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Three Favourites from the Gordon Russell Design Museum

… delightful, hands on wander through c20th design …

utility furniture design gordon russell

Housed in one of the original workshops, the Gordon Russell Design Museum is a hands on experience. You can pull back and admire the smooth delivery of a drawer, peek inside the dressing tables and stroke the veneer Continue reading “Three Favourites from the Gordon Russell Design Museum”

Three Favourites from the Frick

Which three works would I take home with me?

new york art frick holbein

It is so hard to choose only three from this extraordinary assembly of paintings but then this game is ruthless: which ones would I want to live with? It hones discrimination down to a very personal choice based on emotion rather than the calibre of each painting.

If it were quality I was after, it would be nigh on impossible to choose given the excellence of this collection. And, after all, it’s the personal connection which makes the interaction with a painting so special.

Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap c.1510 Titian (c.1488–1576)

Prog Rock Giorgione Pitti Palace

 

Ah! The soulful painterly lyricism of the Venetian painters which historians have put down to the light upon the water gets very close … whisper it low .. to a sort of Renaissance ProgRock pin up. The almost moustache echoed (mocked?) by the luxurious fur. The brilliant white shirt reflecting the light across his muscular neck. Ahhh.  This unknown star of the Living Hall in the Frick was once thought to be by Giorgione but is now judged to be one of Titian’s earlier works painted when he was in his early Twenties.

The Lake 1861 Corot (1796–1875)

landscape exhibition French cow tree

 

In my Twenties, I would have passed this painting without a second glance but now, perhaps I am getting more soulful? Corot exhibited the large, nearly monochromatic picture at the Salon of 1861. Critical reactions to it varied. Castagnary said: “The Lake is a ravishing landscape, simple in composition and full of grandeur. . . ” But another reviewer, Thoré, was less sympathetic: “Mist covers the earth. One is not sure where one is and one has no idea where one is going.” This would be my terse appraisal in my youth … but now I would love to live with this dreamy tour-de-force.

Self Portrait 1658 Rembrandt (1606–1669)

 

1658 dutch portrait rembrandt

Tired, weary eyes peering out, watching us – and watching himself; his ageing face and small frame set in a weird fantasy costume, Rembrandt was only fifty-two in 1658 when created this portrait. Is he mocking his status as a painter with an artist’s beret for a crown, a painter’s stick for a sceptre and his gigantic craftsman’s hands looming towards us? Or just using what was to hand?

Rembrandt created almost a hundred self portraits including over 40 paintings over his career; an enormously high number for any artist up to that point. While the popular interpretation is that these represent a personal and introspective journey for Rembrandt, they were probably painted to satisfy a strong market for self portraits by leading artists. This makes this image all the more poignant. Is he a tired old horse trotting out for display? Or is he a defiant master at the height of his expressive powers? Or both? I could spend a lifetime debating this painting.

So, do you ever play this game of Take Home Three and which are your favourites from the Frick?

If you’ve never been to the Frick, I urge you to go next time you are in New York. So many people have never even heard of this gorgeous place. It is the sparkling gem of Museum Row overshadowed by the behemoth of the Met. The collection is set in Frick’s private mansion just by Central Park. Built to house his art- and his family – the museum is more like a National Trust property with rooms laid out exactly as they would have been.  It’s a delightfully relaxed and intimate experience to wander around the billionaire’s front rooms to find – good gracious! – those Holbiens. Click here to be directed to their website  where they have a Virtual Walk Through for those not planning a physical visit. (Unfortunately due to the nature of the lay out, children under ten are not allowed nor can bulky luggage be accommodated in their cloakroom.)

 

 

Quentin Blake : Inside Stories : Compton Verney

… full of inspiration, creativity and generosity …

quentin blake compton verney exhibition illustration

This exuberant exhibition is full of inspiration, creativity and positively glows with Quentin Blake‘s joie-de-vivre and generosity of spirit.

It features a huge range of finished illustrations, working drawings and crossed out snippets showing his process including sketches for Roald Dahl’s The Twits, BFG and Matilda, The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams, and his tremendous series of illustrations to accompany Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. (And the outline Rosen emailed to his publisher entitled: Is this a Book?)

The show includes over 140 original works, as well as some of his artists tools and a couple of short films in which Quentin demonstrates his techniques.

Excellent. Couldn’t stop smiling all the way round.

The exhibition runs until 17 December 2017 (Tue – Fri 11am – 4pm; Weekends – 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. The marvellous The Lost Words exhibition is running at the same time. If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space, permanent exhibitions and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a lovely cafe, an adventure playground for children, and boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories is a touring exhibition from the brilliant House of Illustration. This charity, based in London, is the UK’s only public gallery dedicated to illustration and the graphic arts was founded by Sir Quentin Blake in 2014. To learn more about their splendid work visit their website here.

Illustration © Quentin Blake

The Lost Words : Compton Verney

… artwork for the stunning book …

robert macfarlane jackie morris

A delightful exhibition to accompany the launch of this wonderful book, the rooms are full of Jackie‘s stunning artwork and Robert‘s delightful poems.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the full page “absence” watercolours – especially for conker  – as their lyrical beauty is slightly muted in the finished book by the inclusion of the alphabet.

Compton Verney‘s curators have once again created an enchanting space for the art to shine with thoughtful backdrops of colour and illustration inspired by the art and the occasional school desk of bird books for children to browse.

The exhibition runs until 17 December 2017 (Tue – Fri 11am – 4pm; Weekends – 11am – 5pm) and is definitely worth a visit. If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space, permanent exhibitions and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a lovely cafe, an adventure playground for children, and boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

Imagining the Divine : Ashmolean, Oxford

… fascinating mash-ups between religions …

Imagining the Divine, Art and the Rise of World Religions at the Ashmolean in Oxford is an interesting yet somewhat frustrating exhibition. The idea behind the show is to trace the development and cross- fertilisation of visual representation in the major religions. However the curator has opted to place the five religions in different areas rather than allowing any thematic comparison by mixing the objects up. In addition, the rather sparse labelling meant that cross pollination was often eluded to rather than spelt out. The exhibits themselves are a delight and well worth your time.

persian senmurv textile silk

Always on the look out for the more unusual and quirky exhibits, I was drawn to this silk fragment from the V & A showing the fabulous creature, the sēnmurw. Part bird, part beast, the benevolent sēnmurw is a Zoroastrian figure of Sasanian Persian art. Here it is shown as a dog with a peacock’s tail. This piece comes from the same weaving as two pieces associated with the relics of St Helena at St Leu in Paris, now in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Relics, sometimes brought back to Europe by Crusaders, were often wrapped in precious silks. So the symbols of one religion are passed on to protect those of another.

The show also had a replica of the gorgeous bone Franks Casket from the British Museum. This intricately decorated Anglo-Saxon box’s significance is like catnip to scholars for it mixes up a Christian story with Germanic legends and Roman mythology. This detail of the front panel shows the Germanic Weyland the Smith at his forge on the left juxtaposed with the Adoration of the Magi on the right.

casket weland adoration british musuem

Imagining the Divine, Art and the Rise of World Religions at the Ashmolean, Oxford runs until 18 February 2018. Usual opening times for the Ashmolean are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holidays. For further details about the museum and the exhibition, follow the link here to their own website.

The Paintings at Upton House

… so which painting would you like to steal?

Rembrandt lievens magus

 

Upton House is another one of those gorgeous country houses with spectacular gardens and glamorous rooms; what sets it apart from a host of other National Trust properties is the quality and range of its astounding art collection.

I visited with a friend at the weekend and we played: “which would you steal for your house?” So it’s all about personal cravings, not money nor technical ability, and we spent a happy couple of hours debating and chatting to the knowledgeable guides.

My very favourite was A Magus at an Altar which is now attributed to Jan Lievens, a contemporary of Rembrandt. To my eye, the detail of the light playing on his silk robes are as exquisite as anything by his more famous contemporary.  In fact, the painting had previously been judged good enough to be a Rembrandt. Then it was relegated to “Rembrandt and his circle” and finally thought to be a just copy of some lost Lievens.

More recent analysis has revealed lots of re-worked passages proving that the work is not a copy but an original work. In fact the examination showed up so many alterations that it suggests, on balance, a Lievens’ approach working rather than a Rembrandt. There is a brief article and further links from the National Trust’s website here.

I was so pleased to be introduced to this Lievens and, after a quick internet search, I find this wonderful still life (in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam) … which is a lovely combination of my two main interests: books and art.
lievens rijksmuseum

The man behind the extraordinary collection at Upton House was Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted. He was the chairman of Shell and owned M Samuel & Co. Bank. He was also chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery and the Whitechapel Art Gallery; and also on the board of trustees for the Tate. With his love of paintings and his huge fortune, he amassed one of the finest art collections in private hands during the 20th century. Walter donated the house, gardens and art collection to the National Trust in 1948.

For further information about Upton House, please follow this link to the National Trust’s page on the property.

Monument to Cecco di Sangro : Cappella Sansevero

… intriguing jack-in-a-box …

Naples Sansevero

One of the top sights in Naples is the group of extraordinary Baroque sculptures in Cappella Sansevero. The most famous is the Veiled Christ by Napolitan Guiseppe Sanmartino. This dramatic and technical tour-de-force depicts the dead Christ under a thin, transparent shroud. Such was its virtuosity that a legend grew about its creation: people believed that a real cloth shroud had somehow been turned to stone over the marble body. Queue up, buy the ticket and shuffle around the statue: it truly is amazing.

Veiled Christ Naples

However … the rest of the chapel is just as interesting. After admiring the main event, I wandered around, as I always do, avoiding the crowds and rebelling against the directions. This is why I do it: most of the tourists completely miss this delightful memorial to Cecco di Sangro as it is above the entrance and so you have to turn your back on the Veiled Christ to notice it.

Some background: most of the decorative scheme was devised and commissioned by Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero (1710 – 1771). He was a fascinating character: an Italian nobleman, soldier, writer, scientist, alchemist and freemason whose dangerous and heretical archive was destroyed by his family after his death.

This sculpture has attracted several intriguing stories.  According to the Chapel’s own website, the Monument to Cecco di Sangro represents a real event. Raimondo’s ancestor,  Cecco is climbing out of a chest where he had been hiding for two days, allowing him to take the enemy by surprise and capture the fort of Amiens. Alas, I haven’t been able to find any corroboration for this escapade. The subject matter has also been interpreted as the soldier being the “guardian” of this supposedly Masonic Temple.

But most delightfully, according to one legend, as told to the local philosopher Benedetto Croce, as he approached the end, Raimondo di Sangro had himself cut to pieces and closed in a coffin, from which he was supposed to emerge “hale and hearty” at a specific time; unfortunately the family opened the coffin too early and the “resurrection” lasted only a few moments … oops.

 

 

Raphael: The Drawings : Ashmolean, Oxford

… intimate and exhilarating …

Raphael sketch

I don’t know about you but I often prefer sketches to finished paintings. They are more intimate, more approachable and, ultimately, more engaging than a finished work. The fragments, smudges and re-worked lines get me closer to the artist’s creativity than the varnished perfection of an oil or fresco. And I have, I confess, always found Raphael a little too perfect to love.  But I was bowled over by this exhibition. His virtuosity is breathtaking and his experimentation truly exhilarating.

The Ashmolean has brought together a stunning exhibition of 120 sketches. Fifty works come from their own collection, the largest and most important group of Raphael drawings in the world and loans from other international collections including the Louvre, the Uffizi and the Queen’s Private Collection.

There’s also a very good short film running through the different techniques and media used : charcoal, chalks, metal point and ink.

The show is crowded so to avoid shuffling along, try to go at the edge of a day. I would also recommend a tactic which works particularly well at the Ashmolean where visitors want to linger over the detail of every single picture. I walk straight through the exhibition to the last of the three rooms and work backwards. This final room is always the least crowded as gallery fatigue sets in for many people at the end of the second room … when they see the exit sign (and a coffee beckons).

Raphael: The Drawings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford runs until 3 September 2017. The show will now be open on Monday 14 and Monday 21 August (the museum is not usually open on Mondays) as well as being open until 8pm on Friday 25 August and Saturday 2 September. Usual opening times for the Ashmolean are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holidays. For further details about the museum and the exhibition, follow the link here to their own website.

Creating the Countryside: Compton Verney

… fascinating, amusing and thought provoking …

compton verney
Turquoise Bag in a Tree, Hilary Jack, 2016

 

My favourite gallery space, Compton Verney, has a fascinating exhibition running at the moment which would repay a couple of visits as there is so much to think about. Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present explores the way in which we create and imagine the countryside, largely as a pastoral idyll very much removed from muddy reality. The Neo-Classical house of Compton Verney itself is set in a “perfect” landscape created by Capability Brown.

Verity Elson‘s thoughtful curation takes us from Gilpin‘s picturesque with a Claude glass through Frank Newbould‘s wartime lithographs of a mythic England to Sony‘s eerie video game of a Shropshire village c. 1984, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. Wandering around the rooms, it struck me that the most interesting, incisive modern works were by women, including Hilary Jack‘s Turquoise Bag in a Tree, 2016 (photo at the top of the blog).

I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Chesney‘s commentary on the rural idyll with her two works: Snapshot and Death by Denim. The former is a Farrow & Ball paint chart inspired by her time spent in the Brecon Beacons National Park. She has created some great names for shades such as Ewe 38, Twine Blue and Hedge.  The latter is a fictional collection of ephemera based around the tragic death of a lad wearing Italian denim walking gear.

denim
Death by Denim, 2015, Rebecca Chesney

(If like me you are occasionally surrounded by Gore-tex bores, you will get the reference … ) Further details of the artist’s work can be found on her website here.

The exhibition runs until 18 June 2017 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a cafe, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

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