Summer at DownsideZoom In
Summer at Downside, versoZoom In

Summer at Downside by Sylvia Levine

This picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1990. It probably depicts the landscape of the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse, on the edge of the Mendip Hills, in Somerset, and just a few miles from Bristol, where Sylvia Levine lived. The village is dominated by Downside Abbey (the abbey church of St. Gregory the Great) and Downside Abbey School. There is evidence of long human occupation in the area and the village straddles the Fosse Way, the Roman road which linked Lincoln and Exeter.

There is a curious, joyful, even mystical, atmosphere conjured by this painting. The tiny figures of boy and dog almost disappear, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Their game of ball is overwhelmed by the spreading, pulsing green of the summer landscape: a landscape which offers endless adventure - the magic of the first day of the summer holidays, with all the time and the space in the world, burgeoning with promise.

Thus, the painting renders a vision of childhood delight, dwelt upon in later life, Levine might well have been savouring a poem she must have studied at school - Wordsworth's, Ode on Intimations of Immortality (published 1807).

'There was a time when meadow, grove and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream.'

And, like Wordsworth, Levine would have known that the essence of childhood can, in reality, only be recalled in brief moments - snatches of perfection, before the burden of all the years between then and now returns.

'But there's a tree, of many, one, A single field which I have look'd upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone: The pansy at my feet Doth the same tale repeat: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?'.

This is a painting about memory and reflection, about a day of intense joy recalled - and, inevitably, lost. The child and dog are in the lap of bliss. For the knowing artist, however, not far away, is, 'a thought of grief'. It is fitting that, in this place, the brevity of today is highlighted by contrast with the aeons of history - ancient communities, the perpetual cycle of Nature - which have shaped and saturated Downside Abbey and its village setting. Such a contemplation can bring distress. The consolation is, however, profound. For,

'Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come'.


Oil on board
Size Unframed:
14¾ins x 17¾ins
37.5cms x 45cms
Size Framed:
18ins x 21ins
45.5cms x 53cms
RA label, verso