Tag Archives: Gainsborough

Seduced and Surprised by the National Gallery

4 Nov

Early on Tuesday morning, I joined the throng of commuters walking across Green Park.  I was freezing and realised that fingerless gloves don’t do very much now it’s winter!  I was off to a bloggers’ breakfast at the Queen’s Gallery – the Palace are embracing new technology – to view their new exhibition, The Northern Renaissance ­­.

The exhibition apparently reunites the enemies and allies of Henry VIII’s court, a place characterised by political intrigue and betrayal.   With around 130 works, it is a great excuse to show off some of the Royal Collection’s Renaissance gems including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Urs Grat and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Artists responded to changing ideas and a revival in humanism by producing ingenious works with advancing technical skill.

The Northern Renaissance at The Queen’s Gallery.  Own photograph.

The period saw an increase in the demand for tapestries, moveable furnishings that demonstrated the wealth and power of the owner.  When this exhibition was on display in Scotland, these weren’t shown as the exhibition was in a smaller form.  This show also teaches us that the Renaissance is not only Italian and concentrates on Northern Europe with particular emphasis on Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger.

One of the tapestries in the exhibition. Own photograph.

Without Holbein we wouldn’t even know what Henry VIII looked like and he also immortalised many of the personalities of Henry’s court.  The exhibition opens with a lovely collection of Holbein drawings.

The Apocalypse was a popular subject for illustration in the Middle Ages.  In 1498, Dürer published the Book of Revelations with 15 illustrations – incredible nightmarish scenes including figures from all sections of society, reminding viewers that no-one would be spared the day of judgement.  Dürer understood how to brand himself and his AD monogram, placed on all his works, made his art instantly identifiable.

Dürer’s The Apocalypse. Own photograph.

The Bruegel work, Massacre of the Innocents, which is normally on view in isolation in Windsor, is here seen in context.  But, this piece presents an interesting conundrum; during its lifetime, when owned by Emperor Rudolph II in Prague, nearly all the slaughtered children and babies were painted over to change the tone of the scene.  Evidence of them can be found using infra-red reflectography.  Do we intervene or accept that this is the history of the work?

Bruegel, Massacre of the Innocents. Own photograph.

In this vein, the gallery has conserved eight paintings for this exhibition, bringing them back to life.  One example of this is Holbein’s Hans of Antwerp – the cleaned portrait reveals new details and clues as to who this sitter may actually be but how much conservation is too much?!

Holbein, Hans of Antwerp. Own photograph.

The Queen’s Gallery do get their brightly coloured walls right and the exhibition is dark but not gloomy.  This is a much more serious exhibition than their usual and the curators haven’t gone for tricks to attract punters.  It’s a bit of a mix but maybe that is the point – to show the truly varied practice of this period.  This is a large and thoughtful exhibition (although sometimes the delicacy of the drawings is lost) and I don’t really know if it is right for their audience.  It’s alright but it’s not mind-blowing.

One exhibition, however, which is mind-blowing is Seduced by Art at the National Gallery.  I didn’t know what to think about the ideas behind this show so my expectations were low but it is sensational.

As soon as I walked into the first room I was grabbed (not literally).  Visitors are greeted by Jeff Wall’s The Destroyed Room, 1978, where he evokes the destructive frenzy of Delacroix’s painting The Death of Sardanapalus.  This is Wall’s earliest attempt to quote the past and he incorporates spectacle into the photograph, showing the aftermath of man-made disaster.  This room looks at how photographers responded to fine art traditions, especially painting; it’s called Setting the Scene which is what it does – it is a room of theatre.

Jeff Wall, The Destroyed Room.  Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada and via www.ng-london.org.uk

This is an exhibition that constantly surprised me.  If I had any doubts, they were gone by room two (portraits) where I was greeted by Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (one of my all-time favourite paintings, loved all the more for its inclusion in Freya North’s Chloë) alongside Martin Parr’s Signs of the Times from 1991.  Parr recognised the satiric potential of a protracted pose.  His discomfort contradicts the couple in Gainsborough’s work but this is a clever and fascinating juxtaposition that is still making me smile that nearly a week on.  Parr’s work has a real edge but he also takes a well-considered look at social portraiture through pose and stance, among other things.  It encapsulates something very different to the usual snapshot, showing a young couple at the beginning of their married life in their first home – in this way, the work is very sympathetic to Gainsborough.

Parr and Gainsborough.  Own photograph.

Moving on, the Learoyd photo of Man with Octopus Tattoo II,which has been used for all the publicity, is here compared with the Laocoön group.  The National Gallery argues that they have a similarly sensuous and disturbing impact.   The resemblances don’t go very far aesthetically but the ideas are shocking in both.

Learoyd and surrounding works at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

The National Gallery is once again giving their large middle room a church-like atmosphere and here the exhibition presents provocative religious imagery.  Included is Thomas Struth’s photograph of visitors to the National Gallery viewing one of their altarpieces.  Is this photo real?  What are we looking at, a snapshot or a carefully contrived and created moment?  We will never really know and this helps to teach us to question what is presented to us.  The exhibition also shows the incredible advances that have taken place within the medium.

Religious imagery.  Own photograph.

Three photographs have also been incorporated into the permanent collections offering a sensational effect.  Each comparison is a revelation making a statement using the most incredible works to support its arguments.  It’s hard to keep superlatives from my writing as the exhibition really was so good!

Seduced by Art is not trying to be a survey, nor is it a history of photography.  It’s making an argument.  Whether or not you agree, the exhibition is a dialogue that looks at significant moments.  A survey of photographs can be found anywhere but this exhibition is different.  People who know and understand painting are led into photographs, people who love early photographs can see their relevance to contemporary work and so on.  It presents historical painting, alongside historical photography, alongside contemporary photographs.  It is a tripartite exhibition with various points of access that all knit together perfectly.  The rooms work into each other, offering wonderful vistas.  They bring connections between old, new and subject matter through a series of amazing loans.

Julia Margaret Cameron, Kate Keown, c. 1866.  Image courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography and via www.ng-london.org.uk

This is a very darkly lit, theatrical and beautiful exhibition.  It is an enthralling show and, rare as this is for me to say, I genuinely cannot get over how great it is.  It took me by surprise.  The curators have surpassed themselves.  The press release describes the exhibition as ground-breaking and I find myself agreeing.  I will certainly be back for another visit as it deserves a lot of time, attention and awe.

 

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 14th April 2013.  Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present is at the National Gallery until 20th January 2013.

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Well Heeled in Dover Street

30 Mar

This is not a piece about specific exhibitions, more about the gallery spaces on a certain, very fashionable road – Dover Street!

Dover Street is happening.  It’s always been on the right side of trendy but now the art market is really moving in and it’s another enclave of galleries, fashion, clubs and restaurants.   Dealers and business owners must be waiting eagerly for leases to become available.

Dover Street. Own photograph.

I first began working on Dover Street at the Air Gallery for Rob Ryan’s The Stars Shine All Day Too at the end of 2010.  Unfortunately, due to rising rents, the Air Gallery has been taken over by Wolf & Badger (which will open shortly).

Wolf & Badger. Own photograph.

So, although I know this street well, I wanted to have a stroll to see how it’s developing.  Starting at the Piccadilly end, I popped into Alon Zakaim’s new space.  Zakaim opened his gallery on Cork Street in 2006 at the address of Peggy Guggenheim’s first London gallery.  His second space shows the gallery’s development; a good ten times bigger than Cork Street, Zakaim has transformed what used to be Alexia Goethe into a striking new gallery with dark walls, wooden floors focused lighting and a reflective atmosphere.  Although it’s too big to have the intimacy of his first space, the gallery does envelope you in a private, but friendly, atmosphere.  It has been designed to show off top quality art and it does just that.  Their opening exhibition covers 100 years of art history including a handful of top names to demonstrate their prestige.

Alon Zakaim Fine Art.  Image courtesy of Rob Ewen and via www.alonzakaim.com

Directly opposite is Clarendon Fine Art where I was greeted warmly on arrival and complimented on my shoes.  I knew, at that point, that I’d struck a winner here.  Their space is also stunning but about as different from Zakaim’s as possible with split levels and bright lights.  Clarendon tend to follow a pattern of solo shows to highlight one of their established gallery names, interspersed with two-week mixed exhibitions to show off their less prominent stable of artists.  It’s an elegant space with a tempting looking bar installed at the back.  They aim to introduce contemporary art to a wide-ranging audience and their artists include the likes of crowd-pleaser Rolf Harris.

A mixed exhibition at Clarendon Fine Art. Own photograph.

Heading up the street I passed the Arts Club, still the hot spot of Mayfair since its refurb and relaunch and the current place to be seen and sip a drink watching the gliteratti and the art world elite.

Next up, occupying the space where Richard Green used to be, is another newcomer  – Gazelli Art House, run by a dealer from Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan has been in the arts press recently, since the launch of the 012 Baku Public Art Festival at the end of February where 20 local artists are working on site specific projects across Baku, presenting newly-commissioned, public work.  The works will be unveiled every Friday until September, embracing Baku’s heritage through contemporary culture.   Most of us cannot even spell Azerbaijan on first attempt, let alone explain where it is so it’s bizarre to see its art suddenly being propelled into the public horizon.  Azerbaijan will also be more press conscious as hosts of the Eurovision this year and wish to send out a very positive image of their city.

Baku. Image via www.en.99ys.com

Since moving to London, director Mila Askarova ran a number of pop-up spaces and has now launched Gazelli’s first permanent London space.  The actual gallery space is quite small; most of the building seems to be closed off for private viewing.  Gazelli’s inaugural exhibition includes a mix of six international artists one of whom is Shan Hur, a young Korean artist who I spotted at his graduate show in 2010 and picked as one to watch.

Gazelli Art House. Own photograph.

Crossing the road again and walking up past Dover Street Market and Brown’s Hotel, I arrived at Philip Mould – one of the original incumbents of Dover Street and a leading specialist in British art and Old Masters.  Mould always has an impressive display and his 18th century works – including a rather lovely Gainsborough and Kauffman – made me swoon.

Philip Mould. Own photograph.

Passing Hay Hill, which offers yet more galleries, I headed up the street.  As Dover Street turns into Grafton Street, Spruth Magers crowns the street.  Housed on Dover Street since 2003, the gallery represents a handful of internationally-renowned artists and their current Boetti show complements Tate Modern’s retrospective.

Spruth Magers. Own photograph.

Two more prestigious dealers are set to open here and, this October, the 18th century townhouse at number 24 Grafton Street will be taken over by David Zwirner.  This will be another gallery with an historically important location; prominent past residents include Lord Robert Cecil, the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury (who was twice Prime Minister) and Helena Rubinstein.  Spread over five floors, the gallery will have almost 10,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Grafton Street. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Of course, just a stone’s throw from the wonders of Cork Street, Old Bond Street and Savile Row, the development of Dover Street is only natural.  There’s a real buzz building and it’s not to be ignored.

It was time to stop for tea at Aubaine, a contemporary French bistro, boulangerie and patisserie, recently opened in the place of Chez Gerard on Dover Street.   It’s a bit quiet and lacking atmosphere at the moment but, no doubt, in time it will become more popular as they are serving the most amazing Nutella crème brûlée pots that are guaranteed to tempt even those without a sweet tooth.

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.

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