Tag Archives: Salvador Dali

Bourgeois through Freud: A Trip to Maresfield Gardens

17 Mar

Since I popped to Kenwood during the week I have realised that I don’t make the most of the art on my doorstep.   And so, on this particularly grey and rainy day, I donned a pair of wellies and set off for the Freud Museum.  In a beautiful residential street in Hampstead is the house where Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life.

The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens. Own photograph.

Watching the traffic warden walk up and down with his camera, I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes waiting until the residents’ bays were available for everyone which gave me ample opportunity to admire the exterior of this gorgeous red-brick, revitalist, Queen Anne style house.  Freud’s daughter Anna (along with his wife, sister-in-law and housemaid) continued living at Maresfield Gardens after his death in September 1939 and, on Anna’s death in 1982, in accordance with her wishes, the house was turned into a museum.  It contains Freud’s collections of antiquities with around 2,000 items filling cabinets, shelves and every conceivable surface.  It also houses Freud’s extensive library as well as memories of Anna’s own research; there is a room specifically dedicated to her upstairs which explains that she was a keen weaver and a knitting enthusiast, hence the presence of looms in the house.

Plaques on Freud’s House. Own photograph.

The study and library are preserved as they were at the time of Freud’s death and these take up a large portion of the ground floor.  It is a mark of Anna’s devotion to her father and acknowledgement of the importance of his work that these rooms remain untouched – his spectacles still sit on his desk.

Freud’s Study. Image via www.freud.org.uk

Here, visitors can see the original analytic couch (a gift from a grateful patient) where patients would reveal everything that came to mind and where psychoanalysis was born.  This is the heart of the house and reflects the complexity and diversity of Freud’s life – colourful oriental rugs carpet the floor, antiquities litter the shelves and the walls are lined with books.  The guide to the house discusses Freud’s obvious passion and dedication to collecting.  In fact, everybody seemed to be leaving the Museum with a shopping bag, their interest having been sparked by this remarkable property.

Freud’s couch. Image via www.freud.org.uk

Freud’s eclectic collection of furniture and art can be seen across the rest of the house too.  This includes portraits of him by Ferdinand Schmutzer and Salvador Dali – a work on blotting paper that shows Freud’s head based on the shape of a snail.

Salvador Dali, Portrait of Sigmund Freud, 1938. Image via www.freud.org.uk

The museum regularly holds special exhibitions and it was mainly for this reason I was visiting today.  Heading into the conservatory (now the shop) to buy entrance tickets affords a lovely view of the garden which was very important to Freud, who reflected his own interests through the changing seasons.  It has also been preserved and Anna’s trowel still rests beside a terracotta flower pot.  Today, the garden is occupied by a Louise Bourgeois spider, one of the most enduring images from her oeuvre.  This marks the start of Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed which shows the impact of psychoanalysis on her art and thinking.  Although she was always ambivalent to pigeon-hole her work into one genre, she readily admitted that her pieces were a form of psychoanalysis – a confessional art that allowed her to express some of her complicated feelings about her past and come to grips with her anxieties, directly accessing her unconscious.  She was also fascinated by Freud and, as part of the exhibition, the Museum has republished her essay Freud’s Toys, a piece in response to an exhibition of Freud’s collection, with a short introduction from the curator, Phillip Larratt-Smith.

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1994. Image courtesy of Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read and via www.freud.org.uk

When Bourgeois died in 2010 she had given Larratt-Smith permission to display her newly discovered writings alongside a series of sculptures.  Viewing them side-by-side, in the house of the father of psychoanalysis, allows us to see how Bourgeois found sculptural equivalents for the psychological states of fear, guilt, aggression, and so on.

The exhibition seeks to offer a unique insight into Bourgeois’ cathartic practice, looking at her art and writings as a whole.  The dining room, which opens off the conservatory is given over to the first room of the Bourgeois exhibition and includes the work Knife Figure, 2002, a fabric variation of her earlier femme couteau.  Here, the woman’s identity has been displaced as her head has been replaced by an attacking knife.  In Freudian terms, the knife may be seen to take on a phallic form warding off the fear of castration hence the amputated leg.  Bourgeois’s parents made a living repairing and restoring tapestries so she grew up surrounded by textiles – it was this early exposure to fabric that led to it being such a vital component of many of her works.

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled (double sided), c. 1960. Image courtesy of Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read and via www.freud.org.uk

We are afforded a more personal experience by seeing her work in such an unusual, intimate setting.  Although it was busy, the Freud museum can only accommodate around 200 visitors a day so it’s never going to be swamped.  Half way up the stairs, flooded in light from the large bay window, is Dangerous Obsession, 2003, where a fabric figure holds a red glass sphere as one would cradle a baby.  The glass orb is fragile, symbolising vulnerability, while its colour represents violence, jealously and intensity.  The work suggests ideas of being fixated on something lost or unobtainable, possibly an object of love, but it points to the danger of this psychological state and shows its consequences of melancholy, and possibly even insanity.

Louise Bourgeois, The Dangerous Obsession, 2003. Image courtesy of Hauser & Wirth and Cheim & Read and via www.theartsdesk.com.    

Two of the three upstairs rooms are also given over to the exhibition.  Across Bourgeois’s work we see her interest in ideas of confinement and captivity through her use of vitrines and cages.  Cell XXI (Portrait), 2000, is a fabric form made from towels that hangs from the roof of a caged cell.  The work is hard to categorise; it is both figurative and abstract, a fusion of male and female with two faces that are asymmetrical yet complementary.  There is another comparable work here from 2001 that includes mirrors in the corners that offer different perspectives of the different faces.  The hanging nature of the heads means that they are ever-changing, always susceptible to new configurations and perceptions.

Louise Bourgeois, Cell XIV (Portrait), 2001. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Also upstairs is Untitled, 2000; on one side, a multiplied collection of breast-like forms (made from Bourgeois’s collection of berets) have been clumped on top of a fabric torso.  The use of the breast and the maternal metaphor is frequent in the artist’s vocabulary as she looks at herself as mother to three sons and worries about her increasing dependence on others.  The form on the left is an abstract rubber element that is surrounded by spools of thread – the thread references both her mother’s profession and the delicacy of relationships.  The needles in the rubber suggest the pinpricks of memory, trauma and anxiety.  Resembling a figure laid out for surgery, the whole work shows Bourgeois’s increasing anxiety and her fear of abandonment.

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 2000. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Psychoanalysis has never been one of my strongest areas but this exhibition clearly elucidates Bourgeois’s artistic development as she struggles to come to terms with her past.  Through her writings she records her emotions and anxieties, analysing the conflicting feelings of her three roles – artist, wife and mother.  They enable us to see how active her engagement with psychoanalysis was until the end of her life, defining the connections between her thought and sculptural processes.

Louise Bourgeois, Loose Sheet, c. 1957. Image courtesy of The Easton Foundation and via www.freud.org.uk

This exhibition is just the right size, neither too small nor too big – it’s a revelatory insight into Bourgeois through Freud and it sits perfectly in the wonderful, domestic setting of Freud’s house.

Louse Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed is at the Freud Museum until 27 May 2012, www.freud.org.uk.

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A Gallop around Glasgow – Part I

7 Jan

No journey of mine seems to be without a little drama and trying to get to Glasgow in early January in gale force winds should not be attempted by the fainthearted.  When my alarm went off at 5.30am, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be my smoothest journey.

Although Virgin Trains are great at replying on twitter, they’re not so good at communicating to those actually on their trains.  We didn’t even manage to leave Euston before having to change trains – Train One was apparently defective and unfixable.  Not a good start. Train Number Two abandoned us at Preston (a friend has since commented that just the thought of me stuck at Preston made him laugh) where due to re-platforming we were able to experience the delights of every station platform.  I think they were trying to keep us warm by moving us around so frequently!  Train Number Three, however, was a winner and, although late, nearly jeopardising my schedule, it delivered us safe and sound.

After a wonderful, oversized pizza at the Firebird, we headed to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – the raison d’être for this whole trip.  My learned companion is studying for an MA in Egyptology and her thesis focuses on Sekhmet statues.  Rather ironically, the two here are on loan from the British Museum.  After the academic necessities were completed, we went to explore the museum.  There is no denying that Kelvingrove has an amazing and broad collection but the curation struck me as rather messy.  The rooms are thematic though, often, without coherent logic; dead-ends confront you and, without rhyme or reason, random objects crop up at regular intervals.  Kelvingrove is also very child-orientated in its forms of display; they clearly know their punters but this method often excludes a more mature audience.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Own photograph.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross – a controversial painting from 1951.  It is displayed alongside a remarkable ink study that was given, by the artist, to the then director of the Glasgow Art Gallery.  The drawing highlights Dalí’s daring in working towards the extreme angle of Christ’s body.

Salvador Dalí, Study of Christ of St John of the Cross, 1952. Own photograph.

The room of French art includes a Van Gogh alongside works by Pissarro, Seurat, Millet and Monet (I guess the room is looking at art painted in France rather than at French artists) but offers a more traditional gallery experience with a coherent layout and more structured feel.  Following this is a room of Fragile Art – I didn’t know what to expect but it seems this is a rather strange term being coined for works on paper.  There are some great things at Kelvingrove, if you have the patience to look, but the mess deterred us and, instead, we left and walked through the courtyards of the splendid University of Glasgow.  With only time to admire its architecture, we hurried past the Hunterian Museum – one of the leading university museums in the UK, showing the vast and varied private collection of its founder, Dr William Hunter (older brother to John who founded London’s Hunterian) – to Mackintosh House.

The Hunterian Museum. Own photograph.

 Glasgow is famous for two Mackintoshes – the inventor of the waterproof raincoat, Charles Mackintosh, and the unrelated artist, designer and architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Mackintosh House comprises the reassembled interiors of the house lived in by the Mackintoshes from 1906-14 (what was 6 Florentine Terrace, approximately 100 metres away).  Although the house was demolished in the 1960s, the original features and designs were preserved and great pains have been taken to ensure the sequence of rooms exactly reflects its forerunner.  Its recreation was no easy task and, although not everything about this house pretends to be accurate, the reproduction is as faithful as possible.  It was decided not to replicate the sandstone façade of the original house and, instead, the key features (the front door and principal windows) are encased in rough cast concrete.

Mackintosh House. Own photograph.

Particularly striking is the studio-drawing room on the first floor.  The geometry, unity and clarity of this L-shaped interior is stunning.  Flooded with light, the rear section was, fittingly, used as a studio where each of the three walls was filled with a major object as its centrepiece – a gesso panel by his wife, Margaret Macdonald, a white bookcase and the dark-stained writing cabinet.  This is more for display than practical use and it lacks much of the additional support required to act as a functional everyday object but there can be no debate about the beauty of its design.  I would say this room was Mackintosh at his best but every time I see one of his works I am blown away and have a new favourite.  To my mind, there can be no debate about the perfection of everything he did.

The studio-drawing room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The second floor was shut which meant we missed seeing the bedroom but we saw enough to be captivated and eager for the Mackintosh on day two of my itinerary.

The dining room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

Mackintosh House is found within The Hunterian Art Gallery, the rest of which is also brilliant and made up for my disappointment at our first stop.  As well as housing a small, superb collection of 18th century portraits (where I happily went back to my roots), two aspects particularly struck me.  One focused on the art of the poster with works from the gallery’s print collection, focusing on posters as important social-historic documents.  Including works by Mackintosh (of course) and Lautrec’s Jane Avril, which I’ve recently seen at The Courtauld, the posters all successfully combine simplified forms, bold colours and dramatic viewpoints.

Posters at the Hunterian Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The other aspect was the works by James McNeil Whistler; I had no idea that the University of Glasgow houses one of the world’s pre-eminent collections of Whistler’s works having been bequeathed the entire estate by his heir, Rosalind Birnie Philip.  The gallery’s airy layout is perfect for his seascapes; painted ‘en plein air’, these are small-scale, portable panels to which Whistler directly applied paint.  The near-abstracted detail is jewel-like.

The Hunterian Art Gallery.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The other fascinating find was his cartoon for The Fighting Peacocks – a full-size, highly-expressive drawing for the principal mural in the Peacock Room.  Pricked for transfer, the work shows Whistler’s retaliation to a quarrel.  Having overstepped his brief by decorating the entire room, Frederick Leyland refused to pay beyond the price agreed for the smaller commission.  The confrontational peacocks symbolise Whistler as art and Leyland as money, with coins scattered at his feet.

James McNeil Whistler, Cartoon of Rich and Poor Peacocks, 1876.  Image via www.huntsearch.gla.ac.uk

Thursday evening is late night at GoMA (Glasgow’s Modern Art Gallery) and so I was able to squeeze in another visit before dinner.  Downstairs, You, Me, Something Else considers the definition of sculpture today, looking at the progression of sculpture and how it has radically changed over time.  The room is intended to act as a 21st century sculpture court with objects suspended from the ceiling, leaning against columns, lying on the floor or, presented in a more traditional style, on plinths.  The media is varied but the artists are united by a common concern for physical experience and material form.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re an architectural fan), the architecture dominates much of the works but Andrew Miller’s Shaded, a tower of lampshades and fluorescent lights, stood out for me as the most effective work in this show.

You, Me, Something Else at GoMA. Own photograph.

After a long day in heels, we were starting to feel tired so took the lift to the top of the gallery and worked our way down.  Upstairs is an exhibition celebrating Glasgow Museum’s recent purchases of international contemporary art, understandably prioritising Scottish artists and those who studied at the Glasgow School of Art.  The main piece is a work by Martin Boyce, comprising daybeds, a bin, a wall-mounted mobile, ventilation grills and fluorescent ‘light-trees’, that aims to evoke a cinematic moment in a fictitious night-time urban environment.   As always with Boyce, the references are wide-ranging and complex, making you consider the work on many different levels.

Martin Boyce, Our Love is Like the Earth, the Sun, the Trees, the Birth, 2003. Own photograph.

Continuing down the stairs, we came across Atelier Public, a public artists’ studio to be used by gallery visitors, and an exhibition of works by Alasdair Gray – not really to my taste but he is obviously a talented draughtsman.

We were shattered and our bodies had gone into art-overload.  After dinner at Stravaigin, we collapsed at Saint Jude’s on Bath Street in our divine penthouse suite, re-energising ourselves in readiness for day two of this Glasgow adventure.

Saint Jude’s. Own photograph.

All these galleries have a regularly changing exhibition programme: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and GoMA, www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; The Hunterian, http://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/.

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