First port of call was 'Benton End & Friends", an exhibition of Loan paintings and sculpture telling the story of Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, their informal art school on the Suffolk/Essex borders, the gardens inspired by Giverny, cookery, visitors, and their artistic friends and their art and influences.
This prompted fond memories of the late Michael Parkin, the original stimulus for my fascination with 20th century British art and who, a dozen or more years ago, set out to remedy my parlous lack of knowledge of the period. Before Michael's involvement, Cedric Morris was to me, completely unknown, alongside many of his other passions including Claughton Pellew and Kathleen Hale. With hindsight it is amazing our friendship survived such an unpromising start. A reflection of this ignorance was such that on one occasion, at Michael's behest, I collected two unwrapped paintings in central London and put them, unsecured, on the back shelf of the car, to drive back to Norwich. Only subsequently did I learn that these were two works by Cedric Morris which can now reasonably be assumed to be 'significant' and worthy of rather more care and attention. Michael, of course, was unimpressed by my after the event concerns.
This small exhibition typifies the breadth and depth of the Norfolk art scene; discreetly located in a Holt backwater and of real interest and quality but so easily missed. To prove this last point, in conversation with the curator, I learnt that around the corner in a similarly discrete location was another Loan Exhibition, this time featuring East Anglian master, Edward Seago. Much of what was to be seen there was I think on loan from Norwich Castle Collection, but of particular interest because of its departure from 'typical' Seago.
Lastly, just a mile down the road, and disconcertingly deserted was an exhibition of the shortlisted entries for the Sir John Hurt Art Prize in the foyer of the Auden Theatre.
As ever with these competitions it's fascinating to see what has been selected, what wins and in the case of selling exhibitions, what sells. The winner this year was Chloe Steele with her work "Beginnings End', and amongst a very variable group of work an understated pastel of Cromer from Malca Schotten, an evocative linocut from Vanessa Lubach and a very striking oil of the quayside at Wells by Susan Isaac - a pleasingly confident approach to this much painted scene - were the works that stood out for me.