Blackpaint 488 – Ingrid and Ingmar, Liz and Phil and Eleanor at the Tates


Marlene Dumas

OK, I know I’ve done this twice already, but I’ve got a member’s card for Tates Brit and Mod, so it feels like free when I go.  Anyway, two things – no, three – to say in addition to previous: first, the picture of the woman in tears, entitled “For Whom the Bell Tolls”; it’s not Dumas herself, as I’d thought, but Ingrid Bergman (of course, because she stars in the film, but it got past me); secondly, the paintings of her daughter Helene – the facial portrait titled “Helene’s Dream”, in which the lips, the nose and the closed eyes seem to be floating on a somehow convex surface of smooth coffee and the full-length picture of her wrapped in a bath towel, looking irritated (girl, not towel).

dumas helene's dream

dumas helene

 

I like the way she’s painted the hair in the top one; single, square-edged strokes of a drying brush.  And in the second one, it’s the knees – it looks rough at first, but it’s precise and subtle.  There’s a lot of “looks rough at first” in this exhibition, but it’s mostly (not always!) subtle underneath, so to speak.

And third thing is the little, quick, brush drawings; the one on the far left of that little group opposite the full-length prone body drawings – can’t find a picture of it, so go and look.

Sculpture Victorious, Tate Britain

This is interesting and funny, rather than jam-packed with great art.  The pieces on show suggested novelties turned out for Great Exhibitions, which they were in some cases.  There are miniature busts of the young queen, turned out by Chevenor’s Reducing Machine – you put a big one in and a sort of pantograph affair carves a perfect small version out of a soft -ish medium.  Ivory was good, unfortunately for “up to 6000 elephants a year”.

There’s a statue of some baron, Winchester possibly, who was at Runnymede for Magna Carta, which was coated with copper by an electro-plating process (the statue, not Magna Carta – or Runnymede); an Eleanor of Aquitaine, lying comfortably on her back, atop her tomb presumably, reading a prayer book or bible, as if she was reading “Gone Girl” on the beach; and there’s a life size piece of Elizabeth I playing naval chess – the pieces are galleons – with Philip II of Spain.

sculpture victorious

 

It looks like one of those clockwork – or maybe magic – pieces you get in a necromancer’s workshop in a Polish film, where the players “come to life” with a lot of clicking and whirring…  I’m thinking “Saragossa Manuscript” or maybe Bergman’s “Nicholas and Alexander”.

There are two slave women in chains; one white, one black.  The white woman, a captive of the Turks in the War of Greek Independence, is beautiful of course, with a very shapely bottom and downcast eyes and is completely naked.  The black woman, also beautiful, but with slightly odd features, the eyes I think, wears a sort of skirt.  I find this interesting, in that it is a reversal of the old National Geographic racialism; in the 1950s and before, magazines would show “native peoples”, male and female, naked, whereas white people had to be clothed, except in pornography, which was illegal anyway.  Maybe because the white slave resembles a classical Graeco-Roman statue in pose, Hiram Power thought he could get away with it.  The black woman, or American Slave, was done by John Bell in answer to Abolitionist demand; apparently, the white slave was interpreted as an attack on slavery too.  Surprising to me; it strikes me more as an opportunity for the sculptor to do a provocatively naked woman in a submissive pose and dress it up with a moral message – then, that could be said of a lot of sculpture, Victorian and earlier…

sculpture victorious white girl

 

White Slave

sculpture victorious black girl

 

 

Black (American) Slave

Some of the other sculpture on show – big muscles, heroic poses, firing arrows, struggling with snakes, gazing fiercely into distances – looked distinctly pre-Nazi to me; would have fitted in at Goering’s hunting lodge.

Worth a visit then, despite Richard Dorment’s blistering Telegraph review, which I recommend, online.  Dorment roundly berates the curators for lack of focus, stating the obvious and getting major things wrong; for instance, the reason why Alfred Gilbert  resigned from the Royal Academy.  He knows, because he’s written a book on Gilbert, and  catalogue notes for the RA.  it’s a pity Tate didn’t ask him to advise, before rashly going ahead with the show.  He does describe the black slave as a nude statue, however.

Other things new at the Tate, in the permanent galleries:  Phoebe Unwin, “Man with Heavy Legs” or something;  Vicken Parsons, tiny room paintings; a huge Rose Wylie pattern painting; and a new Kitaj, a man as a cat…

Next blog – two more Tate Britain shows, Salt and Silver and the Waplington/McQueen show.

vanessa5

vanessa6

Vanessa, standing and stooping

Blackpaint

29.03.15

 

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