THE best surprises are often the most unexpected, and as genuine surprises are becoming less frequent it’s worth seeking them out.

Remaining open-minded to new experiences is important, as well as a good deal of curiosity.

In my case this can extend to sheer nosiness. In Choristers Green on bank holiday Monday, I noticed an open gate, leading to an open door.

I’d become accustomed to both being shut, with little sign of life within.

Spotting a small sign inside the doorway, I went up the path for a closer look. It read ‘Sarum Studio’, so following the photographer’s dictum that it’s easier to apologise than to get permission, I opened the next door and went in. And so it was, feeling rather like the children in CS Lewis’s Narnia, that I was transported back in time, not just to the last century, but to the one before that.

This is Wren Hall, a stylish Queen Anne building, and now home to a painting school that teaches by traditional methods. It is run by Nicholas Beer, who greeted me graciously on the day I intruded into his class.

He showed me students working on projects ranging from drawing cast figures to painting from live models. The techniques he teaches are exacting and precise, using a system known as the ‘Sight-Size’ method.

The principles are to work at life-size with your painting next to the model, and to view both from a distance before making any marks. This enables the artist to make accurate comparisons between life and art.

Beer told me that somewhere in the Journal’s records, 20 years back, I might find an article in which he talked of his intention to launch this school in Salisbury. An offer to work in Italy intervened, and after two decades teaching in Florence, he has finally returned and made good his promise.

Wren Hall is essentially one large room with huge windows to front and back, giving many options for controlling the light throughout the day. Aside from some shelves, desks and easels, little has been altered by the current occupiers. It’s well worth seeing.

And it turns out that you can see it, as they are holding an Open Studio on June 20, with a talk by Nick Beer at 5pm. He will explain the ‘Sight-Size’ system and its tradition. In conversation with me he mentioned Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent.

I went away with a renewed appreciation for British painting.

Everyone is welcome on June 20, but you should let them know of your interest in advance. Contact details can be found online.

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