Greetings to one and all! It is the festive season and on a personal note, and as Editor of the Newsletter, may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Can I thank the major contributors to the three editions of the Newsletter I’ve edited, Daphne Winning and Beth Taylor, and my thanks and gratitude especially to Rodger Hake for his time and effort in ensuring that the Newsletter achieves its finished form on the WAHG website.
Introduction: This edition is subtitled ‘Exhibition Special’. Autumn seems to have been a time when the opportunities to see great art in a variety of venues have been non-stop. We’re fortunate to be where we are with access to the various locations in London and elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed, courtesy of WAHG, seeing ‘A Victorian Obsession’ at Leighton House recently, but other trips have taken in the Constable exhibition at the V&A, and then a double whammy in the shape of seeing Anselm Keifer and Giovanni Battista Moroni at the RA in one day. In addition, with a fellow-member of the WAHG, we visited Tracy Emin’s ‘adventure’ at The White Cube coupled with a serendipitous treat of Marc Chagall’s biblical prints at a commercial gallery in SE1. No doubt many of you have seen some of the above and the other exhibitions, Turner et al that have been available. If so and you want to respond to what I’ve written or add your own comments on what you’ve seen I would love to see your views which could be incorporated in a following Newsletter. Contact me at my email address, email@example.com and give me your comments. But first a message from our Chair and Programme Coordinator:-
Beth Taylor writes:-
This edition of the Newsletter marks the end of a very busy year for Winchester Art History Group – a year in which we said farewell to some members and welcomed a good number of new ones. Once again, we have 100 members – our agreed maximum which we hope enables at least 50% of our members to get a place at the seminar of their choice. Our new members suffered rather in the booking rush for the autumn and winter 2014 programme but the new January to June 2015 programme has reached everyone at the same time, so we hope to have fewer disappointed members in the coming year.
The new programme’s theme is based on a survey of members which indicated a wish for more on 19th and 20th Century art. We hope we have found some appealing responses to that field of interest while also offering some variety for those whose taste is for other periods of art. We have included another Overseas group travel experience – this time to Berlin – and a selection of visits, which will link with our seminars. We also plan further “Meet the Maker” events.
All of this is a team effort and I owe thanks to all the Committee members and volunteers who make our seminars and visits run as smoothly as possible, and who oversee our website and publications. One new development in 2014 has been to hold a monthly Discussion Group which – rather like a Book Club – focuses on one or two works of art chosen in turn by the group members. If you would be interested in joining a group, please let me know.
Watch out too, for an updated list of local, regional and national exhibitions which will be circulated before the end of the year. Lots of wonderful art to learn about and see in 2015!
With my best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a rewarding, art filled, 2015!
Beth Taylor, Chair and Programme Coordinator
The remaining contents are; a snapshot view of the reviews that follow, the reviews themselves, a Christmas selection for the WAHG Virtual Gallery, and a request to members. All views on the exhibitions seen are my own excepting that the Leighton House review will refer to a Daily Telegraph article by Alastair Smart for which permission has been kindly given by The Telegraph.
A Snapshot view : Tracy Emin may be a successful artist but this exhibition, in my opinion, displays an air of self-absorption that was only alleviated by her sculptures. Moroni’s work displays a refreshing response to portraiture which seems to lift the subjects out of their context and reveal a humanity that we can identify with. Constable’s exhibition is an interesting exploration of the artist’s methods and its intimate space brings you into direct contact with some of his greatest paintings. The Keifer exhibition had a surprisingly emotional impact on this writer. The Chagall sketches were lively, whilst the Leighton House visit gave the opportunity to see works that complemented those seen in the Pre-Raphaelite Avant Garde Exhibition earlier but they also prompted a reappraisal of their worth.
Tracey Emin ‘The Last Great Adventure is you’ – White Cube London SE1
Studio presentation ultimately doffs its cap to the work displayed but it does play its part in the way we see things. The recent film Mr Turner recreated the RA exhibitions of the early 19th century showing a chaotic jumble of jostling paintings. In contrast White Cube, as its name suggests, is a large white Tardis-like expanse, its interior seemingly larger than suggested by its outside external shape. While this allows the luxury to walk around Emin’s sculptures, it tends to minimise the drawings. A more intimate space might have been effective in positioning the viewer in a relationship with these works.
The emotive appeal of her drawings is lost through the accumulation of similar images. A woman sprawls, long-limbed in a variety of postures. In most she is alone but a few display sexual activity with a partner. The lines of drawing are varied in thickness and, as my companion remarked, tentative. Black slashes or blobs obscure the face. The artist writes in a corner of each drawing a brief personal comment which reflects an emotion or feeling.
I could identify with how the artist conveys the many varied emotional states which such a focus on the nude form and its expressive power allows but that said, the focus seems to be one that is self-absorbed and sterile. How many ways can you show a body, the same body, without facial expression, roughly doing the same thing? I have no argument with the artistic philosophy in the title of the exhibition but I would conjecture that if one is to be adventurous then perhaps the art works should be liberated from enclosing them in repetitive formats and use of medium.
Her sculptures had a different vibe. Truncated bodies mimicked the nudes in the drawing in some way but their liberation into sculptural form somehow had more appeal. A particular piece, a bird with wings outstretched emerging from its block, conveyed in symbolic and sculptural form an embodiment of the exhibition’s title more than the drawings ever would.
Ultimately, it felt to me that the triteness of the exhibition’s title, epitomised by the flatulence of the neon lighted word pieces forming part of the show, mirrored a failure in her pieces to explore the potential you might expect a mature artist born in the 20th century to show. Which leads us to an artist who quite clearly, and controversially to some, has explored his reaction to that century!
Anselm Keifer at the RA
I had come to the RA to see the Giovanni Battista Moroni exhibition but was lured by the booth outside the main entrance offering combined tickets for Keifer and Moroni at a reduced price. I’m glad I did. The contrast could not have been greater. From the beauty of Moroni’s portraits and the glorious colours of renaissance costumes to the gritty and visceral impact of Keifer’s works, I emerged slightly shell-shocked.
I have to admit a total ignorance of Keifer’s works. A quick reading of the guide and the informative text provided for the visitor gave me some insight but I wasn’t prepared for the monumental size of the paintings. Given the textural impact of some of them with their layers and materials plastered onto the painting one hesitates to call them ‘paintings’. At one point I found myself aligning myself with the edge of one of them just to see its layers side on.
Constrictions of time and stamina, (walking around galleries is hard work), and my own ignorance of his work could have precipitated a superficial response but as a child of the 20th Century I found myself aligned to these works in an emotional way. Not the emotion of fear but one that felt the presence of forces and beliefs that were used in an ultimately nihilistic, destructive and evil way were being shown and explored in his pieces. The ‘Attic’ paintings are a case in point. You realise you are connecting with an artistic conscience that is exploring nationalism, ideas and emotions in a complex way. I’m familiar with the Wagnerian allusions and their links to the Grail stories and the Norse mythology that link in turn to the Nazi regime but when facing Parsifal 1 (shown) or Sulamith the very fabric represented, the stones, wooden flooring, convey a terrible suggestive horror that is hard to describe.
For those visiting Berlin there are some of Keifer’s works in the Hamburger Bahnhof, former railway station now an Art Museum focusing on contemporary art.
I came to the Keifer exhibition after visiting Giovanni Battista Moroni and a very different representation of fabrics was involved!
Giovanni Battista Moroni at the RA
I am trying to learn Italian. My academic speciality is English Literature and my love is for poetry. I write these words because it explains a pleasure, a childish one, in repeating the full version of the artist’s name. It rocks and rolls off the tongue with its conglomeration of vowels and consonants. The single surname suggests a brand of pasta, the whole evokes a history of sunlit piazzas and palazzi with their costumed cittadini posing for the artist. And apart from some religious paintings this is the beauty of the exhibition. Real people conveyed in a way that convinces you of their existence. They look at you with that typical sideways glance that Moroni pretty much universally employed as if they are measuring you, rather like Il Tagliapanni (Portrait of a Tailor) is shown measuring and cutting his fabric on the desk whilst displaying a tailored beige fustian jacket and a cool, appraising glance that suggests both professionalism and pride in what he is doing. The Portrait of Gabriel de la Cueva (shown – Wikipedia) with its three quarter length demonstrates how much posture affects our own perception. Here along with the slashed black jacket and rich red breeches, the dangling hand near the sword handle, and the slightly jutting head is a man who bristles with danger and threat. The motto inscribed on a plinth next to the sitter, ‘I am here without fear and have no dread of death’ depicts his soldierly status and the hint of a threat is shown in his unflinching gaze. The accomplishment of Moroni is that he makes you want to know more about the people. Despite the undoubted attraction of the depiction of clothing and the richness of the fabrics it is the personalities of the portraits which ultimately engages one.
A word or two to compliment the RA on their presentation; the sequence of paintings is coherent and structured to facilitate understanding of the artist’s work and influences, the explanatory texts are clear, concise and illuminating, and the paintings are allowed space and positioned to let the viewer enjoy them fully!
Marc Chagall Biblical Prints Eames Fine Art Gallery Bermondsey St, London SE1
During the recent Leighton House visit a fellow-member asked me if I bought art works. I confessed I didn’t although the question did make me think why not? I have been tempted by a Matisse original print in an art shop in Burlington Arcade and I was tempted during my visit to this commercial gallery which was showing a series of prints by Chagall.
I like Chagall. There’s a sense of freedom and vivacity in all his work and our quick tour through the Eames Gallery didn’t disappoint. The palette of blues and reds predominate which provides an intriguing mixture of coolness and energy but it was the freedom with his line work which attracted me. Several of the etchings contained rapid slashes of dark lines which add to the feeling of energy and creative verve in the prints but there is also a use of swirls and loops that you sometimes find in Blake’s illustrations that convey movement but also structure the topics of the prints within the frame. Movement, energy and creativity!
Feel free to check out the Eames Gallery on their website.
A Victorian Obsession – Leighton House Museum (Perez Simon Collection)
Ah well! I confess I am and continue to be a devoted follower of the Pre-Raphaelites and their later adherents. Their art is seductive, popular and nostalgic. So visiting the Leighton House exhibition was a pleasure because it brought back all those associated comforting and emotional ties. But rather like indulging in a favourite selection of chocolates there’s a price to be paid. And the price? Let me answer by relaying a part of a conversation I had with a fellow WAHG member as we made a slightly circuitous route back to Waterloo via a bus to Hyde Park and thence on the underground. (Mea culpa! Beth Taylor later informed me of the West Kensington tube stop – obviously ‘Mornington Crescent’ must be a favourite game for our esteemed Chair!) As we chatted about the exhibition we both agreed that in contrast to the French Impressionists’ works the paintings we had seen at Leighton House ultimately had a cloying effect, rather like the chocolates referred to earlier. Alastair Smart’s review (The Daily Telegraph 20/11/14) hits the nail on the head. ‘Artists consistently turned away from the complex realities of Victorian Britain, preferring to roam in an exotic underworld. While the Impressionists were depicting Paris in a modern, optically challenging style, Brits retreated to far-distant times and places.’
Despite this negative note the actual tour of the building and paintings aided by a brilliant and insightful commentary by the Curator was excellent. The two storey Arab Hall was, as Alastair Smart comments, ‘an Oriental fantasia’ and the sunken fountain, as the Curator mentioned, was once a scene of an involuntary baptism for one of Leighton’s guests. The Curator’s analysis of the paintings was exemplary, an example was his breakdown of the structural patterns in A Quartet by Albert Joseph Moore ( painting viewable on website) which somewhat ameliorated the rather obvious semi-erotic depiction of the male and female models shown in the work. The exhibition is superbly staged, it draws you into the world created by Leighton and the range of art works is impressive. As to what that world implies or means I leave that to your own judgement.
John Constable – The Making of a Master at the V&A London SW7
I’ve taken up your time too much already so I will be brief. I enjoyed this for the privilege of being able to get up close to Constable’s major works and see his technique and mastery of the medium. It’s not often you are allowed this. The combination of seeing his brilliant sketches along with the finished works allowed an insight into his production of art work. I felt the exhibition could have ended with the major works rather than the section on his engravings. It seemed a muted end to what had been up to that point an exhilarating ride. My favourite moment? Seeing the full scale sketch and the finished version of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows. The plethora of landscapes by that time was having a slightly tiring effect I have to admit but this restored my faith in the genre. The symbolism of the dog (fidelity) and the rainbow (hope in an uncertain universe) with the incredibly powerful sky, linked to the shrinking oak tree, and the aspiring solidity of the church spire had a wonderfully positive effect.
Endpiece – The WAHG Virtual Gallery
The Observer 7/12/14 ran an article on the 10 best Christmas story paintings. Some were new to me and in particular the following painting The Nativity by Frederico Barocci Prado Museum stood out. A simply lovely painting.
Request to Members:
Apart from the usual requests in terms of your responses to what you have experienced in terms of exhibitions (see my first paragraph) I’d like to ask you what your feelings about the newsletter content are. Or more importantly what you want to see in the newsletter. Obviously I, a relative newcomer, have taken over and the last three issues have been fairly eclectic about what I’ve included. They’ve got longer! Too long? Are there other things you would like to see explored? Let me know.