Friday 6 December 2013

Thursday 5 December 2013

Advent Caldender 2013: Day 6

Attributed to Girolamo Macchietti The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari c.1555-60 National Gallery London

The story of our much loved Father Christmas originates with St Nicholas of Bari and this particular episode in his life. In this painting he is shown relieving the financial woes of the family inside the room to the right hand of the image. The father, painted seated in a wooden chair, is surrounded by his three daughters. He is faced with the prospect of having to sell these very daughters into prostitution. St Nicholas is shown at the window holding two gold balls, the third he has already thrown in and can be seen on the bed at the back of the scene.

These golden balls represent a gift of gold one for each daughter. These would be the dowries for the nobleman's three daughters saving them from a life of ill repute.

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RIP Nelson Mandela

The charismatic, and inspiring Nelson Mandela, an inspiration to us all, passed away today after an extraordinary life.

 Nelson Mandela Ian Homer Walters 2008 National Portrait Gallery

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - In which case never was a man so free

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - He has educated us all

"I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days." - And his legacy will continue to do so ever after

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Advent Calender 2013: Day 5

Foundling Girl at Christmas Dinner Emma Brownlow 1877

The foundling hospital in London was the first children's shelter in the country. Set up in the eighteenth century by Thomas Coram it provided a safe refuge for the developing city's increasing number of abandoned babies and children. The building is now a museum where the charity's early history can be explored through various art and artifacts such as today's advent painting.

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Discovering William Nicholson

Some of you may have heard of the abstract artist Ben Nicholson he was even recently celebrated in an exhibition alongside his contemporary Mondrian at the Courtauld Gallery. Today I have discovered that when it comes to artistic brilliance the apple never falls far from the tree.

Ben Nicholson Painting 1937 The Courtauld Gallery

Flicking through the Tate Modern's collection online I came across a lovely still life The Lowestoft Bowl by William Nicholson which enticed me in and I simply had to find out more. I was not dissapointed.

Lowestoft Bowl William Nicholson 1911

William Nicholson (Ben Nicholson's father) had a charmingly diverse career working on still lives, landscapes, portraits, engravings, set design and illustrations. Even illustrating that children's book made famous in Friends, The Velveteen Rabbit. You know the one that Chandler buys for Joey's girlfriend who he is madly in love with and in the end Joey gives it to the girlfriend but she knows it's really from Chandler.... Oh Friends. Click here to see the fully digitized version of the original book with illustrations.

The Tate owns an impressive twenty eight works by this artist. Thanks to the incredible resource that is the BBC YourPaintings website I was also able to explore this artists paintings scattered all around the country and I have to say there are some gems. Lots of his works have a deeply British quality to them, the still lives include British china and crockery often brimming with beautiful native wildflowers.

 Flower Piece with Books William Nicholson

His landscapes capture the simplicity and freshness of the English countryside.

A Glade near Midhurst William Nicholson

 While his paintings of the Oxford colleges, which are amongst my favourite of his paintings, manage to capture the grandeur and yet the humanity of the places. For example, 'The gates of Honour under Snow' evokes the students dreaming of passing through those very gates at graduation. In his St John's College Oxford an irreverent group of students, one of whom leans upon the arcade, gives a sense of the fun and frivolity of college life.

The Gate of Honour under snow William Nicholson

All in all I am a bit of a fan.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Advent Calender 2013: Day 4

Five Variegated ivy leaves by Eliot Hodgkin 1975

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

Facing the modern: The portrait in Vienna 1900

Facing the modern, the National Gallery's current exhibition includes some beautiful paintings brought together from the walls of galleries across Europe and the US and from various private collections. However I have to say I found the curating a little strange and these stunning works were not set up to their best advantage. The text panels were grey and challenging to read in the low lighting. It also felt as if the exhibition jumped around too much, particularly the room which brought together the self portraits which included paintings of the artists included in the first room intermixed with the newer wave of artists. The paintings by Gustav Klimt whose style changed dramatically across his body of work are not chronological which is slightly confusing and disorientating.

That said the exhibition did give me a whole new perspective on Klimt's work. Previously my view of him had been coloured by the fact that I am not a huge fan of his painting The Kiss having only every seen poor reproductions online, in books, on tea towels or on postcards.

This exhibition included some of his early work alongside stunning examples of his famous later style. One particularly outstanding painting from a private collection is Portrait of a Lady in Black. This stunning painting of a fashionably dressed Viennese woman is meticulously painted the bracelet on her right wrist seems to jump off the canvas at you.

Be warned, this is not the most cheerful of exhibitions. Vienna during the early 1900's was famously a discontented and anxiety ridden place. As you walk through the exhibition reading the information on the paintings you will be struck by how many of the sitters committed suicide. This slightly morbid facet of Viennese life during this period is addressed in the creepy room which includes death masks of Klimt, Mahler and Schiele as well as the haunting portrait of Ria Munk on her deathbed.

 The room focuses upon how portraiture during this period often had a commemorative function.

We also see the paintings by Oskar Kokoschka of patients suffering from Tuberculosis. His twisted and tortured style seems to fit perfectly with representing the people in the late stage of this disease. Such as this painting of Count Verona painted in 1910. The deep furrow in the sitters brow and his emaciated face and knotted hands give a sense of the sitters pain and suffering both physically and mentally. 

The exhibition ends with the tragic and controversial portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, the image used on the shows promotional material.

It shows Amalie a Jewish resident of Vienna who died in a Nazi concentration camp during the second world war. The coincidental fact that this painting remained unfinished by Klimt gives the painting a haunting significance that melts the life of the work with that of the sitter and the turbulent historical moment. The painting is also intertwined with an issue hot in the press at the moment, Nazi-looted art. After the discovery of Gurlitt's huge hoard of 'degenerate' art brought together during the war the eyes of the world are focused upon art works confiscated and stolen during the war years. This particular painting is embroiled in a legal battle over whether the painting rightly belongs to the Austrian state or if it should be returned to the heirs of it's original owner the Jewish sugar baron Ferdinand Bloch-Bower.

If you can set aside the confusing order of the paintings there is a lot to be learnt from this extraordinary collection of art works. The exhibition runs until the 12th January so book now!

Monday 2 December 2013

Sunday 1 December 2013

Advent Caldender 2013: Day 2

Carol Singers by Gunning King Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

Day 1

Advent Calender 2013: Day 1

I really enjoyed doing an advent calender the year before last so I thought I would treat you and myself to another one this year.

Just roll over the number to open your first advent window.

The Gates of Honour under snow The Fitzwilliam Museum William Nicholson

Poetic Pairings: December

Homesickness 1940 René Magritte Galerie Isy Bracot, Brussels

Home Thoughts, from Abroad

O to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough 
In England - now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops - at the bent spray's edge -
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
- Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Robert Browning