit by the torches they are carrying.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Kate – Learning Officer

 Boat on the Sea, Alfred Wallis

The green of the sea is so startlingly deep you can lose yourself looking at it. The subject matter evokes physical memories of day trips; bare feet, gritty sand in sandwiches and ice creams eaten sitting on walls, while the simplicity of style and composition call to mind the soothing act of making art as a child.

Oil on card. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Kavita – Customer Support Officer

Olives by the Sea, Ethelbert White

I have chosen this particular piece of artwork as nature helps me to stay calm. I am a Pisces so I have a deep connection with water and wherever I go travelling I always love being by the sea.

When I look at this piece it makes me feel calm, happy, and peaceful. I like the warm colours and blue of the sea it’s so vivid and inviting. Life goes by so fast and can be stressful but nature helps me to focus, reflect and appreciate everything around me.

Oil on canvas. © the Ethelbert White estate. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Becky Customer Support Officer

The Coronation of the Virgin, Allegretto Nuzi

I am not a very religious person and for personal reasons, sometimes I have a difficult relationship with religion, but I do believe in faith and the power of it. I think that we all believe in something and our faith in that remains with us throughout our lives and is the thing that keeps us going through tough times. When I look at the Nuzi it makes me reflect on the power it would have held over all those who looked it at over the centuries and the faith it would have inspired in them. I find it calming as it helps to feel a link with those that lived long ago and remember that we are all part of one big story.

Tempera on board. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Eddie – Customer Service Assistant

Old Boat House, West Quay, Southampton 19thC – Artist unknown

The date ’19th Century’ gives very little away. Just looking at the painting you will see familiar features and some unfamiliar features, such as the old boathouse itself. Familiar features include the Medieval town walls and the West Gate which date back to the 1400s and form part of the town’s defences that were begun just after the devastating French raid in 1338, not long after the outbreak of the 100 Years War with France. Perhaps a very young Jane Austen would have recognised all of these features during her short stay in Southampton.The painting  shows Southampton caught between the past and the future.

Emerging from the period of slow economic decline it suffered after its prosperous past, when it was a major Medieval port. A vibrant, international trading community with Merchants from Venice, Genoa, the Baltic but also Bankers from Florence. Local craftsmen lived her too. A short walk around the area behind West Gate still show the street names of bakers, butchers, porters and the many other crafts.  Like other towns and villages it was devastated by the Black Death, it also suffered the economic consequences of the 100 Years War and the Wars of the Roses. This was followed by lengthy period of slow economic decline.

The painting shows Southampton on the cusp of a new beginning with the building of the docks at Southampton along with the arrival of the railways and a new era of future property and optimism.
Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Katy – Customer Service Assistant

Old Southampton, Lansdowne Castle, Tobias Young

I’ve loved castles since I was a child, and as a fantasy and romance writer, castles continue to populate my imaginative landscape. Of course, the reality of living in medieval castles was often harsh and violent, far divorced from modern flights of fancy. Nevertheless, by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—the period of the Gothic revival that produced Lansdowne Castle, Southampton—castles were well established in popular consciousness as places of glamour, adventure and escape, and sometimes even luxury.

Lansdowne Castle, built on the site of the Norman keep of Southampton Castle, stood for less than two decades in the early 1800s. However, a remarkable number of landscape views of Southampton feature it. To me, this is monument to the romance and excitement castles ignite in so many of us. During this period of lockdown, when visiting historical sites is prohibited, I turn to art such as this for both escapism and inspiration.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Emily – Customer Liaison Officer

The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight, Frederick Lee Bridell

This painting has long been a favourite of mine and I remember the first time I saw it was as it was being hung by the Exhibitions Team. It wasn’t the size of the painting that struck me, nor the building or the figures. I was immediately taken by how the moonlight seemed to glow beyond the canvas to encompass its surroundings.

I have long been fascinated by astrology, which had to take a back-seat as I studied to progress my career. At the beginning of the lockdown, I moved to Havant to care for an elderly relative but I have been able to take the odd evening to indulge in some stargazing.

One positive memory I will take from this lockdown is going out to the garden with my grandmother to see the Supermoon at the beginning of April. It was a hazy night and the moonlight glowed through the cloud, much like Bridell captured in this painting. It will remind me of a moment of calm amid the chaos and sadness of this pandemic.

Oil on canvas. Image © Southampton Cultural Services

Share This:

To sign up for updates about Southampton City Art Gallery and other cultural venues in Southampton, sign up to Southampton City Council’s Culture Vulture email bulletin below.