GORDON BENINGFIELD (1936-98) – Another post in the series of short biographies about artists and writers inspired by Nature and the Countryside and whose works have fostered my own love of the Countryside – especially Birds.
The son of a Thames lighterman, Gordon began his career as an ecclesiastical artist – and became, arguably, one of the finest glass engravers this century. Between 1972 and 1994 he created no less than eight memorial windows for the Guards Chapel. In recognition of his work, in 1995 he was elected a Freeman of the City of London and Liveryman of the Glass Sellers’ Company.
From the early 1960s he built a reputation as a talented, versatile wildlife and countryside artist and became a passionate, eloquent, influential advocate for the protection of the English countryside and its varied wildlife. Much of his finest work was inspired by the quiet coombs and deep ancient woodlands of the region between Dorchester and Bridport – ‘Hardy Country’.
Fortunately for lovers of his work, he was prolific – producing paintings and drawings to illustrate books including Beningfield’s Countryside (1980), Hardy’s Landscapes (1990) and Beningfield’s Woodlands (1993). He illustrated several poetry books – Darkling Thrush (1985), Poems of the Countryside (1987), Green and Pleasant Land (1989) and Poems of the Seasons (1992). In 1994 he completed a pictorial autobiography – Gordon Beningfield: The Artist and His Work. His last book was Beningfield’s English Villages (1996). A book of Beningfield’s Vanishing Song Birds was published posthumously (2001).
His other interests were many. He was an expert shot, stylish fly fisherman and a keen supporter of field sports – regarding them as an integral part of a healthy working landscape. He loved working dogs and owned a number of them, in particular deer hounds and border terriers. He had a life- long love of the Spitfire aeroplane; his interest in vintage cars too was long-standing and he owned two fine examples of early MG sports cars.
He was co-founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust and helped purchase its first farm – ‘Lark Rise’ in Cambridgeshire. Beningfield Wood, a Woodland Trust Reserve planted (1995/6) on a Dorset hilltop, in his memory, will mature and grow in stature as will Gordon Beningfield’s reputation as one of Britain’s finest wildlife and landscape artists.