Tag Archives: The Courtauld

2013 Highlights

29 Dec

As I’ve said before, I haven’t been able to write nearly as regularly as I would have liked.  2013 has flown by with excitement, hustle and bustle and some truly fabulous exhibitions.  Again, there has been more grey paint on gallery walls than I care to remember but the point of this post is to celebrate some of the remarkable things I have seen.  I have missed a lot too, particularly in the last couple of months, but it is testament to the incredible art programme across the UK that it is impossible to see everything.

Here we go with my highlights of 2013…

Towering at TateSchwitters in Britain  

Cast your mind back to February when Tate Britain brought us an exhibition showing off Schwitters’ incredible multi-disciplinary practice that expressed his determination to make art using whatever was to hand.  Tate successfully showed how Schwitters’ figurative works moved into abstraction and vice versa.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm, as well as his interaction with British art and culture, was excellently applauded by Tate.

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Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

Number One at the National GalleryFacing the Modern  

There is no doubt that, in parts, Facing the Modern was a confusing show and it has been suggested that curatorially it was in the wrong order.  But, notwithstanding these comments, it is one of the best shows I have seen this year.  Using portraiture, the exhibition tells the story of Vienna’s middle classes – works are commemorative, critical, cautious, radical and chart the changing fortunes and times of the incredibly diverse city.  This is a subtle exhibition that requires thought and tenderness whilst viewing.  It may not include the most famous and familiar works by Klimt or Schiele but that is what makes it so special and the fact some of these works have been loaned is a triumph.  The National Gallery are continuing to go from strength to strength with their exhibition programme and Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is also worthy of mention.

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Walking around Facing the Modern. Image via www.theupcoming.co.uk

Captivating Courtauld The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure 

The Courtauld are rightly renowned for the quality and strength of their exhibitions and The Young Dürer was another golden gem from this small gallery.  The exhibition concentrates on the artist’s journeyman years from 1490-96 when he travelled widely and was exposed to a range of new influences.  Here, The Courtauld follow Dürer’s path to greatness as he learnt the intimacy and delicacy for which he came to be famous.

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Detail of Albrecht Dürer, A Wise Virgin, 1493. Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Blazing Barbican The Bride and the Bachelors

The title of alone was going to be enough to pull in the punters but The Bride and the Bachelors was the first ever exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.  This was a challenging exhibition that blurred the boundaries between stage and gallery in a style that I think would have delighted Duchamp.  Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii were still very much ongoing.  Duchamp governed the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show.

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Duchamp stars at the Barbican. Own photograph

Leaving LondonFrom Death to Death and Other Small Tales, Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Edinburgh

As any regular reader will know, I spend at least one month of the year in Edinburgh and this summer I was able to see the sublime From Death to Death and Other Small Tales.  The exhibition sought to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works referenced the body explicitly while others made subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  It was so extensive it took over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality – an exhibition that really worked without compromise.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Glittering Gold – Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes, Annely Juda

London Landscapes focused on Kossoff’s life in London looking at the congestion, the dirt and the real life of London.  Kossoff made us fall in love all over again with the vigour and vibrance of the city.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

Shimmering SilverDeath: A self-portrait, The Wellcome Collection

Death: A self-portrait is an exhibition that showcased the collection of Richard Harris with approximately 300 objects from his strange and unique collection devoted to death.  It was incredibly diverse – there were paintings, drawings, artefacts, sculptures, photographs, anatomical illustrations and much more. This was a giant cabinet of curiosities!

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June Leaf, No stomach for death: Gentleman on Green Table, 1999-2000.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Bright Bronze – Caitlin Art Prize 2013, Londonewcastle Project Space

The Catlin Art Prize is a highlight of the calendar and the brilliant eye of the curator means that we can normally expect great things from the nine chosen graduates who have had to produce new work for the exhibition.  This year was no exception and the Londonewcastle Project Space was transformed with the latest ‘ones to watch’.

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Terry Ryu Kim, Screening Solution I,II and III. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

Last but by no means least – Runner Up  – Jodie Carey: Untitled (Slabs), Edel Assanti

Every exhibition at Edel Assanti is so very different but powerful in its own way.  Although very simple in conception, the striking display of Jodie Carey’s works stayed with me.  Seven plaster slabs were arranged within the gallery, connecting and conversing with one another despite their differing formats.  The works had a real inescapable presence in the gallery – fragile yet monumental, they rose with impressive dominance.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

There have been so many more shows, some that I have written about and some that I haven’t.  There are a lot of fabulous exhibitions planned for next year, including some that I am working on, and I shall totter from one to another in skyscraper heels or by taxi if it’s too chilly.

As many of you enjoy the shoe signatures here my favourite three shoes pictures of 2013 plus a new one with which to wish you all A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year.  Thank you, as ever, for reading Artista.

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brown shoes

tartan shoes

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Berlin Gallery Weekend 2013

12 May

Although I was excited to be going to Berlin for Gallery Weekend 2013, I have to confess that part of the excitement stemmed from our mode of transport – we were travelling over on a private plane.  Spending a short time in a large city especially over a weekend devoted to art, openings and parties there will always be far too much to see.

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Off we go… Own photograph.

On Friday morning we made the most of the short-lived sunshine and wandered around galleries – two, in my opinion, deserve particular note.  Wentrup Gallery had just opened its doors to Session by Nevin Aladag.  The key work for me was a video piece addressing the interplay of instruments with which the artist make sound by using found objects from the environment.  The film shows different area of Sharjah, from the industrial district to the desert as well as the heritage areas.  Through this diversity, Aladag makes the instruments symbolically traverse different levels, places and hierarchies.  The composition of the film is beautifully created allowing a framework for these instruments to move about, as if on journeys of their own volition.  The other highlight was Import Projects – a truly fabulous project space in an old building.  Its atmosphere is conducive to the kind of great shows that they mount.  The current group exhibition, The Possibility of an Island, explores the relationship between the real and the imaginary, utopia and dystopia, selfhood and otherness and centre and periphery.

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Session, Wentrup Gallery. Own photograph.

Friday night saw nearly every gallery in Berlin hosting some form of opening.  With dinner booked, we had to plan our itinerary with military precision which involved mapping everything out so we could get the order right.  Our first stop was at Blain Southern – what a fantastic space!  For Gallery Weekend, they were showing a new group of video works by Douglas Gordon, exploring the collision between Europe and the Orient, desire and fear, light and dark, reality and fantasy and life and death.  This show remains one of my standout Berlin exhibitions.  Screens are dotted around the gallery and we journey through cityscapes in Morocco with Gordon.  The majority of the projections shown here are large-scale, inescapable and all-consuming, appealing to our sensory perceptions.

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Berlin’s Blain Southern.  Image via http://englishmaninberlin.wordpress.com

Directly opposite their courtyard was 401 Contemporary.  The gallery director was on hand to explain the mechanisms in Thomas Feuerstein’s works but I have to say I’m still slightly confused although I’ll try to retell the complexity at play here.  The main work is a process-based sculpture which attempts to give human form to books through biotechnical machines.  The work transforms books into sugar through fermentation.  Glucose produced from the cellulose of the books functions as fuel which facilitates the growth of invitro cultivated brain cells.  Even as I write this, I find myself getting muddled again but here goes – the brain cells in the exhibition are exclusively fed by literature from Hegel but other pieces of literature produce material for sugar glass which has been used to make the sculptures around the room.  It wasn’t that the works were particularly invigorating but the process was incredible – even if I may not have fully understood it.  We quickly popped downstairs where Mærzgalerie was showing a paintings exhibition by Sebastian Schrader.

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Thomas Feuerstein at 401 Contemporary.  Own photograph.

We decided to hire a taxi for our mad dash around Berlin and thank heavens we did as I’ve never seen rain start quite as suddenly as Friday’s downpour did.  We sped across Berlin where Tanya Leighton was showing an exhibition of Aleksandra Domanović which did little for me although the gallery space itself is intriguing.

Next, Reception Gallery was showing Leigh Ledare’s piece An Invitation.  When we arrived the gallery was practically deserted but it is a fascinating exhibition that I hope drew in the visitors over the weekend.  For one week in 2011, Ledare was commissioned by a woman, who remains anonymous in the works, to spend time at the home of herself and her husband in order to make a series of erotic photographs in which she featured as the subject.  This body of work looks at ideas of anonymity, legality and non-disclosure, raising questions about how we are presented as subjects through compelling textual and social frameworks.

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Leigh Ledare’s An Invitation at Pilar Corrias in London. Image via www.artnews.org

We tried to visit the Duve Gallery but sadly, after we climbed several dodgy looking flights of stairs in very high heels, it hadn’t followed the trend of opening on Friday evening for Gallery Weekend.  Instead, we headed to the exhibition of Jodie Carey’s works at Galerie Rolando Anselmi which involved walking through a whole series of industrial looking buildings and climbing another never-ending staircase.  The galleries in Berlin certainly are tucked into every conceivable corner of the city.  Carey’s works concern themselves with the dynamic between remembering and letting go, creating works that blur the boundaries between documentary-style archiving and poetic narrative.  One of the most poignant works was the Elegy series, five prints from original photographic glass plates.  Such plates are now extremely rare; these were probably produced in the 1920s.  By not cleaning these plates, Carey has kept the original physical defects in her digital prints memorialising the entire history of photographic printing.

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Jodie Carey’s Elegy series. Image via www.artslant.com

The exhibition at Galerie Crone is one of the most aesthetically memorable.  The ground floor gallery shows a film, following an S-Bahn that circles Berlin with performers, who appear and disappear, wrestling for a bloody bone.  The story plays on the quest for the Holy Grail.  This seemed good but not particularly sensational until we headed upstairs to find a sandy beach complete with boulders, stones, bones, animal skulls, painted bricks and branches.  In amongst these were frogs in small containers; apparently, they were meant to be hopping around but when we were there, they were doing their very best to bury themselves deep in the soil.  The first floor is meant to be the ‘Brain Cave Spaceship’ and the hopping frogs are meant to prompt thoughts about breaking out of the order of things and making transitions from different environments, maybe even different universes. This was another quite confusing exhibition but it did leave food for thought.  Plus, there’s the obvious simple excitement of people playing in the sand.  Many took off their shoes and socks and ran around – not what you normally expect to see in a gallery.

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Galerie Crone’s beach. Own photograph.

Galerie Crone is in a little arts hub in the same courtyard as the popular Alexander Levy who was showing works by Julius von Bismarck.  They share a building with Galerie Isabella Czarnowska who had mounted a joint exhibition of works by Annette Messager and Alina Szapocznikow (whose works were included in the East Wing VIII exhibition with which I was involved at The Courtauld).  Plus there was Veneklasen/Werner with an exhibition of paintings by Peter Saul whose works the gallery describes as ‘lurid’ – well that certainly is one way to put it!

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Partying on all floors around the courtyard. Own photograph.

After dinner, by which time the monsoon had got even worse, our evening ended at Carlier Gebauer – I will confess that seeing as we were at the gallery for late night drinks, I didn’t see as much of the exhibition as I would have liked.  What I did see though has ensured that this gallery is high on my list for my next trip to Berlin.

On Saturday it was time to abandon commercial art for a bit, having overdosed the night before, and we headed to Museum Island which is both an incredible and overwhelming set-up with its five mammoth museums.  The current building work (I say current but I believe it’s been going on for over a decade) means the museums aren’t as well connected as they could be and quite a lot of walking is involved.

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Bode Museum. Own photograph.

The Bode Museum rises from the water with two impressive copper roofed domes.  It is a stunning building and the recent restoration and conservation work – both to the exterior and interior – that has been carried out on this architectural giant deserves praise.  Entering into the grand circular hall, we are greeted by a majestic equestrian statue.  The building is designed like a palace rather than a museum although we are used to equally grandiose buildings in London.  The French classical Baroque style imposes unity and symmetry on the building.  The central basilica is an architectural treat, a passageway that suggests an ecclesiastical setting.  Where we might expect to find an altarpiece we find a corridor, flanked by columns and crowned with a half balcony.  The Museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of sculpture and, with nearly 70 rooms, it shows sculptures and paintings ranging from the 10th to 18th centuries, Byzantine art and an unrivalled coin collection.  Paintings and sculptures are not separated out into different galleries but shown alongside one another elucidating contextual and thematic relationships between works.  There is a strange lack of information around the museum; we don’t learn much about what we are looking at and it’s easy to get lost but what the museum does offer is a visual feast where our eyes are invited to learn and soak up the history of art under one roof.

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The basilica at the Bode Museum. Own photograph.

As you can imagine, the day disappeared quickly while we wandered around the Bode Museum but we still had enough time to head to the Neues Museum.  This holds around 6,000 objects studying the European prehistoric cultures, Nordic mythology, artefacts from Troy, Roman archaeology, the Stone Age, Bronze Age and the pre-Roman Iron Age.  The building suffered severe damage in World War II and an international competition was launched to find an architect to reconstruct the museum building.  David Chipperfield won (no surprises there) and the building is a joy to look at.  After being closed for 70 years it reopened to the public in 2009.  Chipperfield has incorporated the past structure with a fresh and modern approach – this is a lesson in how to merge new and old, retaining the past spirit while imbuing a space with life and contemporary dynamism.  His response is different in every room, reacting to what he found; his design is perfectly suited to this museum – in parts the old fabric is almost intact, some rooms contain fragments and some have an entirely modern feel.  What Chipperfield does triumphantly is works with what is there; his hallmark has been stamped on the building yet its distinctive style still shines through.

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The main entrance at the Neues Museum. Image via http://aaron-m-sweeney.blogspot.co.uk.

All in all, we saw a lot of great things.  I did feel some of the galleries were trying just a little too hard.  They were mounting racy exhibitions of what they thought the public wanted with not enough regard to what worked coherently for their programmes.  But, all in all, it was a wonderful weekend and we still headed back to the plane with smiles on our faces.

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Parallel Painting Paths – Mondrian and Nicholson converse at The Courtauld

22 Feb

As you know, the exhibition space at The Courtauld is at the very top of the building.  Now, during a quiet afternoon it may be permissible to have a quick pant in-between floors or to embark on the climb wearing flat shoes but these weren’t options at an evening opening and so I bravely tottered all the way up, without stopping and without moaning (well, not that I recall).  This is an unusual exhibition in many regards: It is a more contemporary show than we would expect of The Courtauld, it successfully changes the gallery aesthetic and it pairs two artists who many wouldn’t otherwise have realised are connected.

The exhibition explores the creative relationship between Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson, allowing us to continue London’s exploration of Modern British, charting the parallel paths explored by the two artists during the 1930s when their works were often presented side-by-side.  The exhibition presents the two artists in parallel – in conversation – with the works leading us through their story.  When Nicholson first visited Mondrian’s studio in 1934 he had to rest in a café afterwards to try to take in what he had just seen – the elegant serenity of the works, the ambience of the studio and the energy of Mondrian himself.  This visit marked the beginning of a fascinating friendship that lasted until Mondrian’s death.

Ben Nicholson, 1936 (white relief). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

At Nicholson’s invitation, Mondrian moved from Paris to London where the two worked in neighbouring studios in Hampstead.  They were separated by the outbreak of war when Mondrian moved to New York and Nicholson to Cornwall but there are over 60 letters from Mondrian to Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth (Nicholson’s then wife) covering the ten years of their friendship.

As they often do, The Courtauld has cleverly conceived a show around one of their own works – this time a Nicholson canvas, 1937 (painting).  It is part of a group of related works with powerful colour combinations of white, black, yellow and red, moderated by a cool blue.  Nicholson stretched his canvas over board, ensuring a flat and solid surface on which to work.  As ever, the painting is precise and disciplined; the colour planes are carefully ruled and there is no chance that colours will bleed into each other.  The painter’s mark is suppressed. The composition is actually very unlike Mondrian but these two artists are united by their use of forms.

Ben Nicholson, 1937 (painting). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Nicholson explores lines, shapes and spatial effects in a subtle way whereas Mondrian’s works radiate energy.  It is so easy to go around this exhibition comparing them but this should not be the point.  Yes, their lives are placed in comparison but Nicholson was never trying to imitate Mondrian and their works must be viewed as a relationship of influence.  Their art offers an alternative modern vision using a restrained vocabulary of colour and line.  Although, at times, the compositions may be strikingly similar and their vocabulary is harmoniously shared, they are very different.  They do work well as conversational pairs but there can be no denying their extreme differences. Mondrian’s works have a calming effect yet their vibrancy is uncontainable.

Before this show, I don’t think many people were aware of the depth of the mutually reinforcing friendship of Mondrian and Nicholson.  Like the exhibition, the catalogue is small and focused, a perfect reflection of a joyously academic and calming show.  It mentions the ‘opposites attract’ theory stating that Nicholson was a networker while Mondrian was a loner, Nicholson demanding and provocative while Mondrian was courteous and quiet and that Nicholson was intolerant while Mondrian was patient.  Further research into their lives has shown that this is probably a myth but a rather nice one as there is an interesting parallel in their works – they are similar but different.

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935. Image courtesy of Mondrian/Holtzman Trust and via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Mondrian painted using very specific rules where geometric figures were only ever to be the result of linear intersections and never to be separate forms.  Colour was reduced to the three most saturated primaries creating a stark contrast of black lines with bright colours.  His works have a forceful impact.

No spotlights are used to illuminate the paintings; instead, the white walls are floodlit bathing the works in light rather than starkly presenting them.  The show is beautifully and thoughtfully curated.   The exhibition space isn’t large and, therefore, the curators needed to be disciplined in their selection, presenting juxtaposing works that reveal the similarities and differences between these two artists.  Comments that the show is too small are unfair as this is what The Courtauld has to work with and they have done so brilliantly and in an astute fashion.

Mondrian and Nicholson present two strains of modernism that art history has often separated.  Now, thanks to this smartly masterminded exhibition, the two are no longer disjointed and are shown to be very much related.  Although Mondrian was Nicholson’s senior by 22 years, this only aided their reciprocal inspiration and willingness to develop.  The exhibition concludes with Nicholson’s 1936 (two forms) and Mondrian’s Composition No. III White-Yellow from 1935-42.  Nicholson’s painting, of which he produced nine variations over a period of great upheaval, is a transitional work that concludes his abstract paintings of the 1930s.  A small but intense rectangle sits proudly among three shades of grey; the work illustrates Nicholson’s highly refined use of colour relationships and the precise combinations he engineered.  The vertical format of the Mondrian is relatively unusual giving emphasis to the shape due to the obvious length of the lines.  No horizontals cross the full width of the composition.  Although the artists were apart when these works were conceived and painted, the paintings speak of the profound affinity that had developed between the two men as they worked in parallel.

Ben Nicholson, 1940-43 (two forms). Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

The PV was so busy that I must return to this show another time, to view the works in a calmer atmosphere than amidst the bustling crowds of last Wednesday.  Not that there’s ever anything wrong with a bit of chatter and a glass of wine!  Dinner at Cigalon beckoned and I made my way a tad more cautiously back down the stairs.

Mondrian||Nicholson: In Parallel is at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th May 2012, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Due to restrictions by the Mondrian estate, I have only been able to reproduce one image here without charge.

Pestilence in Palermo – Van Dyck in Sicily

15 Feb

As many of you will know, I’m somewhat geographically challenged.  When I was studying, I found a quick and easy way from home to the Strand.  As a result, when I drive around London (and I mean anywhere in London), I operate rather like a homing pigeon.  I can get to pretty much anywhere as long as I plan my route around the Strand.  So you can imagine my delight when the online route planner advised me to go exactly that way to get to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Tuesday morning.  And better than that, the route then continued past VAULT.  I couldn’t stay away even for a day.

I got to Dulwich without any real mishaps and managed to park outside the Picture Gallery.  What a relaxing way to travel – well, apart from the traffic, speed cameras and red lights but that’s all par for the course.  At least I had heating the whole way!

Anyway, the reason for my visit to the other side of London was the opening of Dulwich’s new Van Dyck exhibition which focuses on the year and a half he spent in Sicily.  The exhibition brings together all 16 of the works believed to have been executed during his stay in Palermo.  Normally, when we think of Van Dyck we think of Charles I or the Swagger portraits and, until now, very little study has been devoted to this earlier period.

Van Dyck exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Own photograph.

The key point to be aware of here is that Van Dyck only spent a short amount of time in Sicily and his paintings were quite time-consuming enterprises.  I warn you of this because I was initially surprised by the size of the show – half the normal amount of rooms used for Dulwich’s temporary exhibitions.  Admittedly, the three rooms used here are beautifully curated with deep purple and dark grey walls.  Although compact, it’s full of personality –the exuberance of Van Dyck, Dulwich and the curator, Xavier Salomon.  It’s a dramatic exhibition.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, Prince of Oneglia, 1624.  Courtesy of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Hearing Xavier give his exhibition tour took me back to my days at The Courtauld when he taught a survey course in my 1st year.  Until 1999 it had been thought that Van Dyck only spent four months in Palermo but recent discoveries, made possible by the Sicilian state archives, have been able to prove the full time frame using legal documents, invoices and papers regarding commissions.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, St Rosalie in Glory, 1624. Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Here, we are told the story of how Van Dyck arrived in Palermo in 1624 expecting to complete a commission to paint Viceroy Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy and head home.  But, things didn’t go quite to plan.  In May 1624, a ship from Tunis arrived at the busy port of Palermo carrying with it bubonic plague which, by December that year, had killed off most of the population.  Surrounded by death, catastrophe and disaster, Van Dyck had little choice but to prolong his stay and, amidst this panic, he set up studio, establishing a practice and producing a variety of works for local clients – many of which are thought to remain undiscovered.  Towards the end of summer, the bones of Saint Rosalia were discovered in a nearby cave and carried in procession through the city; after which the plague ceased and Saint Rosalia was declared Palermo’s protector.  In the final room, the exhibition brings together Van Dyck’s images of the patron saint.

The painting loaned from the Prado is the smallest of all his images of her and is particularly moving.  Although this is compositionally similar to the others, Van Dyck painted Rosalia in many different guises.  In this devotional image, she looks up to heaven while an angel offers her a crown of roses.  In her left hand she holds a skull, referencing the recent mortalities of the plague and the iconography of hermit saints, while her right clutches her breast and heart.  These paintings were made as forms of prayer and to give thanks to God and Rosalia for their benevolence which ended the city’s suffering (better late than never – Van Dyck himself must have been grateful for his survival).

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Saint Rosalia, c. 1625. Courtesy of Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

The painting of the Viceroy is one of the highlights of the permanent collection here.  It is incredibly rare for the armour seen in the painting to have survived in such good condition and it is an interesting juxtaposition and point of comparison to see them side-by-side.  Armour was a very valuable possession (described by Xavier as the Porsche or Ferrari of the day) and, ironically, at the time, would have been worth more than any of the paintings now on show here.  But this image is a definitive one showing the viceroy majestically armoured and prepared against his enemies.  Sadly, shortly after the painting was finished and by July of that year, he too had been lost to the plague after leaving the confines of his palace to access the situation and inspect the city.

Maestro del Castello de Tre Torri, Armour of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, c. 1606. Courtesy of Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Room two focuses on two large devotional works, that were most probably painted for the aristocracy of the island, as well as two highly emotive portraits of Sofonisba Anguissola.  A fragment of a larger portrait that has been cut down on all sides, Sofonisba Anguissola (1624) is touching evidence of the young artist’s encounter with an aged celebrity painter.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1624.  Courtesy of the Sackville Collection, Knole and Matthew Hollow Photography and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

This is a historical exhibition, using a limited number of paintings to elucidate a period of history.  The self-portrait of Van Dyck seen at the start is not actually from the period in Palermo (but through x-rays we actually know that he did paint a self-portrait under one of the paintings of Rosalia).  He’s dressed as an aristocrat – a young Flemish dandy arriving in Palermo.  He was dressed in rich attire and used to the company of noblemen.  He knew he was something special – a point that we see emphatically by looking at this exhibition.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Self-Portrait, 1620-21. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

In contrast to the Picasso exhibition, I wish this show had been bigger.  But, no more works remain so that is hardly the fault of Dulwich or the curators and, in a way, it is refreshing to see such dedicated focus and concentration.  They haven’t tried to pad it out. This is a tight-knit, story-board exhibition.

Alongside this, the Picture Gallery are showing Ragamala Painting from India to highlight the work of Tilly Kettle, a relatively unknown artist from their permanent collections.  This is not so much a curated exhibition but a collection of 24 rarely seen objects.  A ragmala is a set of miniature paintings depicting various musical modes of Indian music.  Each painting is accompanied by a brief caption or poem, most frequently focused around love.  These were tactile objects for private consumption and were never intended to be seen on display.  Magnifying glasses have been provided to allow you to get up close and personal with the miniatures.  I didn’t really have the time to inspect these properly as I had spent a considerable time in the Van Dyck exhibition and I needed to head back to meetings, over Waterloo Bridge of course – where else?

Bhairava Raga, Pahari, Nurpur, c.1690. Courtesy of the Claudio Moscatelli Collection and Matthew Hollow Photography and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Ragmala Paintings from India: Poetry, Passion, Song and Van Dyck in Sicily: Painting and the Plague are both at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 27th May 2012, www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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