Q. ¬†What links witchcraft, cricket bats and Aspirin?

A.  Willow.

Willows, also called sallows and osiers, are mostly found in the northern hemisphere and there are over 400 species.

It has been known for at least 2000 years that the sap from the bark provides temporary pain relief and the leaves and bark have been a remedy for aches and fever for centuries.  The medicinal properties of the bark of the willow were first observed scientifically in 1763 and the active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated and separated in 1897 by Felix Hoffmann who went on to create a new drug called Aspirin.

The bark has had many other uses as it is both hard and workable with the cricket bat being an obvious example.  It has been symbolic of many things too with the Victorian’s treating the weeping aspect of the tree as a symbol of grief.  Hence its use on gravestones and mourning cards.

I spent a lot of time trying to work out just what this next charity shop find was.  I thought it could have been a fountain at first but latterly decided it was a willow tree.  It is painted on to paper that could be tracing paper and is then backed with what appears to be tissue.  The gold had been added by using small pieces of gold paper.  It seems a bit lop-sided to me but quite attractive in its own right.  There is no signature.



Watercolours: a very brief history

Cave painters were the earliest users of watercolours followed by the Ancient Egyptians who had papyrus on which to paint.  They also painted the inside of tombs with a form of watercolour.  The Ancient Chinese and Japanese used watercolours  – the Chinese invented paper in around 100BC. Watercolours were used in Europe for manuscript illustrations during the Middle Ages.  One of the earliest and greatest painters to use watercolours was Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).  Below is the exquisite Portrait of a Young Hare (1502) by Durer. 

William Reeves invented the hard cakes of soluble watercolour in 1780 and with the production of cheaper and higher quality paper the Golden Age of Watercolour came about.  This is what a paint box looked like in the 1870s.

Essentially watercolours are water soluble pigments suspended in gum arabic.  They allow for a freshness and luminosity in a painting and were used to great effect by English artists such as J M W Turner (1775-1851).

They were also used to great effect by a J M Cooper.  Here is one of his/her watercolours of some rural scene.  There is no detail about the painting, just a signature but it is rather lovely.