Putting Henley, past and present, in the artistic frame

Story by Jack Foley

ART lovers and fans of the River Thames are being invited to step back in time and view Henley as it once was, as a smalltown without cars or crowds, in Henley in the Frame - a new winter exhibition at the River & Rowing Museum, from December 14.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view this unique collection of evocative watercolours by Lucy Cooper, which was presented to the town in 1929, and which usually hang in the Mayor's Parlour at Henley Town Hall.

Her collection of paintings illustrate Henley and the lives of its residents during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and will be displayed side by side at the exhibition with contemporary photographs of the same views by Jaap Oepkes.

Born in 1853 as the second of five children, Lucy was brought up in a Victorian middle-class family in Henley, where her father, John Cooper, was the local solicitor and Town Clerk. John also took part in the first Henley Boat Race in 1896, being the Cox of the winning boat.

In later years, Lucy's father and brother became involved in the organisation of the Henley Royal Regatta and Lucy, herself, was also a keen amateur artist and accomplished musician.

Lucy did not marry and lived together with her unmarried sister, Janet, in a house behind the town hall. She died in 1929, aged 76.

The paintings span the years between 1888 and 1925 and capture the mood of the era, with clear depiction of the businesses and shops that once typified the town of Henley, from the timber and barges at Webb's Wharf, to skiffs on the river and hawkers on the streets.

The watercolours focus on street scenes and buildings, with pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles that characterise the era, emphasising the passage of time between the centuries.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see how life in Henley has changed over the intervening years, as the paintings are exhibited alongside atmospheric photos taken by Jaap Oepkes.

Oepkes's photos of modern day Henley are linked to Lucy Cooper's watercolours by historical information about the buildings still standing and the ones that have disappeared, giving visitors an insight and understanding into the lives of the people that inhabit her paintings.

Born in the Netherlands, Oepkes completed a BA in Photography at The Royal College of Art in The Hague in 1988 and based himself in Amsterdam for a few years before moving to London. He has assisted various well-known photographers and set up his own studio near the River Thames, in Battersea. He regularly undertakes commissions for designers, companies, magazines and architects.

In what promises to be a fascinating event, visitors are also being invited to visit the Riverside Café at the Museum, which offers a wide selection of hot meals, drinks and snacks throughout the winter, including a tempting children's menu.

For further details on 'Henley in the Frame', call the River & Rowing Museum direct on 01491 415 600 or visit www.rrm.co.uk

About the River & Rowing Museum:

The Museum celebrates three themes: the past, present and future of the River Thames, the historic riverside community of Henley-on-Thames and the international sport of rowing. Since it opened to the public in August 1998, it has received numerous awards for its design and architecture, including National Heritage/NPI Museum of the Year.

The Museum is also a recognised centre for the arts and has hosted a number of high profile art exhibitions as part of its ongoing programme of special exhibitions and related talks.

The Museum is open daily, from 10am until 5pm (5.30pm between May and August) and admission costs£4.95 for adults; £3.75 for children, senior citizens, the disabled and the unemployed. Free parking is available for visitors.