Summer sun in April! With temperatures well in the 20s all week and a cooling breeze from the sea, we had the perfect painting weather. Chiara Agnello, who had invited us to spend the painting week at her beautiful home, gave us a very warm welcome, accompanied by a playful puppy as well as the usual mixed bunch of of canine and feline friends. Chiara and her family have lived and farmed at the Fattoria Mosé – a former hunting lodge - for several generations.
After our first breakfast on the sun-dappled breakfast room terrace, with fresh oranges, home-made jams, and plenty of coffee to wake us all up, we were ready for a leisurely stroll. With painting in mind we explored the gardens, olive and orange groves, archways and hidden courtyards. Our eyes were soon caught by the old terracotta olive storage vessels lying under the flowering palm trees and beside the enormous prickly-pear cacti; great subjects for the first of my daily watercolour demonstrations. Later a delicious all fresco lunch restored us to tackle some of the landscape vistas seen through the gaps between ancient Eucalyptus trees and lines of almond trees in blossom.
Day two, and we were ready to make the short journey by taxi to the famous Valley of the Temples below the town of Agrigento, with spectacular views to the sea. We settled at the foot of the first in the row of temples, Juno, under some shady pines. For a time we just sat and admired the ancient columns, their golden ochre shapes standing out sharply against the cerulean blue sky. These ruins are surprisingly simple to draw, consisting only of tumbled down blocks of the honey coloured stone and gigantic columns in various stages of decay. A few green trees and prickly pear cacti in the foreground, and the picture is complete.
The next day we awoke once more to brilliant sunshine highlighting the features of the entrance gate, wide enough to accommodate a horse-drawn carriage. The archway made a perfect frame for the view towards the distant hills and town. Our compositions were helped by the lazily sleeping dogs posing on steps and in shady corners. They woke up at tea time, when we all gathered for a refreshing cuppa on the main terrace. It was a good moment to discuss our plans for the following day, the optional excursion day.
Most of us decided to visit nearby Agrigento. Amongst the "jewels" of the old town are the Norman Cathedral, the Holy Spirit Monastery, the Regional Archaeological Museum, Palazzo Celauro and in walking distance the famous temple gardens Il Giardino della Kolymbetra. Overlooking the Valley Of The Temples is contemporary Agrigento with its historic centre, the "magnificent city,” which still presents the visitor with a Medieval street plan. Narrow alleyways and staircases lead to higher-level roads, from where you can admire wonderful views towards the Valley. After the climb, it was delightful to relax at one of the bars and sketch local life. Needless to say there is also a selection of nice shops to nip into, or cafes to taste the Sicilian delicacy, ice-cream in a brioche (sweet bun).
Having satisfied our appetites for the ‘big town’ above the sea, we ventured downhill to the coastline of St. Leone a long stretch of sandy beach with rocky outcrops. Not far from a group of restaurants and bars is a little park right by the water front, with palm trees and a most convenient vantage point to demonstrate now how to capture the ‘deep blue sea’. The brilliant white beach house right by the sea was set off by two magnificent palm trees. Together with the fading hills in the background, and big crusty holders at the water’s edge, we had a classic Mediterranian landscape. With great pleasure we set to work, determined to take home some of the scene before us.
Much too soon our last day arrived, spurring us on to make the most of final hours. Since we were all well ‘painted-in’ it was a good moment to look at the little iron gate at the side of the house opening up into the farm-yard, revealing more old buildings with pan-tiled roofs and the green hills beyond - a more complex view. Later in the afternoon the private chapel complete with bell-tower that is attached to the Fattoria Mose’s main building, was bathed in sunlight, just waiting to be painted. Those who did not fancy the unusual angles, turned the other way along the path towards the olive and orange groves, or chose to watch a very loose and liquid demo of the red striped deckchair and darker buildings behind, and then had a go themselves enjoying splashing paint and water about, until the right atmosphere appeared on the paper. Great fun!
Our last night was a celebration of a wonderful, creative painting week. We had a showing of some of everybody’s work, washed down with the local wine, followed by another of Chiara’s delicious Sicilian meals, following family recipes handed down from generation to generation. It’s maybe worth mentioning here that Chiara and her sister Simonetta Agnello Hornby have written a cookery book with the family recipes, alas not yet translated into English. But have a look at the TV series showing both sisters cooking at the Fattoria to whet your appetite, not just for the painting: http://it.dplay.com/il-pranzo-di-mose/stagione-1-episodio-7/
We left with a very big ‘thank you’ for Chiara and everybody at the Fattoria Mose who made our stay a great experience.
Next year I will return for another Sicilian adventure and hope you can join me there or perhaps at another of my locations.
With warm wishes for a colourful Spring,