Toucan, Brazil
Monday, 30 November -0001

KEEPING it GREEN

Harry Holcroft travelled the globe capturing the priceless landscapes of our endangered planet. A new exhibition pays tribute to his work.

Written by Sam Taylor
The Amazon rainforest, together with that of the Orinoco basin, is the largest area of continuous rainforest in the world. But for how long? It was a question that Harry Holcroft had been asking himself ever since he fought his way through its deep vegetation and captured the heart of this magical landscape.

The last oil he painted was in September 2013, a painting undertaken to highlight the work of the Amazon Charitable Trust and a proposed scientific research station in the Xixuau Xiparina Reserve. In a forthcoming retrospective of Holcroft’s work, the painting will be auctioned to raised money for this globally important cause.

Holcroft-Feb20-01-590Kapok Trees, Upper Amazon, Peru

His was the life of the seasoned explorer and the awkward death of an Englishman abroad – he fell down some stone steps on the way to a formal dinner at Ahilya Fort in India and died immediately of a cerebral haemorrhage. He had been there at the request of Prince Richard Holkar in the hope that he might help to start an art school for the local children.

Holcroft-Feb20-03-590From left: Macaws, Brazil. Orchid, Borneo

For someone who had served 23 years in the Blues and Royals, endured four hip replacements and countless battle scars, it seems a rather mundane end. Although his wife, Sarah, with typical British reserve, says he was often accidentprone. He was also a rather bad driver, once driving his car into quicksand and only surviving through sheer will and army ingenuity.

The pair met in the late 1980s and had two sons, now in their 20s. They set up home and studio in Provence – the light was better there – only returning to the cooler climes of Chelsea five years ago.

Holcroft-Feb20-04-590-quote

Being married to an artist and adventurer was never going to be easy, especially one who was prone to go ‘off grid’ as Sarah puts it. While he was tracing the slave route across East Africa, for instance, he went missing for five weeks, eventually resurfacing in Senegal.

Holcroft-Feb20-05-590The Holcroft painting to be auctioned

Harry first visited the Amazon rainforest in 2004. Sarah says that he was horrified by the destruction he saw, the appalling devastation of this majestic place. The result was a book entitled The Rainforest: Light And Spirit, illustrated by him and written in collaboration with the renowned botanist and ecologist Professor Sir Ghillean Prance. The Prince of Wales wrote the foreword, and called the book ‘a powerful advocate and call to arms’. Further adding that: ‘I pray we may all heed its message.’

Harry made five painting trips to the Amazon before his death, travelling on through Borneo and the Madagascan rainforests. ‘His early rainforest paintings were structured,’ says Sarah. ‘But the deeper he got in there, the more it appeared like an ordered chaos. God’s chaos.’

Holcroft-Feb20-06-590Ahilya Fort in India where Holcroft died after a fall down some stone steps. Inset: The Upper Amazon, Peru

It is these paintings that will form the backbone of the retrospective, together with a cache of paintings and sketchbooks from Europe and India unearthed in his studio and on show for the first time.

Some of the money raised from the auction of his last Amazon oil will go towards buying a boat for the villagers near the reserve, which will enable them to row down to Manaus to get supplies or sell their wares. ‘It is a two-day journey, impossible without a boat,’ says Sarah. ‘The women weave small baskets, which they sell to buy fl our to bring back to the village.’

Holcroft-Feb20-07-590The Shard, London

It is a fragile existence and one that we still know little about. One that is desperately in need of protection. Although a quarter of the ingredients in modern medicines come from rainforest plants, we have still only discovered a fraction of the species available.

Later this year Sarah intends to make the journey alone to follow in Harry’s footsteps to see what needs to be done and then dedicate herself to getting it done.

Harry Holcroft: Retrospective & Unseen Works, from 23 to 28 February at La Galleria, Pall Mall, London SW1: www.harryholcroft.com

Amazon Charitable Trust: www.amazoncharitabletrust.org


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