A stay at the Arniano Painting School in Tuscany means spending time at—and time away—from the easel
The grounds of the Arniano Painting School are all ready for their painterly close ups. The house was purchased by Jasper Guinness in 1989. The garden he planted was both ornamental and practical, with an olive grove that today produces a rich annual harvest of oil.

It is midday, and one of the great rituals of the Arniano Painting School is just beginning. Our hostess, Amber Guinness, of that famous brewing family, rings a tiny handbell. My fellow painters and I lay down our brushes and proceed like cardinals to a table shaded by lemon trees at the side of the 18th-c. Tuscan farmhouse.

There is a reassuring pop and the first of the day’s bottles of Soave is opened. Guinness—whose new cookbook, A House Party in Tuscany (Thames & Hudson), is out now—drifts around dispensing wine into our rapidly drained glasses. “My father used to have a horror at seeing an empty glass,” she says. It is like being at a private house party. Only much more interesting.

The other attendees on this week-long course are like characters in an Agatha Christie novel. A retired oil executive from Rochester, New York, is talking to the bestselling English author who arrived on the Orient Express; the daughter of a construction magnate is discussing art with an English poet; and the Swiss octogenarian is making merry with our painting teacher, William Roper-Curzon, a son of the 20th Baron Teynham, and a former tutor at the Royal Drawing School in London. Amber has already succeeded in creating a sense of esprit de corps in this group of strangers, who each pay for bed, board, and instruction from Roper-Curzon.

The 18th-c. stone farmhouse embodies classic Tuscan architectural forms.

Arniano is, for much of the year, a private and very comfortable family home. But when Amber’s parents, Camilla and Jasper Guinness, first arrived in 1989 it was somewhat different. A friend in England had sent them a clipping from The Sunday Times: “Run-down farmhouse on a hill, 30 minutes south of Sienna.”

There was not a single tree in the thirty-odd acres of scrubland that trails down on all sides of the house, and Guinness describes the building itself as having a “roof and windows and not much else.” Her late father set about planting cypress trees and olive groves and digging out a pool; her mother, a well-known interior designer, reworked the inside. The result is a relaxed but sophisticated space, full of zeppelin-sized sofas and murals by Virginia Loughnan. Personalities as diverse as Harold Acton and Kate Moss have been drawn to make pilgrimages here.

The days at Arniano progress at a leisurely pace. After breakfast, we go to our easels and start with some warm-up drawing exercises, before progressing to oil paints. Roper-Curzon is an encouraging teacher and charitably likens my choice of color in my landscape to Francis Bacon. The poet is taught gently how to improve his trees.

Lunch is taken outside and is prepared by Guinness, who was taught to cook by her mother and who honed her skills in restaurants in Italy and London. Her dishes are a hymn to Italy: acqua di pomodoro con basilico is followed by baked ricotta and roast pork loin with prunes and pine nuts. “This is very spoiling,” says the best-selling author. Guinness has that rare ability as a host to make it all look so easy, so unforced.

After more painting in the afternoon, we take Negronis in the sitting room and then travel to a tiny hamlet called “Chiusure,” where we eat bruschetta and tagliatelle with ragu at the Locando Paradiso. I got to bed that night, sated and happy and not a little tired. I look forward to tomorrow and that most delightful sound in Tuscany, the Guinness handbell.

The rooms where guests stay—and family members live—were designed by noted interior designer Camilla Guinness, some of them feature murals by the artist Virginia Loughnan.
The heart of the house is the kitchen, once an actual pigsty, but now a bright and welcoming space where guests’ meals are prepared by Amber Guinness.
Lunch is a hymn to Italy with the meal acting, too, as food for painterly inspiration.
After classes, cocktails are taken in the sitting room.