Tag Archives: 18th century

One for the kids… Andy Warhol and Philip Haas

20 Jun

The popularity of Andy Warhol will probably mean that many people will flock to Dulwich to see their latest exhibition.  And this is exactly what I did on Tuesday morning.  Sean, my trusty sat nav, took me round the North Circular and through the Rotherhithe Tunnel and soon as I was outside the gallery ready to have a coffee and a quick sunbathing session in the gardens of the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Warhol is renowned for turning himself into a brand and he is one of the most recognisable and important figures in recent art history.  His iconic prints of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup in particular will never leave our visual vocabulary.  Andy Warhol: The Portfolios focuses on the period from 1962-84 when he worked almost exclusively with silkscreen printing.  Using a method more commonly practised in commercial reproduction, Warhol transformed famous faces and still lives into fine art using multiple colour combinations (that required separate screens).  Warhol was a master at this technique and although he set up a factory-like system where he was rarely present to pull the screens himself, he selected the colours, the design and the form, and chose which prints were to be published.  The quality of these prints is of the highest standard, the colours are dazzling and the finish is exemplary.

Andy Warhol, Grapes D. D., 1979. Own photograph.

I don’t think the exhibition fully shows off the impact of all of Warhol’s work.  It’s nice but it’s a bit of a gentle show that doesn’t do enough to draw people in beyond the fact that the works are Warhol’s.

Warhol prints at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery is naturally long and narrow, providing a kind of viewing experience that is different from the norm.  The prints are densely hung, recalling an 18th century salon print room, as opposed to the usual white box hang customary for Warhol’s.  I often find the Dulwich space quite difficult and it certainly doesn’t work for all exhibitions.  Here, there are no wall panels or captions, instead the works are allowed to speak for themselves.  To be fair, we already know a lot about these works and many of them don’t require much explanation.

Andy Warhol: The Portfolios in situ at Dulwich. Own photograph.

Dulwich has chosen not to produce an exhibition catalogue to accompany the show as they’ve rightly said that there are so many books already in existence.  In general though, there seems to be something missing here.  Not just a catalogue but that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that would give this show more of a spark.

Running concurrently is an exhibition of Philip Haas works, a set of four 15-foot high fibreglass sculptures (found outdoors) and their maquettes.  The works are huge recreations of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th century paintings that Haas aims to bring into a physical reality.  The small maquettes are actually more effective than the finished pieces although, placed in the Gallery, they distract from Dulwich’s amazing permanent collection.  The setting of the gardens is more appropriate with Winter now a three-dimensional gnarled tree trunk emerging from the Gallery grounds but at this scale the pieces become too garish.

Philip Haas works in the Dulwich gardens. Own photograph.

A warden actually told me that ‘the kids love it’; although it’s great to attract all age groups into the Gallery I’m not sure that this should be the selling point of an exhibition at a gallery of such calibre.  In my opinion, although striking, these works make a mockery of the Arcimboldo paintings on which they are modelled.  The faces lose the profound sensitivity that Arcimboldo managed to create through assembled fruit.  It seems strange to have these comic playful pieces juxtaposed with the iconic imagery of Warhol.

For obvious reasons the Warhol exhibition is being given far more prominence in the literature produced but the Haas can’t help but make an immediate visual statement when you walk in.

Philip Haas works in the Dulwich gardens. Own photograph.

I did enjoy the Warhol but I left feeling a bit unsure.  Dulwich is always a treat but I think I expected a little more.  My lack of excitement wasn’t helped when Sean let me down on the homeward journey and decided that I should go home via Clapham and Chelsea.  I had no idea I’d set off in the wrong direction and so my cunning plan to avoid central London was foiled.

Andy Warhol: The Portfolios is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 16th September 2012, www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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Mad Mission to Manchester

29 Apr

Normally when I go out of London on an art trip I plan my day with military precision.  My companions are normally slightly scared by the colour-coded maps.  But the week had been exceptionally busy and, when I sat down on the train, I only had four galleries on my list and it was on track to be a relaxing visit.  As you may have realised though, relaxing doesn’t come easily to me and, with a two-hour train journey and  good internet connection on my side, I started having a look at what else I could be visiting.  And wow did I get a shock.  Manchester appeared to be a veritable treasure trove of museums, galleries, historic buildings and, of course, it has a cathedral.  The tourist board website lists 67 galleries – I had my work cut out.

So I picked a host of things for my to-do and see list – slightly ambitious even for me considering I didn’t know my way around Manchester.

I bounded off the train like an over-excited puppy and headed straight to the Whitworth Gallery as this was always number one on my list.

The Whitworth Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The Whitworth Art Gallery is set within Whitworth Park and is part of the University of Manchester.  Currently three exhibitions are on show – COTTON: Global Threads tells the story of the production, consumption and global trade of cotton, with exhibits showing worldwide diversity that afford particularly attention to the fashion and textiles from India.  This isn’t really my area of interest so, although I had a quick look, I didn’t spend too long studying the displays in depth but it is a very well-planned exhibition with brilliant movement-activated display cases that are triggered on approach.  The exhibition includes Yinka Shonibare’s Boy with a Globe 4 using the Dutch wax-printed cotton that has become a trademark of his work.

Yinka Shonibare, Boy with a Globe 4. Own photograph.

Upstairs is an interesting piece by Ahmed Mater, Magnetism IV, which evokes the feeling of the first day of pilgrimage to Mecca, when pilgrims walk around the Ka’ba seven times counter-clockwise, by using tens of thousands of iron filings placed between the fields of two magnets.  A couple of galleries were closed for re-hang but there is also a small Victor Pasmore exhibition upstairs showing a series of his later screenprints exploring geometrical forms, lines and colour that suggest elegant organic movement.

Ahmed Mater, Magnetism IV. Own photograph.

The main reason for my visit to the Whitworth was to see Idris Khan’s The Devil’s Wall, an installation that draws on the rituals of the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).  As always, Khan blurs the boundaries between the secular and the spiritual.  The main elements of the exhibition are three, black, cylindrical sculptures that slope down into infinite funnels.  Khan has printed text from the Quran (in English and Arabic) on the works, radiating outwards, sometimes disappearing into the black holes.  The sculptures reference the stoning of the Jamarat where pilgrims chant and throw seven stones at three walls in three different locations to crush the devil.

Idris Khan, The Devil’s Wall. Image via www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

The works are very contemplative; displayed in a darkened room they evoke the voyage of self-discovery that Khan took in making these works.  His parallel concepts of repetition are also seen in a series of drawings, 21 Stones, that were printed using a rubber stamp.  Again making use of a circular motion they repetitively show statements from the Quran in a chant-like format.  Also on show is Voices where Khan experiments with the repetitive nature of Philip Glass’s music in a series of spell-binding, tranquil works where the notes appear to move around the stave.

Idris Khan, Voices. Image via www.wallpaper.com

Although highly complex, Khan’s works do no alienate or intimidate.  Instead, they invite people to reflect on the messages and traditions on which they focus.  I don’t normally comment on the exhibition guides but this one deserves mention; it is really brilliant, clearly explaining the works without over-simplifying or over-complicating.

Idris Khan, The Devil’s Wall.  Image via http://margaret-cooter.blogspot.com

Onwards, I hailed a cab to go to see the Victoria Baths, a building that has been the focus of much heritage attention over the last few years.  Opened in 1906, the Baths were then described as “the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country” and became famous, not only for its design but for the Olympic swimmers who trained there.  In 1993 the council could no longer justify the expense of keeping the baths open and a committee was formed to try to save the building.  Over the years it’s been consistently in the public eye, winning the first series of the BBC’s Restoration in 2003 as well as having been awarded a considerable amount from the Heritage Lottery Fund which then became embroiled in complications.

The multi-coloured brick façade is stunning and many of the original features remain.  Sadly, I wasn’t around on a day when the interior was open for tours although I have seen many pictures and the potential for great arts installations in the past but it is a stunning building and I was glad to take a peek at this architectural gem.

Victoria Baths. Own photograph.

I carried on in my cab to see the UMIST building – an imposing red-brick building on Sackville Street.  I was already gaining the impression that Manchester is architecturally a very rich city.

UMIST building. Own photograph.

My next stop was Cornerhouse, Manchester’s centre for contemporary visual art and film.  Their current exhibition, Subversion, brings together 11 artists to rethink ‘modern’ and ‘Arab’ identity.  The exhibition looks at the stereotypical preoccupations that we have come to know as, or associate with, the Arab world.  I particularly liked Larissa Sansour’s striking photographs.  There are lots of video-based works and the top floor gallery is an immersive space for visitors to tamper with, that includes video games, a retro cinema and jigsaw puzzles.  The venue has a project-space, experimental vibe to it.  Cornerhouse feels like a cultural hub and I decided to stop for a late lunch and soak up the buzzy atmosphere.

Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate – Jerusalem Floor. Own photograph.

From there I was able to walk up the road to Central Library but unfortunately, in my rushed research, I had amazingly omitted to notice that it’s shut for a huge restoration project.  From the tiny sections that weren’t covered in scaffolding I could see how beautiful the neoclassical circular space must be but, alas, there wasn’t much I could do so I hopped over the tram lines down Mosley Street to the Manchester Art Gallery.

Manchester’s Central Library. Own photograph.

Downstairs is A Sleek Dry Yell, 2008 by Haroon Mirza which uses everyday sound and objects to reassemble redundant analogue technology.  Sound becomes sculpture although it echoes annoyingly around the entire building.  Again, some of the permanent galleries were shut for re-hang but they have a great 18th century collection with all the usual suspects – Highmore, a very dirty Hogarth, Gainsborough, Romney, Reynolds…   It’s a pleasant enough gallery but not too thrilling. It is, however, a comprehensive collection and a much larger space that I expected partly due to a surprising modern extension at the back where Gormley’s Filter hangs from the ceiling; a figure (of course) made of welded steel rings showing the body as a container.  The work hangs in space, open to light and the elements.  The steel rings mean that the figure’s skin becomes porous so there is a fluid transition from internal to external expressing freedom of movement and experience.

Antony Gormley, Filter. Own photograph.

What the Manchester Art Gallery does well is present a small and manageable introduction to the various periods of art history with works by a number of key artists.  I was constantly surprised by the calibre of some of the works but, equally, I was often disappointed by how they had paired them.  The top floor presents a gallery of craft and design which was a bit too cluttered for my liking as well as an interesting exhibition of Roger Ballen’s photographs.  I’m not sure why these things keep happening to me but I managed to approach this from the wrong side and was consequently surprised to find that this is his first UK exhibition and is, in fact, a huge retrospective.  Ballen lived and worked in South Africa for over 30 years, exploring small rural towns with a different world and culture.  His works have a stark black and white format which blurs the line between fantasy and reality in what he used to term ‘documentary fiction’.

Roger Ballen, Puppy between feet. Own photograph.

Rushing to avoid the impending rain, I headed to the John Rylands Library, a memorial building erected by Rylands’ third wife to house his 70,000 books and manuscripts.  The building is thought to be one of the best examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe.  Built as a chapel with stained glass windows rising from either end, the magnificent vaulted ceiling of the historic reading room demands awe and respect.  Although the outside of the building is filthy, the interior is beautifully preserved and this was easily the artistic highlight of my day.

The historic reading room at the John Rylands library. Own photograph.

I wandered past the mega shopping area by The Royal Exchange and went to Manchester Cathedral. Building commenced in 1421 but it has undergone some fairly hefty restoration in its time. Although it’s a great building it couldn’t really compare with the library I’d just come from.  I was lucky that there was organ practice while I was there so, once I’d looked around, I was able to sit and soak up the architecture while appreciating the acoustic splendour.

Manchester Cathedral. Own photograph.

Needless to say, by cocktail time I was becoming quite exhausted and my legs were suffering so The Alchemist was a perfect refuge.  Thanks to google maps and my wonderful sense of geography I had managed to see everything without getting lost.   I had only one thing on my list for the following day; I have no doubt that there is more to do and there are some gorgeous buildings on the outskirts of the city but I’ll have to save these for my next visit.  For my Manchester night out I headed over to the Lowry for Opera della Luna’s modern reworking of Don Giovanni, a comic portrayal of opera’s infamous lothario.  The perfect end to my day!

The Lowry. Own photograph.

After exploring the canals of Salford on Saturday morning I popped back to the Lowry to see their exhibition space – after all you can’t come to Manchester and not have a true Lowry indulgence.  I have always loved Lowry so obviously I have a strong bias here but his works have such character, charm and life that it’s impossible not to love them.  This is a really good collection and doesn’t just show the typical paintings for which he is popular.  Also on display are a range of his beautiful seascapes inspired by the North Sea showing infinite open spaces, loaded with meaning and emotion.  As Lowry grew older he became more and more fascinated with bizarre characters although some of his collectors found this surreal twist to his work too radical a departure.

L.S. Lowry, Going to the Match. Image via www.thelowry.com

There is also an Annie Lennox exhibition offering insights into her life and career as a singer, songwriter, campaigner and activist. I’m not quite sure it fits here as there is no distinction between the spaces except for wall colour but Lowry Favourites and this are independently two very good shows.

It was sadly time to leave Manchester and head back to the torrential rain in the South.  Most of the buildings and galleries deserve far more attention than I’ve afforded them here but, due to the amount I somehow managed to cram in, I’ve tried to keep each section brief.  I had a really relaxing and exciting trip and was fascinated to see some of Manchester that people don’t normally talk about or bother to notice.

COTTON: Global Threads, Idris Khan: The Devil’s Wall and Victor Pasmore; Transformations are all at the Whitworth Art Gallery until 13th May 2012, www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk.   Subversion is at Cornerhouse until 5th June 2012, www.cornerhouse.orgRoger Ballen: Shadowland, Photographs 1983-2011 is at Manchester Art Gallery until 13th May, www.manchestergalleries.orgLowry Favourites is at The Lowry until 6th July 2012 and The House of Annie Lennox is at The Lowry until 17th June 2012, www.thelowry.com.  For more details about any of the other places visited see: www.victoriabaths.org.uk, www.manchester.gov.uk/directory_record/3962/central_library, www.library.manchester.ac.uk/deansgate, www.royalexchange.co.uk/page.aspx, www.manchestercathedral.org, www.operadellaluna.org and www.visitsalford.info.

Kenwood’s Closing…

13 Mar

I don’t often make it over to the Estorick Collection – a gallery which I still think is one of the most unknown and undervalued in London.  This afternoon I decided to take a break from the computer and drive to Canonbury.  I know the Estorick is shut on a Monday (having nearly been caught out in the past) but, be warned everyone, it is also shut on a Tuesday.  I arrived to find the gates locked.  I was not a happy bunny to say the least.

So the challenge arose to find somewhere to visit on the way home in order not to have a wasted journey.  My choices were Highgate Cemetery (but I didn’t really fancy walking around in the cold), Keat’s House, Freud’s House (also closed on a Tuesday (!)) or Kenwood House (one of my all time favourites).   Kenwood won!

If you haven’t been then this really is a must-visit property.  Known for its amazing summer concerts, which have not been without controversy over the past few years, and for having appeared in many films including Notting Hill, Kenwood, owned by English Heritage, is set in the parkland of Hampstead Heath.

Kenwood House. Image via www.english-heritage.org.uk

The house dates from the 1600s but, on acquisition by Lord Mansfield in 1754, was remodelled into what we see today by Robert Adam, who worked on the stucco frontages, the North Front portico, the library wing and the third storey.  It is acknowledged to be one of England’s greatest stately homes and an obvious identifier of Adam’s style; this was a terribly important commission for Adam due its position and would have propelled him into the awareness of the London aristocracy.  There have always been problems with his famous stucco exterior and Lord Mansfield apparently commented that it would have been cheaper to cover the whole front with marble.  Some of the details that are there today are replicated in fibre glass from Adam’s engraving.

Kenwood House. Own photograph.

Of course, the building has undergone many more changes since Adam’s involvement, including, in 1793, the addition of two wings by George Saunders that flank the entrance portico, but it still preserves the grandeur and elegance that Adam intended.

Kenwood House. Own photograph.

The library, then called the Great Room, is the epitome of Adam’s work, his tour de force and the house’s crowning glory.  It would have appeared even more splendid in the 18th century as the climax of Adam’s suite of rooms.  Remarkably, it remained nearly unaltered until 1922 when some of the furniture was sold at auction.  It’s yet another place where I did some work experience during which I helped to conserve and clean not only some of the paintings but the library.  Cleaning has never been top of my list of favourite things but there was a bit more to it than dusting and vacuuming.

The Great Room at Kenwood.  Image via http://londonbytes.wordpress.com

Kenwood also contains the Iveagh Bequest, the art collection of Edward Cecil Guinness, great grandson of the founder of the Dublin brewery.  He retired early to devote himself to the collection of art and acquired works by Gainsborough, Romney, Reynolds, Turner, Hogarth as well as a self-portrait by Rembrandt and Vermeer’s Guitar Player, exemplifying his late style.  Although the house couldn’t be more English in character it provides a setting for global art, an exemplar collection of the very best of European paintings.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait, 1665. Image via www.rembrandtpainting.net

Specialising in the 18th century, it’s hard for me to pick favourites but one of my personal highlights is Hogarth’s Taste in High Life which shows the folly and superficiality of aristocratic taste.  A forerunner to Marriage à la Mode, the humour is typically Hogarthian showing two heavily caricatured connoisseurs in raptures over a mundane cup and saucer.  Another aristocrat examines a black pageboy, a satire on his masters and the embodiment of the Orient and sexual excess.  There is also a gorgeous small Constable of Hampstead Heath with Pond and Bathers from 1821, a view that Constable often painted to aid him with his focus on the sky.

Print of William Hogarth, Taste in High Life, 1746. Image via www.vam.ac.uk

Outside, the landscaped gardens lead down to the beautiful lake and acres upon acres of muddy marshland.  I always end up coming to Kenwood without my dogs despite this being a dog walkers’ paradise, probably because I appreciate the house too much and can spend time with my two slobbery Clumbers any day.

The fake bridge at Kenwood. Own photograph.

You’ll have to hurry to Kenwood as it is scheduled to close at the start of April for a £5.3 million restoration project that will include vital roof repairs, the replacement of the skylights, repointing and sweeping of more than 100 chimneys and the stripping down and repair of the façade.

Fear not!  When I first heard this news I thought what a travesty it was to shut away such a wonderful collection even if repairs are essential but English Heritage has had great foresight and their incredible art collection will tour to three American galleries while the Vermeer will be loaned to the National Gallery.

The grounds, however, will still be open so there’s the opportunity to picnic and sunbathe, admire the contemporary sculpture and watch the restoration taking place but if you don’t manage to visit the house this month you’ll have to wait until late summer of next year.

Kenwood’s Orangerie.  Image via www.omgimgettingmarried.com

Kenwood is a beautiful place to visit and, amazingly English Heritage still open it to the public without charge.  I wonder if this will change post-restoration.  In the meantime, it is truly splendid and somewhere I don’t pop to often enough despite its close proximity to my home.  I’m glad I was able to see it again before it closes and was able to turn my earlier misfortune to my advantage.  Plus, rather surprisingly, I was even in appropriate footwear for a romp through the grounds.

Kenwood House is run by English Heritage, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood-house/.  It will be open until 31st March 2012.

My Love Affair Continues – Zoffany at the Royal Academy

7 Mar

Aged 16, on work experience at Tate Britain, I was lucky enough to hang an 18th century gallery called Portraits and Perspectives.  I’d always had a strong fancy for the period but this marked the start of another of my enduring love affairs with the 18th century.  It was during this placement that I first properly encountered Johan Zoffany through a pair of portraits that we hung flanking the door at the far end of the room.  One of the works included the most gorgeous water-dog, covered in ringlets staring animatedly at the three boys in the picture.

So, I was ecstatic when I heard that the RA were mounting an exhibition of Zoffany’s works and was excited to see if these portraits were included.  Once again, the RA’s Sackler Wing programme shines and this exhibition does not disappoint.

Johan Zoffany, The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-7. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The first room has been split into lots of smaller galleries.  This does mean that there is quite a tight entrance in gallery one, that I imagine will become jammed, but it provides a good introduction to the artist.  Because of this split the first and last rooms are back-to-back and I imagine people will hurry past the last three works.

Room one of the exhibition. Own photograph.

Born in Frankfurt, Zoffany boldly decided to move in 1760 to England, a country experiencing rapid social change and growth.  (The exhibition is arranged thematically and room three begins to explore his work in England.)  Soon after his arrival, Zoffany met David Garrick, his first major patron, who achieved great success as an actor in the 1760s.  Zoffany was able to encapsulate Garrick’s success on stage, producing numerous works that perfectly portray the atmosphere of the moment.  In most of his theatre portraits, he artificially compresses the performance space to intensify the sense of intimacy with the actors.

One such striking work is William Powell as Posthumus in ‘Cymbeline’; Powell was one of the rising stars of Georgian theatre and, here he is seen at the opening of Act Five, Scene Two where he enters with a bloody handkerchief.  Zoffany’s portraits maintain a striking air of dignity while his subjects seem natural and at ease.  He uses the same style regardless of the class of the sitter and his detail and vivacity is always vibrant as he expresses his unique humour through social commentary.

Johan Zoffany, William Powell as Posthumus in ‘Cymbeline’, c. 1767. Own photograph.

The exhibition progresses to look at Zoffany’s interest in art academies that began when he painted artists attending a life class at the St Martin’s Lane Academy.  In 1770, he started an ambitious behind-the-scenes portrait of the Royal Academicians.  The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy shows 36 individuals, 34 of whom were RAs; Thomas Gainsborough, George Dance and his brother are absent, possibly due to their discontent with the ideals of the Academy at the time.  It was not yet deemed appropriate for women to be included so female Academicians, Kauffman and Muser, are shown by their portraits.  The work is fundamentally a large conversation piece showing the Academicians setting the model for the life class.  This is not an actual record of practices at the Academy as research reveals that the life model was never set by the Academicians or the Keeper, as shown here.  Instead, it is a record of those who held membership of the Academy, highlighting the aesthetic programme that they supported.  Zoffany himself is seen on the left, closest to the front, with a palette and brushes in hand.  From this position he can survey the whole scene and all who stand before him – perhaps it is even one of the most important positions here.

Johan Zoffany, The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-2. Own photograph.

In 1764, Zoffany was introduced to George III and Queen Charlotte who liked his meticulous painting style.  His earliest Royal portraits are striking conversation pieces showing the domestic aspect of the court.  The portraits show the Royals relaxed; the works are memorable and real.  Zoffany’s career flourished and he was in much demand.

Royal Portraits at the RA. Own photograph.

The same year, Zoffany purchased Stile House near Chiswick, situated near to the Estate of John Stuart, Third Earl of Bute.  Accounts of how they met vary greatly but John Stuart was a significant painter and collector and had commissioned Zoffany the previous year.  These are the works that I mentioned at the start – a gorgeous pair of portraits of the children of the Third Earl of Bute.  It is in this sort of work, his informal domestic or landscape scenes, that we really see how great Zoffany is.  The paintings are the same size and each is dominated by a tree against a low horizon with the figures in a broadly triangular grouping.   The tree, which was common in Zoffany’s landscapes, helps to root the sitters in the space as well as providing symbolic overtones of the family tree.  The works share a touch of playfulness; the painting of the boys emphasises important masculine qualities and pursuits appropriate to their future as leaders or heroes.   The work concentrates on themes of elite masculine privileges.  The image of the girls, however, is more feminine in style showing ideas of responsibility.  The girls are engaged in activities that suggest their nurturing and motherly qualities.  The wall label here is far too low, or maybe these boots are far too high, but it is very rare that I have to bend down to read something.

Johan Zoffany, Three Sons of John, Third Earl of Bute and Three Daughters of John, Third Earl of Bute, 1763-4. Own photograph.

Until this point the wall colours had varied so frequently that parts of the gallery resembled a darkened rainbow but from here on in the lighting improves and the gallery aesthetic seems more coherent.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a stunning exhibition of works by a stunning painter and the exhibition is uplifting.  Zoffany travelled extensively throughout his life and the penultimate room looks at his passage to India and the six years he spent there from Spring 1783; he had an astounding interest in global commerce and was always on the move.

A Passage to India. Own photograph.

This exhibition is long overdue as Tate Britain cancelled their planned Zoffany show in 2010, worried that there wouldn’t be enough public interest.  Zoffany may not have the fame of Reynolds, Gainsborough or Hogarth but he is a fascinating artist whose life deserves the attention it is now receiving.  He may well always be an outsider but maybe it is this that should interest us the most.   The journalist with me yesterday morning was not a Zoffany fan but I was not deterred by his initial despondency and I’m pleased to say that, partly thanks to my infectious enthusiasm, by the end of the exhibition he was a convert.

Zoffany’s works are about human behaviour, covering all aspects of 18th century society.  Not enough people know about Zoffany but through these 60 or so paintings and a selection of drawings and prints it becomes easy to argue his importance to the artistic culture and heritage of the 18th century.  The catalogue is a beautifully designed book providing an in-depth look at his career.

I came out feeling calmer and ready to tackle the day, immersed into Zoffany’s 18th century society.

Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed is at the Royal Academy from Saturday 10th March until 10th June 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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