Life & CultureProtecting the Red House

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The former home of composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears thrills with an eclectic collection of contemporary art

By Aston Lark Private Clients director Julie Webb

There’s an immediate sense of fun when visitors arrive at The Red House, in Suffolk, with a ‘Beware of the dog’ sign on the gate – written in Greek.

The former owners, composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, owned a dachshund, so there’s a hint both of the musicians’ humour and of their shared appreciation of Greek history, art and architecture.

The Red House, now part of the newly formed Britten Pears Arts, also features a wonderful collection of work by 20th century artist John Craxton who captured the sunshine, sailors, goats and gorges of Crete.

Beware of the Dog sign at The Red House. Image top of page: The Red House,
credit Dan Nickells

Here in the Red House garden in Aldeburgh, we met Roger Wright, CEO of Britten Pears Arts, an Aston Lark commercial client, to talk about the recent amalgamation of Britten Pears Foundation (based at The Red House) and Snape Maltings, a musical hub established by Britten and Pears in the late 1940s.

Roger said: “Not much happened in the music world during the pandemic but we did manage to join the hands of The Red House and Snape Maltings in March 2020.

“It made complete sense. After Britten and Pears’ deaths there were two parts of the legacy represented by the two sites; the Red House, its heritage and collections – and Snape Maltings with the music activity which had started in 1948 with the Aldeburgh Festival.

Archive

“The Britten Pears Foundation at The Red House was in receipt of the Britten royalties and managed the archive and its collections while Snape focused on music; from concerts featuring the world’s top musicians and the Young Artists’ programme, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022, to community music making and creative health.

“With a combined board we can now better protect the business and the legacy, responding to the world we now live in.

“Since the pandemic, like all musical institutions, we have been hit by a drop in finance, such as no royalties from operas and few ticket sales.

“The end of the copyright period will come in a couple of decades and we need time to prepare for that change.

Two Greek Dancers, by John Craxton 1951

“Our future is now very bright and there has been a real sense of people coming together – from agents, publishers, composers, performers and production communities alongside the realisation of the importance of volunteers and vital necessity of philanthropic support.

“Our audiences, visitors and customers have been incredibly supportive and we have sold out concerts – and that is amazing, being in the countryside with an 850-seater international concert hall and a 350-capacity Britten studio in a catchment area which is primarily the North Sea!”

Joie de vivre

The Red House captures the 1960s era with joie de vivre and while most visitors have an interest in Britten and Pears’ music, seeing some of the 1,200-piece art collection alone is worth a visit.

The Craxton collection, painted during the 1940s, is a highlight, including as it does Landscape with Flowing Stream, The Mill Alderholt and Two Greek Dancers.

Work by Britten and Pears’ friends Mary Potter, John Piper and Sidney Nolan are also featured and visitors will also be taken by a portrait of Britten and Pears by Maxwell Armfield in 1969. It shows the two men with Snape Maltings Concert Hall in the background. Evidently, the artist was never happy with the outcome; the picture originally showed Pears with his arm around Britten’s shoulder, but this was painted out (fortunately a photographic record shows this stage of composition).

The eclectic collection also includes some 19th century gems such as William Blake’s St Paul striking the Viper at Melita (1803), John Constable’s Portrait of Charles Golding (1824) and a number of etchings and an undated oil, Draining Mills at Crowland, by East Anglian master John Sell Cotman.

The Red House Entrance, credit Philip Vile © Britten-Pears Foundation

Art collectors

Given that art lovers are willing to pay large sums of money to own a piece that they find mesmerising and evocative, another issue follows logically: protecting it properly with insurance.

Any damage to a piece of art or an antique could cause an emotional upset as many pieces are one of a kind and have sentimental value.

Aston Lark are specialists in finding the right insurance solution for art and antique collections. We understand the value of a good policy and will help you protect your investment.

To speak to us about your artwork insurance please call 020 8256 4901, or email privateclients@astonlark.com.

The Red House opens Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm (last admission 4pm). Entry £8.50 adult (valid for one year), Free – under 16s, NHS staff and carers accompanying disabled visitors. Booking is required, visit brittenpears.org

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