WHO WAS LOUIS DE WET?
Born in 1930 in Durban, South Africa, Louis de Wet was an artist-philosopher who always felt more attached to his Flemish roots than to the Boer family he was born into. After an unhappy childhood, he left his country of birth in his early twenties, never to return. Instead, he established himself in post-war Paris, studying at the Beaux Arts and La Grande Chaumière, before taking British citizenship and settling in London. Here he stayed for 30 years, drawing, painting, studying and developing his ideas in his London studio whilst travelling extensively in Europe, showing his work at various exhibitions on the Continent, and spending two years learning the 15th century mixed technique of oil painting in Vienna.
In 1983 he and his wife bought Wenlock Abbey, which, with its Burgundian associations, combined in a single building the architecture of both Europe and England of the 15th century. He believed the house was his destiny. It was a destiny he grasped with both hands for the next thirty-five years, serving the house faithfully, restoring and refurbishing it and preparing it for a future he knew he would never see. He died in the house he loved in 2018.
This film was based on a lecture Louis de Wet gave to New York University about his restoration of Wenlock Abbey entitled A New Link in an Old Chain.
In The Gaze Of Medusa was subsequently made by Gavin Bush, and premièred in Cluny, Burgundy on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the great Abbey of Cluny, Mother House of Wenlock Abbey
Wenlock Abbey is a private house next to the ruins of the Cluniac Priory of St Milburga, once a daughter house of the great Burgundian Abbey of Cluny in Burgundy. The ruins are now in the guardianship of English Heritage. But the private house consists of two domestic ranges of the monastic site: the fifteenth century Prior’s Lodging forms an L-shape with the Infirmary range, built in the twelfth century. The Infirmary would originally have provided accommodation for elderly and sick monks (an important remit for any Cluniac establishment), with a chapel at its east end. Adjoining this chapel, and to its south, runs the Prior’s Lodging with its breathtakingly beautiful façade of purple-grey sandstone and steep roof of Harnage stone tiles. This wing was built to provide the Prior with a luxurious private suite.
When the monastery was dissolved in 1540, most of the buildings, including the church, fell into decay. However, the prior’s lodging and infirmary wings were preserved as a high-status private dwelling, until the 18th century, when it was let out as farm buildings, and deteriorated rapidly. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century when it was bought by James Milnes Gaskell, that its fortunes revived. The Milnes Gaskell family restored and refurbished the house as a family home, and it was from their descendants that, in 1983, Wenlock Abbey was bought by Louis and Gabrielle de Wet: “… beyond practical renovations, the interiors of this remarkable house have been interpreted and re-envisioned by the imagination of Louis de Wet. This gifted and highly unusual visual artist possessed a profound empathy with the Cluniac spirit and has conferred a modern artist’s interpretation of that mystique on some of the interiors… his widow intends to maintain his spirit and traditions, charting a new way forward for the house, and furthering his passionate belief that the best from the past should inform, but not inhibit the present.” Vivien Bellamy
THE LOUIS DE WET FOUNDATION: Registered Charity Number 1192387.
The Louis de Wet Foundation was set up, not just to preserve this unique Grade1 listed building, but also to offer cultural opportunities to all ages, especially the young. The Charity is still in its infancy, but its purpose will be to provide a place of artistic, academic and technical study, where ideas can be developed and practical skills acquired in the peace and beauty of this ancient place – a sanctuary, but also a launching pad for new ideas, reflecting Louis de Wet’s central belief that evolution should be embraced and guided, and that the artist’s task was to provide “a new link in an old chain”.