Wednesday 26 November 2014

Giovanni Battista Moroni at the Royal Academy: Getting Face to Face with the 16th Century

Yesterday I spent a spontaneous afternoon at the Royal Academy's Giovanni Battista Moroni exhibition. I didn't entirely know what to expect from it but I had seen some of the works in the National Gallery's collection so from what little I knew I was looking forward to it.

Moroni is one of the 16th century's many underestimated and overshadowed Italian renaissance artists. His lack of popularity must be down to his relatively niche clientele, he worked mainly in the area surrounding his home in Lombardy and he didn't travel as widly as many of his more well known contemporaries. Luckily for his reputation his paintings regained favour in the Victorian era when they appealled to the tastes and romantic sensibilities of collectors including the National Gallery's Charles Eastlake.

The exhibition is a relatively small one in the Sackler Wing but there is plenty in it and it should not be overlooked in favour of the glitzy Allen Jones or the heavy and awe inspiring Anselm Kiefer. The works chosen showcase a good cross section of Moroni's works including some altarpieces and portraits that encompass characters from various walks of Italian society from aristocrats to his most famous work the humble tailor (above).

While the altarpieces are interesting and show how effectively Moroni managed to appeal to his counter-reformation patrons it is of course his portraits that steal the show.

The care and sensitivity with which he treats his sitters is evident from the first room. He is able to capture more than just a likeness of his sitters but to portray something of their character.
We see rich aristocrats that look as though they have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders or who seem thrilled to be exactly where they are in life showing off their wealth and circumstance.

As well as being pscyhologically interesting the paintings are also a sumptuous visual spectacle. One of the features of his paintings is the bluey grey background he often employs. This allows the intricatly detailed costumes to pop of the canvas. We are shown a masterclass in painting the fashionable clothing and jewellery of the day notable examples being the 'boy in pink', the portrait of Isotta Bombatti and the gentleman pictured below in his cosy looking (and very on trend) fur.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and would recommend it to anyone interested in portraiture.

It runs until 25th January and costs £13.50 (£12 without donation)

Sunday 16 November 2014

Tuttle Takes Over

It is certainly the season for hot chocolate, crisp autumn walks, Christmas adverts and apparently the American artist Richard Tuttle. He is currently enjoying pride of place in the Tate Modern Turbine hall and has a display at the exciting and vibrant Whitechapel gallery.

I have found it difficult to warm to Tuttle’s turbine hall instillation. In the evening when the turbine hall gets darker the dramatic lighting that illuminates it comes into play and the vibrant colours of the fabrics do pop against the greys and blacks of the hall. I also really rather like the shadows in the folds of the red fabric on the side you see immediately as you walk in. However it's a work I have found hard to love or understand.

In an attempt to appreciate it on another level I decided to pop in to the Whitechapel gallery's display. Various people had told me that it had helped them to see him working on a scale that he was more familiar with and that they preferred this.

The exhibition entitled I Don't Know The Weave of Textile Language addresses the artists work using fabric. There were a couple of pieces that I particularly liked. The work which showed a wooden frame with white fabric falling off it which was reminiscent of a canvas on the wall from which the fabric has become detached made me think twice. It reminded me of the importance of textiles in so much of the art produced after the early 1500s. It provides the very base that supports some of the worlds most loved masterpieces; where would Gainsborough's Blue Boy be without the very fabric that supports him?

There were also two very beautiful works from 2008 which involved bands of fabric which had been dyed and then suspended using silver rings hung on nails into the wall. The edges of the fabric has been left exposed and raw with strands of thread left to remind us of the very structure of the sheet we are looking at. On one of the panels of fabric there was this vibrant and crispy splash of a neon yellow paint which draws you in and forces you to examine the way that the ink has bled into the fabric.

The works I liked best where those that made you really look at fabric, a material we take for granted, and to see the beauty in its simplicity. To see how it is constructed and the different ways it can be used and treated.

This said I did struggle with the exhibition, the artist and the gallery force you to take the initiative and leaves you to take from it what you will. I encourage you to go and do just that, the exhibition runs until the 14th December.

Poetic Pairing: November 2014

Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 Whistler 1871

When you are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W. B. Yeats

Friday 24 October 2014

Mr Turner screening and Q&A with Mike Leigh

I spent a lovely evening yesterday watching a screening of Mike Leigh's new film Mr Turner. The film was beautiful plenty of stunning scenery and interesting caricaturisation.

Like the Tate's current exhibition it focuses upon the later years of Turner's turbulent life beginning at the height of his fame and success and then taking you through the death of his father, the decline of his health and his relationship with Mrs Booth and his housekeeper Hannah Danby.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the making of this film was that the extraordinary Timothy Spall studied painting for 2 years in order to prepare himself for the role. It adds an authenticity to the film on two levels, firstly it means that the shots of Spall painting can be filmed seamlessly and secondly it gives the sense that the actor understands the character and relates to him on another level. 

To be able to watch it at the Tate a stones throw away from some of the artists most celebrated masterpieces added a whole new dynamic to the screening.

I encourage everyone to go and see the film it is a long one but it is time well spent.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Poetic Pairing: September 2014

La Solitude 1866 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies

Poetic Pairing: August 2014

Moonlight 1895 Edvard Munch


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter De La Mare

Poetic Pairings: July 2014

Angel of the Last Judgement 1911 Kandinsky

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom 
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on; on' and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
will never be done

Siegfried Sassoon

Poetic Pairings: June 2014

The Kiss 1908-09 Gustav Klimt

He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B Yeats

Poetic Pairing: May 2014

April Love 1855-56 Arthur Hughes

The Miller's Daughter
It is the miller's daughter,
And she is grown so dear, so dear,
That I would be the jewel
That trembes in her ear;
For hid in ringlets day and night,
I'd touch her neck so warm and white.
And I would be the girdle
About her dainty dainty waist,
And her heart would beat against me,
In sorrow and I in rest;
And I should known if it beat right,
I'd clasp it round so close and tight.
And I would be the necklace,
And all day long to fall and rise
 Upon her balmy bosom,
With her laughter or her sighs;
And I would lie so light, so light,
I scarce should be unclasp'd at night.

Love that hath us in the net,
Can he pass, and we forget?
Many suns arise and set;
Many a chance the years beget;
Love the gift is Love the debt.
Even so.
 Love is hurt, with jar and fret;
Love is made a vague regret;
Eyes with idle tears are wet;
Idle habit links us yet.
 What is love? for we forget:
Ah no! no!

Alfred Lord Tennyson

When this painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 the last six lines of this poem were placed alongside it.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Poetic Pairing: April 2014

Vessels at anchor and rowing boats in a calm sea William Lionel Wyllie National Maritime Museum

Extract from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 Down Dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Saturday 8 March 2014

Last days of Klee at Tate

If you haven't been to see the work of this wonderful artist then head to tate to get it before it's gone. (Closes this Sunday) There even a late opening until 8 on Sunday.

It will inject some much needed colour into your day.

The Fine Art Society - A Barrister's Collection

After my Italian class I decided to take a little walk through the park and head down the glitzy and glamorous New Bond Street to visit The Fine Art Society.

At the moment they are showing an exhibition of the private art collection of lawyer William M Ballantyne 'A Barrister's Collection'. It is always fasinating to look at the private collection of one individual. There was recently a sale at Sotheby's of the collection of Stanley J. Seeger. It is intriging to look at the works that collectors bring together and how this reflects their personal tastes and interests and to see the interesting links that exist between the works they buy.

Ballantyne's collection spans the ages, including a 14th Century Siennese wedding chest, paintings by the old master's, 19th century works and modern British paintings. 

Detail of Siennese Marriage Chest Attr. Ambrogio Lorenzetti 14th Century (horrible image through glass apologies)

It is not a huge collection but there are some lovely pieces. I was particularly drawn to an etching by Millet 'La Grande Bergere', a lively lithograph by Bonnard, a stunning painting of a washer woman by Harold Gilman below and the atmospheric oil painting 'Bethleham, Looking towards the Dead Sea also below.  

The Washerwoman 'Le lavendeuse' 1911 Harold Gilman

Bethleham, Looking Towards the Dead Sea 1853 David Roberts

So if you are in the area with a little time to pass then pop in and do some fantasy painting shopping!

The exhibition runs until 21st March.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Poetic Pairing: March 2014

This months poetic pairing is a poem inspired by this 14th Century sculptural tomb of an aristocratic couple in Chichester Cathedral.

Tomb of Richard FitzAlan 10th Earl of Arundel and his wife Eleanor of Lancaster 14th Century Chichester Cathedral
An Arundel Tomb
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Henry Moore

During today's artistic wanderings I came across an artist whose work I have a definite soft spot for. His name is Henry Moore and no I don't mean the modernist sculptor, rather an artist born in the previous century. I am sure this artists reputation has been damaged in part by the unfortunate coincidence of sharing names with one of Britain's most loved and well known sculptors.

This Henry Moore was born in 1831 in a very different era, a few years before the abolition of slavery in Britain and it's empire, the year Victor Hugo published Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Darwin set off for his travels and rather bizarrely the inventor of Coca-cola (John Stith Pemberton) was born. Imagine... a world without coke.

Henry Moore was a painter of landscapes and had a particular penchant for dramatic seascapes and marine scenes usually in the English Channel.

The Wreck Henry Moore 1875 City of London Corporation

He had a gift when it came to the realistic representations of waves that can only be explained by hours spent observing them. It must have been a fairly difficult enterprise. His paintings often forgo a foreground jumping directly in to the representation of the churning sea. This gives a sense of immediacy to the paintings, you can just imagine the artist slaving away sketching, painting or simply observing the sea. In fact one story reads that he suffered from rheumatism after a particularly intensive painting session during a gale. Perhaps a gale similar to the one in the painting below described simply as a Winter Gale in the Channel. We can see the rolling clouds the intense darkness of the sky and the rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds. You can almost hear the shrieking gannets looking for washed up food in the breaking waves. A familiar sight to anyone who knows the sea.

Winter Gale in the Channel Wolverhampton Art Gallery 1872

My heart was originally won by this artist because he painted a part of the world that I love more than any other, Alderney. In 1886 he painted a view of the Race of Alderney which is a dangerous tidal race reaching more than 11 knots. It seperates the Island of Alderney from France. However like many dangerous currents it has the most innocent of appearances.

  The Race of Alderney 1886 Cheltenham Art Gallery

He shows us a dark choppy water surface with white peaks dotted around and the cliffs of the island and two small sailing ships in the background.

It is not the most dramatic of his paintings but it tugs on my heartstrings and I believe that his paintings would do the same to anyone who loves, lives by or works on the sea. In them he demonstrates a profound understanding of the calm, the drama and the danger of the waves he paints.

Friday 21 February 2014

When it comes to flooding the more things change the more they stay the same

This year parts of the United Kingdom have suffered serious flooding due to the frankly unacceptable quantity of rain we have experienced this winter.

We have all seen the dramatic and striking images of the flooding and it led me to wonder how artists have rendered the floods of years gone by. So here are just a couple of the interesting works and comparisons I came across.

The flooded fields of Holland and Somerset:

Flooded Fields in Holland with Silver Birches, Unknown Artist The Shipley Art Gallery
Flooded high streets:

Nuneaton Floods Warwickshire John Woodward Lines 1975 Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery

A train takes a treacherous journey along the coast in Saltcoats Scotland and a similar event in 1894:
Durston Somerset, Flooded out Thomas H Heawood 1894 Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

Take to the boats!:

A Flood Leon Augustin Lhermitte Manchester City Galleries 1876

Two red cars years apart brave the roads:
Floods Roland Vivian Pitchforth c.1935 Tate
High tides causing huge waves such as this one over the breakwater in my beloved island of Alderney:

1953 Floods in Southwald, Suffolk Frank Forward 1953 Southwald Museum

Flood waters in Chertsey after the Thames burst it's banks:

Llugwy in Flood 1881 Benjamin Williams Leader Oxford College Anon II, University of Oxford

Whether in paintings or in current day photos nature never ceases to put me in awe.

Cutty sark: Lantern Making

If you are in Greenwich today or looking for something to fill the last couple of days of half term then come and join us at the Cutty Sark!

We are making Chinese paper lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year and to learn about the importance of lanterns on ships. Oops nearly forgot one of the most important reasons... Fun! 

The workshop is free with the regular ticket to visit the ship and takes place in the Sammy Ofer gallery from 11.30-1.30 and again from 2.00-4.00.

Thursday 20 February 2014

New Order II: British Art Today

Today after my Italian class I decided to make the most of a brief window of sunshine and beautiful clear blue sky to take a short walk to Kings road and visit the Saatchi gallery. I was particularly interested in the New Order II: British Art today exhibition that opened on the 24th of last month.

When I arrived the gallery was bathed in sunlight and it really is an appealing building when the weather is nice.

This show is the sequel to the New Order: British Art exhibition which opened at the end of last year and ran into the early days of 2014. It is a continuation of the galleries commitment to promoting the works of young artist and in this particular instance new British talent.

The exhibition includes the work of 13 artists. Make sure that before you dive head first into their paintings, installations and sculptures themselves you take a look at the wall at the entrance where photographs and a couple of details about the exhibitors are clustered together.

I found this wall of artist fascinating it allowed you to get a glimpse of how the artists want to be seen and in turn how they wanted to be understood. One artist Dan Rees chose to forsake the photograph of himself in favor of an image of one of his works. While the photographs of the younger artists tended to have a more instagrammy feel to them. The ages of the exhibitors was also interesting ranging from Tom Gidley the eldest of the group born in 1968 and Finbar Ward who was a fellow 1990 baby. This reveals an age range of 22 years amongst the group.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was drawn to the exhibition as I had already had a quick glimpse around the Body Language exhibition on the lower two floors which had left me seriously underwhelmed.

The stand out room for me had to be room number 13 which included the works by Martine Poppe and Virgile Ittah. Both of these artist completed a postgraduate degree in 2013 the former at the Slade School of Fine Art and the latter at the Royal College of Art. Ittah's work takes centre stage in the room, literally, three of her sculptural works are scattered around the space.

Her sculptures are life size figures sculpted in wax. Wax is a beautiful medium that allows the artist to create dramatic textures and the sense of heavy melting and dripping forms while still allowing careful modelling to create incredibly lifelike faces and bodies. The sculptor has used the medium to wonderful effect with these works and they remind me of the sculptures of the tortured French sculptor (and Rodin's lover) Camille Claudel.

On the walls the paintings by Martine Poppe initially seem to play second fiddle to their more dramatic neighbor but when I did turn my attention to them I fell in love. The paintings are done on polyester restoration fabric more commonly used by painting conservators. The paintings have a blurred quality which you expect to go away on closer or further observation in the style of impressionist or pointillist painters. However it never does. This particular painting showing silhouettes of people behind a clock face is a stunning work that could grace any contemporary private collection.

Each artist has something interesting to offer these are just my personal favourites and I recommend going and spending a lovely day in Chelsea and choosing your own.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The National Gallery's shiny new Bellows painting

I was reading an article on the Art Newspaper website regarding the new Bellows painting acquired by the National Gallery. The purchase is part of a concerted effort by the gallery to build up a collection of American Art from the early 20th Century representing a departure from their previous collecting patterns. Bellows was an American artist whose popularity in the UK was augmented by the Royal Academies retrospective of his work 'George Bellows (1882-1925): Modern American Life'. The exhibition was supported by the TERRA Foundation which seeks to actively promote the acquisition of art from this period and which is now heavily involved with the National Gallery.

There has been considerable backlash in America regarding Randolf College's decision to sell Bellow's Men of the Docks. However I can't help but have limited sympathy with their plight. As was demonstrated in this weeks 'fake or fortune' one third of Gainsborough's work including his most famous painting 'The Blue Boy' are owned by American galleries or private collectors. I do not feel that this has damaged the reputation of the artist in Britain or weakened our cultural heritage. On the contrary it has facilitated more research on the artist and an enthusiasm for visiting the country that his paintings glorify.

Furthermore, the sale has brokered a partnership between the two institutions which appears to have a largely one sided benefit. The association will create visits to Randolf College by curators and specialists from the National Gallery who will share their knowledge and expertise. It will also facilitate internships at the National Gallery given to their students. As I have experienced first hand significant internships are like gold dust and are increasingly few and far between and it doesn't get much more prestigious then experience working at the National Gallery.

With regards to the painting itself it is an interesting work showing the dock side on a freezing day in New York. Bellows shows a sensitivity for the plight of the working class men clustered together on the shore. They are huddled over with hands thrust deep into the pockets of heavy overcoats.

The men await the goods being unloaded from the ship that towers over them ready to transport these to the bustling city on the horizon. It seems likely that the workers are searching for ad hoc work hoping that some of the wealth and opportunity represented by the boat might fall their way. This impression is given by the suspicious and competitive seeming glances the workers are giving each other and the lack of communication or comradery between them.

Although the city is partially obscured by the pollution of the docks it is clear that it is a central part of the story that Bellows is telling us. There is something so recognisably New Yorkish about it that you would never mistake it for any other skyline and you can see when you compare it with the photo below taken in 1912, the same year Bellows painted 'Men of the Docks', how carefully Bellows has rendered it. As well as the inclusion of the skyscrapers which are so idiomatic of New York we can see how in order to identify the location he has painted with just a few brush strokes an indication of the distinctive rounded building top that can be seen on the right hand side of the old photo. Having never been to America and really having very little knowledge of New York I do not know the name of this building but to the contemporary New Yorker it would have been immediately recognisable. Even I, a New York novice can identify the outline of the Brooklyn Bridge just visible behind the great ship.

The painting is typical of the work of artist of the early 20th century who were drawn to representations of the, at times harsh, realities of modern life.

The painting is certainly a beautiful one and is on display in room 43 at the National Gallery.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Record Auction Sale results at Sotheby's

There is no denying that there is something about Impressionist and surrealist art that has wormed it's way into the hearts of collectors and the public alike. Perhaps it is the fact that most of us have grown up with tea towels and puzzles plastered with the most famous examples. Or perhaps it is the more cynical reason that these works seem to have an ever increasing market value and prove a good investment. I choose to believe that these paintings provide us with a peculiar mixture of nostalgia for a distant past and an immediacy that people can not help but relate to.

Whatever cocktail of factors is involved the popularity of these works was proved at a Sotheby's auction this week (5th February 2014). The auction's total reached a staggering £163.5 million.

When you see the paintings it is not difficult to imagine how they captured the hearts and cheque books of a myriad of wealthy investors.

The star of the sale was Camille Pissarro's Le Boulevard Montmartre Matinee de printemps which sold for £16.9 million.This made it the highest selling work by this artist by a significant margin.

 Le Boulevard Montmartre de printemps Pisarro

Pisarro painted a series of paintings of the view from the window of his hotel in Montmartre. The paintings show the scene at different times of day in a similar fashion to Monet's famous hay stacks series. A work from this series hangs in the National Galleries permanent collection and a postcard of it has graced the walls of my bedroom for years. Their painting showing the scene at night has a glow and radiance that shines off the canvas speaking of the warmth and vibrancy of Parisian night life.

Of course this was not the only work to make it's mark on the auctions grand total. The private collection of Jan Krugier went under the hammer including works on paper by artists such as Leger, Ingres, Degas, Cezanne and Picasso to name but a few. These sold incredibly well reflecting their outstanding quality and the keen eye of Krugier. The sale of this collection accounted for £74.9 million of the auction total.

 Composition au minotaure Picasso 1936