‘He was clearly such a well-loved person, we wanted to celebrate that,’ says Sarah Cox, curator of Journeys in Art, the first retrospective of British painter and sculptor Alexander Hollweg’s work which will be on show at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton, until 9 March 2024.

The largest ever exhibition of art by Hollweg (1936–2020) will feature original paintings and sculptures alongside prints and archive material delving into a career spanning six decades. It aims to honour an artist whose creative output was deeply influenced by the county he adopted as his home.

Originally approached by Hollweg’s daughter Rebecca, who was conscious of the extraordinary body of work her father had left behind, the Museum worked closely with the Hollweg family and in consultation with The Court Gallery in West Quantoxhead for over two years to uncover artworks and stories about the artist.

Great British Life: Country Dance, 1975-76 (woodcut on paper) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West HeritageCountry Dance, 1975-76 (woodcut on paper) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West Heritage

Hollweg lived and worked on the Nettlecombe estate below the Brendon Hills as part of the flourishing artistic community nurtured there by John and Pat Wolseley, whose friendship with Hollweg and his wife Geraldine would draw them to settle there in 1973 with their children Rebecca and Lucas.

Hollweg would become enmeshed in the ranging practises being explored at Nettlecombe, where John Wolseley established a printmaking studio, working alongside Julian Fraser and Lizzie Cox among other resident and visiting artists. Wolseley would describe him as ‘a source of advice and encouragement to the younger communards’.

Critically acclaimed during his lifetime, the Museum of Somerset exhibition includes the artist’s proof of the woodcut on paper Country Dance, produced for the 1976 For John Constable series. Hollweg was one of 19 artists commissioned by Bernard Jacobson to commemorate the bicentenary of Constable’s birth and the piece is now part of the Tate collection.

Great British Life: Yarde, 1982 (wood and oil paint) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West Heritage TrustYarde, 1982 (wood and oil paint) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West Heritage Trust

The artwork was inspired by the Nettlecombe countryside and enthusiastically captures the local topography. Produced with the print and textile artist Lizzie Cox, it presents both a timeless pastoral tableau and makes a nod to advancements. As in his 1982 wood and oil paint Yarde, a motorcar can be spotted in the scene, a motif common to his work.

Journeys in Art recognises the reflective style of Hollweg’s work, looking backwards and forwards simultaneously, and is an ode to both his younger days in London and self-sufficient lifestyle in Somerset. It will feature depictions of Watchet on the North Somerset coast and the Willet Tower folly and show the breadth of media mastered by the artist.

Conversations between exhibition curator Sarah Cox, Rebecca and Lucas Hollweg and art historian Dr Denys J. Wilcox of The Court Gallery were able to tease out a detailed profile of the man behind the maker. Regular meetings in Hollweg’s former studio and in his home at Nettlecombe would make it clear how important it was to give justice to both his talent and warm personality.

Great British Life: Mr and Mrs Holroyd at Home with Rebecca, 1996Mr and Mrs Holroyd at Home with Rebecca, 1996

Hollweg worked to a background of jazz records playing and would pause from his creations to pick up the ukelele. His only surviving self-portrait, created in 2014 and rendered in wood and paint, shows him not painting but in various attitudes playing music. He had his own band Dr Jazz and was a member of the Watchet brass band. May Day celebrations also featured large within life at Nettlecombe.

As well as artworks deeply rooted in the Somerset landscape, visitors to the museum will be able to absorb Hollweg’s wider impact. Painted wooden sculptures that were shown at his first major exhibition, held at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 1971, will be on display alongside images and footage of his ambitious mural in the Charlotte Street Hotel, London, completed in 2000, which pays homage to the Bloomsbury Group.

Despite his success, the recurring theme that emerges from Journeys in Art is of an individual for whom connection was so important – both to those surrounding him and to nature – and who placed a value on creative expression and collaboration. A natural continuation perhaps of his heritage as the grandson of the modernist painter Edward Wadsworth and son of the writer Barbara Wadsworth.

Great British Life: Self Portrait; Playing Jazz, 2014 (scrap wood, paper, acrylic paint, PVA and shellac polish) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West Heritage Trust Self Portrait; Playing Jazz, 2014 (scrap wood, paper, acrylic paint, PVA and shellac polish) Photo courtesy of the Estate of Alexander Hollweg and the South West Heritage Trust

‘His portraits are full of affectionate observation of friends and family,’ explains the writer Margaret Drabble, who lived at Nettlecombe for eight years and was painted by him alongside Hollweg’s daughter Rebecca. ‘The good will that shines from Alex Hollweg’s work is perhaps its outstanding quality. He makes us enjoy ourselves and enhances our capacity for enjoyment.’

The ongoing resonance of Hollweg’s work will be felt further across the county which so stirred him. People Came For Tea and Stayed Forever is a linked exhibition at the East Quay arts centre in Watchet running from 20 January to 12 May 2024 which develops and interprets themes inherent to Country Dance.

Cross-disciplinary artist Sam Francis will display her film In Here Dreaming which was first commissioned as part of the Arnolfini’s 60th anniversary programme in 2021 in response to the performance piece Somerset – A Year in the Life of a Field by Nettlecombe artist Lizzie Cox. Investigations of life on the estate form a core element of Francis’ work.

Hollweg found sanctuary and stimulation in an unassuming rural location which would prove a vibrant well of artistic endeavour. Through his work, he leaves a legacy that prompts us to have a closer relationship with the places we call home, to reflect on the way we live within them and to reach out gently beyond the self and invite others to do the same.

The exhibition can be viewed at the Museum of Somerset and is a drop in event, operating a 'give what you think' system: swheritage.org.uk