WAHG Newsletter December 2016
And may I welcome you to this edition. As James Brown once sang I feel good. Another season completed and a full newsletter for our readers. I’d like to thank all the contributors to this edition. I hope you’ve enjoyed this season of seminars and visits. For me an insight into one of our Northern cities was one of the highlights, it hardly rained, a miracle for Manchester, we had a Chinese feast, I bought three art books, what’s not to like? In this edition we have:-
- A message from our Chair, Beth Taylor, who also contributes to the Pallant House article (see below), and an article
- ‘From Ruskin to Gompertz: From Gompertz to Ruskin’ which explores a topic deriving from the WAHG Discussion Group.
- Daphne Winning giving us the low down on how to see an incredible collection of modern masterpieces in Paris in one day! And there’s still time to see it as it doesn’t finish until 20 February 2017.
- Carol Orchard’s responses to visiting The Paul Nash exhibition and Classicism in British Art 1920-50 at Pallant House. Both exhibitions continue into the New Year if you are interested.
- Margaret Munro treating us to her Three Works of Art and Me in which a la Desert Island Discs she chooses three works of art relevant to her life. Note the appeal to members for their contributions to this new feature.
- I review Beyond Caravaggio (ends 15 January 2017) at the National Gallery and learn more Italian doing so.
- And from our virtual gallery there is a Christmas Card for you all with a short poem attached.
So can I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I look forward to seeing you exploring the world of the landscape in January 2017.
A Message from our Chair, Beth Taylor
Both our past autumn season and the forthcoming Spring and Summer 2017 programme have attracted a high level of support from members. This is encouraging – and an accolade for our Programme planning Team – Chris Humphreys, Gill Graham Maw and Felicity Pennycook – who have brought new ideas and new speakers to our seminar programme. I am delighted that I could hand over to such a creative team.
Our autumn programme also included our first and very successful, UK overnight tour. This was a visit to Manchester , meticulously planned by Daphne Winning, which will be repeated in February 2017.
All of those involved in running WAHG, wish our members a happy Christmas season – and look forward to sharing further pleasures in 2017!
From Ruskin to Gompertz: From Gompertz to Ruskin – an article by Beth Taylor
Opinions and approaches change over time in the art world as much as anywhere else. For example, when looking at catalogues of drawings and paintings by Ruskin for a recent Discussion Group
meeting, I found that art historians’ views have shifted from seeing him as essentially as an influential 19th century critic, patron, writer, social reformer and educator, to viewing the art he made as of primary importance, both fundamental to his world view and important as stand-alone works of art.
As the only child of wealthy parents, Ruskin took drawing lessons from an early age and was able to view paintings in England and on the European tours he made. So he certainly had an informed eye and a trained hand. But a recent book, published to accompany an exhibition in Ottawa, argues that it was his intense looking and absorption of all the minutiae of his recording of plants, trees, animals, cloud effects, buildings and geology, which marks him as an Artist with a capital A. This looking and seeing comprehensively and entering a trance-like state of absorption, was essential to his emotional health and was part of his life from childhood on. Hence his continued output of art works.
To aid our discussion, Sonia Bolton brought along Will Gompertz’s book Think Like an Artist. We found many of the characteristics he discusses appropriate to Ruskin – for example – seriously curious, thinking big picture and fine detail (see Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, for example), having a point of view (very much so in Ruskin’s case), thoughtful, having the courage of his convictions – and so on. But, reading through Gompertz’s book later, I concluded that while Ruskin learned from his intensive looking, he needed to express the ideas he had in words supported by images, rather than by drawings and paintings alone. What he saw made him burn to change the art and architecture of his time, and he needed words as well as pictures to do this. So Writer and Artist would be my conclusion. Why not take a look at Ruskin’s work and see what you think?
Refs: Will Gompertz Think Like an Artist Penguin 2015 and Christopher Newall et al John Ruskin: Artist and Observer 2014.
Interested in being part of a Discussion Group? Contact Beth Taylor email@example.com
Daphne Winning on the Icons of Modern Art The Shchukin Collection showing at the Fondation Louis Vuitton (finishing on the 20th February 2017)
(In which our intrepid explorer sets some kind of record in gallery visiting and takes to the skies in a fourteen hour visit (airport to airport) in which she sees a host of modern masterpieces).
Fondation Louis Vuitton
The visit, which, in my opinion, is easily manageable in a day, was covered by an expenditure of £100 which included our flight and entry to the exhibition. We caught the 07.15 Flybe flight from Southampton to Orly, Paris. From there we took the number 1 shuttle bus to L’Etoile (both flight and bus take an hour for their journey). There is a Navette direct from L’Etoile to the gallery but the queue was long so we took a taxi for the short hop.
The exhibition features 130 works amassed by the Russian industrialist, Sergei Shchukin, between 1898 and 1914 and is entitled ‘Icons of Modern Art’. It predominately showcases paintings by French artists such as; Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Matisse, Derain as well as Picasso. The works are all of the highest quality and show the work of these artists at their peak whilst charting the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Symbolist, Fauve and Cubist movements. Visitors are treated to a remarkable number of Monets and Gaugins, and a veritable glut of works by Matisse and Picasso. The final salon displays some major works by leading artists of the Russian avant-garde; Tatlin, Malevich, Rodchenko and others, with the aim of exploring how the masterpieces collected by Shchukin influenced them.
The impetus of this amazing exhibition springs from the 2016/2017 Franco-Russian year of cultural exchange. The paintings normally hang in the Pushkin State Museum of Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The Fondation Louis Vuitton designed by Frank Gehry is an interesting building and provides a perfect exhibition space for this vast collection which is displayed chronologically over 4 floors.
I visited with two fellow WAHG members and we were stunned by the high quality of all 130 paintings. There wasn’t a single work which one could just walk past with a cursory glance. Such intensive viewing is tiring and a break was essential to assimilate what we had seen and to refresh ourselves for the final salons which are largely devoted to Matisse and Picasso.
Henri Matisse Red Room (Harmony in Red) 1908
I would highly recommend this exhibition for the number of such high quality works showing the artists at the height of their careers. Shchukin must have been a remarkable man, not the least for his acumen in achieving a collection that attained an almost legendary status in Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century. This was partly attributable to the fact that paintings were shipped to Moscow, in those days inaccessible to most Europeans. They were housed in Shchukin’s grand residence, the Trubetskoy Palace.
A cautionary note about dining. The gallery has one, relatively small, restaurant, inadequate for the large numbers visiting the exhibition, but it is situated within the Jardin D’Acclimatation where there are several eating places to choose from.
At the end of the visit we managed to squeeze in an evening meal at a brasserie before making our way back to the airport where we caught the 21.10 flight back to Southampton arriving at 9.30pm local time. All very easy.
We travelled on Friday 2 December. If you are looking to do the same trip it would always be advisable to check flight times which might vary at weekends and also check-in times at each airport when planning your journey. Bon voyage!
The Paul Nash exhibition, showing at Tate Britain until 5 March 2017, is enormous. Although he died before he was 60, his output as a surrealist, war artist, photographer and designer was prodigious. The works are shown chronologically over ten rooms, running from his early landscapes and paintings of the Western Front, through a ‘middle period’ when he was influenced by Chirico and another Surrealist (and Nash’s lover) Eileen Agar, to images from the Second World War and the later landscapes.
Nash’s early paintings are romantic works, showing the lonely trees, gentle hills and winding lanes which epitomise the idea of England’s green and pleasant land which runs deep in the national psyche. The contrast is extreme between these scenes – devoid of men, muck and animals – and the well-known WWI paintings in the next room. For me, Nash’s surrealist works were less successful, though I liked the collages by Agar which are also in the show. I was, however, very impressed by his photographs of the German aircraft grave near Oxford which inspired Der Totes Meer (1941) – perhaps as much as by the painting itself.
Verdict: highly recommended – but allow plenty of time.
Totes Meer ‘Dead Sea’ by Paul Nash Landscape near Hadleigh by Paul Nash
The Mythic Method: Classicism in British Art 1920-50 Pallant House’s latest exhibition of 20th century British art (on until 19 February 2017) is a selection of post-WWI paintings, sculptures (and a few photographs) inspired by classical myths and influenced by Surrealism. Some of the works are by well-known artists, such as Burra, Lewis, Nicholson and Ravilious; other names (eg. Frampton, Armstrong and Roberts) were new to me, as was that of Madame Yevonde, who pioneered the use of colour photography in her portraits of society ladies, while harking back to the era of Gainsborough and Reynolds by posing them as classical heroines.
Verdict: eclectic – but Pallant House is always worth a visit.
Meredith Frampton’s portrait of Marguerite Kelsey
Postscript to the above review of Pallant House from Beth Taylor
If you decide to see the Pallant exhibition, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the ground floor area of
the house. Instead of the usual hanging of paintings, this has been re-conceived as a neo-classical
interior, with wallpapers designed by Pablo Bronstein who was the artist behind the Tate’s recent
Historical Dances in an Antique Setting. At the Pallant, he has installed a series of panoramic
wallpapers featuring architectural landscapes which bring out the qualities of the space in a new way
to present day visitors but which which remind us of the impact of the classical on 18th century taste.
Three Works of Art and Me by Margaret Munro
Chris Humphreys asked me if I would like to follow his lead in the last WAHG Newsletter and submit my ‘Desert Island Discs’ works of art and how they have touched my life. Here are my top three. If you would like to share your own favourites with the WAHG membership then Chris will be delighted to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney (1970-1), Acrylic on canvas, approx. 2 m x 3 m, Tate Britain, London
This is my favourite of Hockney’s double portraits. Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy shows the fashion designer Ossie Clark (1942-1996) and his wife, the fabric designer Celia Birtwell (b1941) at home with their cat. In the early 1970s I had an aged aunt who lived close to the King’s Road in London’s Chelsea – just around the corner from Ossie and Celia’s fashion boutique, Quorum. My aunt, who knew someone in the dress-making workshops, often had offcuts of Celia’s exquisite printed satins, crepes and voiles. These gorgeous clothes still pop up in V&A exhibitions (including You Say You Want a Revolution? which is on until February 2017) and those lovely prints, although rather dated, feel like old friends. One last thing – you may be interested to know that the cat in the picture is not Percy at all, but the Clarks’ other cat, Blanche. Hockney thought Mr and Mrs Clark and Blanche didn’t quite have the right ring to it.
D’où Venons Nous Que Sommes Nous Où Allons Nous (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?) Paul Gauguin (1897-8), 139 cm × 375 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
My first glimpse of Where Do We Come From was in an art book in that most romantic of places, the Stoke-on-Trent Public Library. I was instantly captivated by the foreignness of the image, the rich colours and the enigmatic Tahitian figures. When I moved to London in the late 1960s, an Athena block board print of Where Do We Come From adorned the wall of my first flat. The air of mysticism seemed to echo the feel of the 1960s with its ethnic clothing and transcendental meditation. Forty years later I unexpectedly came across the original in Boston, and found my reaction to it unchanged by age and experience.
The Kelpies by Andy Scott (2013), structural steel with a stainless steel cladding, 30 metres high, Falkirk, Scotland
My Scottish relatives took me to see The Kelpies in 2014, not long after they were completed, and I was overwhelmed by their beauty, their massive size, and the facial expressions of these giant horses. Named after the water horses of Scottish mythology, The Kelpies, in fact, pay homage to the heavy horses who worked the canals of this intensely industrialised region in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They stand in a newly created parkland to the south of the Firth of Forth and are surrounded by the M9 Motorway, the canal, and a line of pylons, none of which diminish their beauty.
My husband and I will be in Edinburgh again in 2017, and revisiting The Kelpies is an absolute must. The parkland should have matured a little by now, and the landscape softened. But other things have changed. An outraged Andy Scott has recently won the battle to have ‘an eyesore’ of a fast food outlet selling ‘kelpie burgers’ removed from the site. Don’t be put off – The Kelpies are public art at its very best. I urge you to go and see them.
Calling in on Caravaggio and his followers at the National Gallery (finishes 15 January 2017)
After an entertaining two hours with Antonia Whitley on Tuesday 22 November, where a WAHG group visited the National Gallery and inspected paintings showing the depiction of women in Renaissance Art I was prompted to take the opportunity to see the ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ exhibition in the afternoon. After devouring an expensive but satisfying prawn roll in the always-crowded cafe I strolled down the steps to the subterranean world of the Sainsbury Wing.
In that crowded corner of Heaven devoted to artists, and no doubt a noisy and voluble space, surely there’s a place where discontented painters, who have not, or are not likely to have, gained an entire exhibition to themselves, gather in glum groups, and talk in embittered whispers about the ‘maestro’ to whom they are perennially attached by dint of association of technique, subject or ‘school’.
Of course, for me, the magnet, that drew me down those steps was the name of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (those embittered whispers increase in volume). A pavlovian response to the name of Caravaggio may involve words such as ‘drama’ and ‘chiaroscuro’, especially the latter; it may well bring forth low whistles of admiration but perhaps a sigh of ennui from those in the know. However, you could try ‘spogliando modelli e alzando lumi’ (unfrocked models and raised lighting) in order to up the ante. I cannot claim ownership of the term, my debt is to the catalogue for the exhibition, from which I also learned that Caravaggio’s revolutionary style, lies in his use of live models drawn from the streets, dramatic lighting effects, eschewing preparatory drawings, and carefully composed tableaus of the characters in his paintings. Critics, both contemporary and later ones, attacked him for his failure to select the more beautiful forms from nature and his ‘vulgarity’. Ruskin, hysterically, accused him of seeking the ‘horror and ugliness, and filthiness of sin.’ Roger Fry said that he loved all that was ‘brutal and excessive’.
I do not share their sentiments. Albeit, I can recognise, despite their hyperbole, how they might have reacted to some of the louche carnality of his paintings. But, I like the drama, the focus, the almost cinematic close-up nature of his and his followers’ works and so let us now focus on my chosen highlights of the exhibition!
The Denial of Saint Peter 1615-20 oil on canvas by Pensionante Del Saraceni, who was active in Rome not long after Caravaggio’s death in 1610, is a successful reworking of a popular topic in religious art.
Let’s compare it to Caravaggio’s painting of the same subject (about 1610 oil on cavas – not in the exhibition). You can see the lighting is almost the same, slanting downwards from the left, and how it picks up details in the faces and hands. Caravaggio’s use of space in the almost intimate closeness of the servant girl to the armed guard (you can almost hear their conversation) emphasises the inherent danger in the scene whilst Peter’s furrowed brow, gaze and gesture indicate concern as well. Del Saraceni opts for a two-hander in which the servant girl is accusatory, her slight leaning in towards Peter is very revealing combined with her open-mouthed question, again the juxtaposition of hands and their movements (so very Italian!) convey the drama and meaning of the scene. The white pin-prick of Peter’s eye is a beautiful piece of invention in Saraceni’s work, even if the reproduction doesn’t show it. For me both paintings are successful in their depiction of the dynamics of human interaction and the inherent tension of the scene.
Another painting that caught my eye is Lo Spadarino’s Christ displaying his Wounds 1625-35 oil on canvas. There is another Lo Spadarino in the exhibition ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ 1620s oil on canvas which bears the same religious message, but I find this single image of Christ has more impact. Out of the dark Christ emerges, the light from the left, the hands pinching the flesh either side of the spear-wound, which of course offers sight of the holes in his hands. I take it as significant that the left hand uses two fingers rather than thumb and finger to open the wound in an imitation of the sign of the holy blessing. The gaze and positioning of Christ’s head as it leans in towards the viewer fulfills the purpose of the image. This is no passive figure relying on faith to take hold but an active man clothed in a crumpled sheet (a winding sheet perhaps) bringing his physicality, and signs of his suffering head on! The emergence of the figure from the dark shadows which obscure part of his body only serves to emphasise the movement from death to life even more. I’m not a believer but it interests me that in a Catholic country a picture like this, in which there is no intercession or barrier between the figure of Christ and the contemporary observer of the image, would be commissioned. The catalogue writer surmises that the picture was intended to be viewed at eye level and was probably intended for private devotion.
And. lastly, I’m going to focus on two pictures of Cupid. The Caravaggio painting Sleeping Cupid 1608 oil on canvas is not in the exhibition but Orazio Riminaldi’s Cupid Asleep in a Landscape about 1628-30 oil on canvas is.
Neither image on this page does full justice to their original in terms of colouration but nonetheless it’s interesting to compare their use of the figure and why perhaps Caravaggio’s picture is more appealing. The catalogue informs us that it is likely that both artists used real models for these pictures. That would seem apparent with Caravaggio’s child and the pose seems fairly natural. Riminaldi’s model, obviously older, is arranged to heighten the sensuality of the figure; it’s clearly not a pose that would engender a good night’s sleep! Both are cradled in their wings which Caravaggio delineates with a subtle use of outline. Both use lighting but for different effect. Caravaggio circles the figure with dark shadows and uses a subtle control of lighting to linger over his figure highlighting the navel and face. Riminaldi, accentuates the complete nude figure, bathing it with light, to highlight its curves and sinuosity.
The Caravaggio is focusing on the infant-like figure with an uncharacteristic tenderness, it almost seems the wings are superfluous, whereas Riminaldi with his desire to include a landscape seems to compress and confine his figure within the flowers in the foreground and the extended countryside with classical architecture and Venus riding in a chariot in the distance. Not a total success!
If you visit the exhibition spend some time on; The Fortune Teller by Bartolomeo Manfredi, Caraveggio’s The Supper at Emmaus, (with that wonderful feminine-like Christ), and The Taking of Christ by Caraveggio. There is also the opportunity to see Artemisia Gentileschi’s Susannah and the Elders, 1622. All beautiful, dramatic and intriguing paintings.
WAHG Virtual Gallery and Christmas Greetings from me to you all!
Here’s my virtual Christmas Card to all WAHG members. It comes with a poem using the haiku form. The painting is The Magpie ‘La Pie’ oil-on-canvas by Claude Monet, created during the winter of 1868–1869 near the commune of Etretat in Normandy. Monet’s patron, Louis Joachim Gaudibert, helped arrange a house in Étretat for Monet’s girlfriend Camille Doncleaux and their newborn son, allowing Monet to paint in relative comfort, surrounded by his family. The actual size of the painting is approximately 4 feet by 3 feet. Just imagine getting that through your letter box!
The crystal white snow
that clings to the frozen land
like oil on canvas
Is an illusion
that pleases the viewer, but
not the hungry bird.