Archive for March, 2022

Blackpaint 702 – Postwar Modern, a Saint and Imogen’s Back

March 29, 2022

Jock McFadyen at the RA

Sorry Jock! Managed to spell your name wrongly in last blog, as well as making some facetious and incorrect observations in my attempt to compare and contrast you with Whistler. I’ve managed to find my little booklet of your paintings from 1986, was it? I was pleased to see I’d got the Harry Diamond ref right and the tough blokes with the dog. Spelling now corrected.

Men with Dog

Girls Waiting for Cortina

Harry Diamond Jazz Dancing

Edwin Drood – A Correction

Before we go any further, I have another egregious error to confess; recently, wrote about a Kindle accident in which I strayed from The Mystery of Edwin Drood to another Dickens work, a novella set largely in the Alps which he co-authored with Wilkie Collins, without realising I’d switched books. I referred to the spontaneous combustion scene in Drood, saying I’d missed it. Small wonder, because the spontaneous combustion is in Bleak House, a book I’ve read twice, but still managed to entertain the error.

Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945 – 1965

At the Barbican Centre until 26th June 2022

This is one of two excellent shows on in London simultaneously; there’s this at the Barbican and there’s “Artists in their Studios” at the Whitechapel Gallery, just a tube stop or two away, at Aldgate East. I did them both on the same day, in a couple of hours. I’m doing the Whitechapel next blog.

John Latham

Not sure who this is – I think its Prunella Clough

Magda Cordell – reminiscent of those carcasses of Soutine’s – and of Rembrandt, of course

Fabulous complex triptych by Alan Davie

Franciszka Themerson – Polish artist, totally new to me

One of three, I think, by Aubrey Williams

Portrait of John Bratby, by Jean Cooke

Rather superb, I think, making a great pair of that one of Bratby in his dressing gown (remember wearing those when I was a kid, about 60 years ago)…

John returns the compliment; she gets to avoid the dressing gown however, and sit comfortably naked in the no doubt nicely heated kitchen, with the contents of the scullery cupboards set out before her.

Sylvia Sleigh, another new one on me, Lawrence Alloway. No, Sleigh is the painter; the portrait is of her husband Lawrence Alloway, the art critic. He’s holding a rose.

Eduardo Paolozzi – but doesn’t it remind you of the famous Richard Hamilton picture, “Just What is it…”

Mary Martin – had to include this, Marion would never have let me omit it…

Victor Pasmore – but this is more my cup of tea.

Roger Mayne, I think – but could be wrong… too good a photo to leave out because my notes were inadequate.

Eva Frankfurther, West Indian Waitresses

The great Gillian Ayres

Patrick Heron – uncharacteristically sombre tones

The aforementioned dressing gown – and with the striped pyjamas too, by a coal fire, surely.. ah, nostalgia! Well, no, not really. Some of the photos are rather dark unfortunately, but then so is the Barbican.

It’s now midnight, so I want to finish as always with a couple of mine…


St. Nazaire – sold at last.

Imogen’s Back


March 29th 2022

Blackpaint 701 – Whistler and Mac: Compare and Contrast

March 20, 2022

Another pathetic joke to start with: very difficult to find my customary strange affinities between these two – but you never know, some spurious links might occur to me as we go along.

First, Whistler – or rather Whistler and other contemporaneous or nearly so White Lady merchants. It’s not just me then, the RA does it too. Compares and contrasts, I mean.

This White Lady is by Karpeles

The attentive viewer will notice that she differs from the other white ladies in at least one respect – she’s smiling, cocquettishly, as it used to be described by old misogynistic commentators. Her neckline is somewhat lower than the others too…

I’m afraid I’ve lost the booklet and can’t remember the name of the artist here; it’s not Whistler, anyway. Nor can I identify what she’s holding.

The interest for me here is that the booklet refers to the background as “abstract” – which it clearly isn’t. There’s a chair and a curtain and a doorway. This “abstract” background apparently caused some excitement and comment at the time – why? I’ll try to answer this in a moment.

Bessie, by Walker

I’ve included this because it’s a beautiful painting of a beautiful girl with the same name as my granddaughter. She holds a lily and is sitting on a dead polar bear. If it wasn’t for the white dress, you might think she was in mourning (the lily, the pensive, melancholy expression); but why are the lily, the bearskin and the grey backdrop – surely a screen, like old photographers used in their studios – not abstract, when a chair, a curtain and a doorway are? The bear skin and the lily are by way of hommage to Whistler’s first White Lady, painted earlier, I learned from a wall plaque that I bothered to read on a later visit.

Woman in White, by James Whistler

This first of Whistler’s portraits of Judith Hiffernan, his model and lover, was rejected by the Paris Salon because – yes, it was too “abstract”! It appears that the problem was the lack of narrative. It’s just a portrait of a woman in a white dress – she’s standing on a patterned carpet with a brocade curtain or drape behind her, but that’s not enough story (actually, she too is on a bear skin, and carrying a small flower, so my point about the Bessie picture below isn’t valid. Bessie is later, however, so maybe the narrative thing less of an issue by then). Karpeles’ woman might have come from her lover’s bed or be on the way there; the smile and the exposed breast direct the viewer’s imagination, they provide narrative. So, maybe, do the lily and the bear in the Walker picture – and actually, Bessie looks to me to be in some Victorian undergarment, rather than a white dress – aren’t they bloomers? This narrative stuff is probably old news to those who have studied art history formally – I’d never grasped before how shocking it might have been for a culture trained to read a painting like a story. Props, that was what were needed.

Woman in White, Whistler

And plenty of props here – the mirror to gaze into, the Japanese (?) pot, the fan, the fireplace – make up your own story.

Whistler again

They’re bored, it’s Sunday afternoon, dressed up for visitors but not looking forward to them….

What’s going on here? Whistler is ignoring his elegant female companions – they’re having a dangling conversation – “Can analysis be worthwhile?” “Is the theater really dead?” Sorry, slipped a couple of decades or so there, into Prufrock land (actually, slippage much further, into the 60s, for these lyrics are borrowed from Simon and Garfunkel – hence the US spelling of theatre – although Simon was clearly channeling TS Eliot). And Whistler looks to be channeling Velasquez in Las Meninas, to me, anyway. Another point that was made on a wall plaque I didn’t read on first visit….

And here is Courbet’s portrait, the best one of three versions in the show, of Hiffernan, making the most of the luxurious red hair that the artists were mad for. She actually looks like a totally different woman to the one in Whistler’s pictures – apart from the hair.

It’s a good exhibition, if you like beautiful, pensive, elegant women in swishing white dresses, admiring themselves in mirrors, surrounded by examples of Whistler’s collection of Japanese pots with tasteful backgrounds of silver, grey and pink…

None of this explains, however, why the presenters of “Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year will keep referring to the slightest departure from photographic realism as “almost abstract”! Arm’s a bit too long, say, or sea’s got some orange in it that isn’t a sunset reflection, and you get “Yes, I like the way she’s gone almost abstract here…” No, she hasn’t….

Jock Mcfadyen at the RA

I know some of Mcfadyen’s work from a booklet of his pictures that I can no longer locate (must do a spot of clearing up); but I do remember the sort of pictures in it. Dark back streets, cartoonish, bald thugs with bull terriers, graffiti, drinking, East End pleasure palaces, dereliction, and – one very specific picture – Harry Diamond the photographer, jazz dancing on his own in the front room of a flat or prefab. Diamond was the man in a raincoat painted by Lucian Freud, standing on a landing next to a big pot plant, that may or may not have been an aspidistra. That is to say Diamond, not Freud, was on the landing… Why do I remember this? Because I once spent an afternoon with Harry and Bob Glass, drinking in a Wetherspoon’s on Balham High Road. He spoke really quietly, and I had to keep saying “Sorry, Harry?” – very embarrassing.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant. The point is to find links and contrasts with Whistler’s work. In the first picture below, I’m guessing we are in a nightclub; the lady in blue appears to be addressing the drinking man – he seems indifferent to her. There we are – parallels to the dangling conversation picture above; Whistler ignores his female guests – the anonymous drinker (who closely resembles Whistler) ignores the blonde with the Eraserhead cut. Contrast? In Whistler’s picture the women also ignore the artist. Not the case in the Mcfadyen picture.

We appear to be in the same nightclub. I have no explanation for the stony faced gargoyle in close up, but one of the two women far down the receding bar could well be the same woman as in the picture above.

A couple of great old musicals on TV recently:

Easter Parade (1948, Charles Waters)

Fred Astaire stars with an obviously much younger Judy Garland in this picture from date? and falls in love with him, which is a bit – incongruous. But it includes a brilliant drum sequence in a toy shop (above), in which Astaire does a leap onto a table, during a dance of course, that is really impressive in its execution. The songs, by Irving Berlin, I don’t find equally impressive – perhaps with the exception of “We’re a Couple of Swells” and the great “Steppin’ Out”. Another song is “The Fella with the Umbrella”, which is about as good as my “standing on a landing” (see Harry Diamond, above).

Calamity Jane (1953, David Butler)

Full of brilliant songs – “Whip crack away”, “Just Blew in from the Windy City”, “Take me back to the Black Hills” – and Doris Day’s energetic – no, wrong word, “explosive” is more like it -performance. And she looks great in those buckskins and the cavalry cap. Not greatly historically accurate; Calamity Jane did not marry Wild Bill Hickok,+ who did not kill as many as twenty – seven men – and was she really referred to as “Calam” by the Deadwood residents?

Spurious connection; I’m reading “Chaos” by Tom O’Neill, a book that purports to find a CIA connection to the Manson murders (unconvincingly, I have to say) and to undermine the standard account by the prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, “Helter Skelter”. On the journey, O’Neill records his feeling that Terry Melcher was much more familiar with Manson and his “Family” than he admitted – and that Bugliosi was aware of this and concealed it. Who is Terry Melcher, apart from a successful record producer? Doris Day’s son.

OK, even more full of irrelevancies and outlandish comparisons than usual, here’s a new one of mine to finish. The title is that of an old jazz standard…

Ghost of a Chance



Blackpaint 700 – Bacon and the Eggs

March 9, 2022

Francis Bacon – Man and Beast, at the RA until 17th April 2022

So much has been written about Bacon’s life and painting; there are the Peppiatt books, Daniel Farson (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon) and now a huge breeze block of a biography by Mark Stevens and Annelise Swan; picked it up in Foyle’s today and nearly sprained my wrist. Only £20.00 though, so I’ll probably end up getting it. They did a reasonable if rather pedestrian job on de Kooning some years ago.

Anyhow, what I meant to say was that, with so much info out there already, I’ll confine myself to the pictures and the odd comment where there’s something new to me.

I have to say that, even though most of the pictures are familiar to me, they had a real impact when I saw them all together. Initially, you see the often gorgeous colours of the backgrounds; then the beautifully handled paint, sometimes applied smoothly, sometimes dragged, thin and drying, as in the pope’s skirts (see below) and sometimes in a tangle – say, between Henrietta Moraes’ legs (again, see below). I’ve left out some of the usual suspects (Peter Lacy, sitting sprawled, naked, with a faintly rendered but definite erection; Muybridge boy on all fours, dog on a circle). I’ve been twice and I still think there is more to take in.

Ape on a box, lovely raspberry background.

Is that an egg in the frame underneath the bird thing? I love the raised, curved spine; another great back for my collection (see Kitaj, Ginger et al in earlier blogs).

George Dyer in a what? Jacuzzi possibly? And that looks very much like an egg at the bottom…

Never noticed the little figures and cars passing in background to this screaming crucifixion before – and I think the punter sets it off well.

Possibly my favourite for the clarity and colour… Sort of foam coming from the bull’s nostrils, maybe…

Here’s a close up of it – it’s foam. And the white streak – several of the paintings have similar marks; spatters of semen (painted, I mean, obviously), perhaps. An unlikely suggestion regarding anyone else’s work, except Dali and maybe that Italian who canned his own shit.

One of the Muybridge inspired pieces. The thing on the perch was apparently based on a cormorant.

Two simian men struggling in the grass arena.

This was the only picture (I think) with a complete foot painted. The discus thrower in the painting above has feet that melt before the toes – others have legs that fade at the calves…

I love this huddled, solid body, groping in the grass.

What’s that thing like a black speed skater circling the patch of landscape?

Henrietta Moraes – looks like an abortion scene… I wonder if the carefully detailed door has any significance – and the umbrella hat?

Owls – a friend pointed out they could easily be vultures. Never would have guessed this was by Bacon.

Isabel Rawsthorne – compare to a photograph; it is a likeness of sorts…

I love the ornate frame, totally appropriate for a tender love scene like this.

Floating pope – Innocent III I think; like something out of early Doctor Who. I like the way he’s done the white skirts with a single drag per pleat; close up below.

Next blog, more RA; Whistler and others and Jock Macfadyean.

Some of mine to finish with, as always: the first two from a cropping exercise at Putney:

Susie, side view

Susie cropped (obviously)

These two my latest sales:

Blood – Red River



March 9th, 2022