Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Melville’

Blackpaint 216

November 7, 2010

Ai Weiwei

Unbelievably, the Chinese have demolished his studio and now placed him under house arrest, presumably because of his support for dissidents and general refusal to toe the line.  His installation, which got such a lot of bemused comment in the British media because of the porcelain dust business, is still “on” in the Tate Modern, our main showcase of modern art to the world; the current campaign of intimidation against him should be headline news, surely.  The Chinese government are also trying to stop ambassadors from attending the Nobel Prize award to Liu Xiaobo.

Arthur Melville

One of the Glasgow Boys, current exhibition at the Royal Academy, this is the painter who has a little picture at the NG of Scotland in Edinburgh that appears to be as near to abstract as makes no difference (see Blackpaint 139, May 24th).  This surely makes it the earliest abstract in Western art (?).  Laura Cumming, in her review of the show, mentions it and points out that it is actually an impressionistic rendering of a scene at the Moulin Rouge, but rightly says it is more like Abstract Expressionism than any other movement around at the time.  Melville’s  more conventional paintings are hugely impressive too; the one in the Observer reminds me of something by Brueghel, big red-flanked mountains, a U shaped lake at the foot (no serpent, unfortunately) – that is, until you notice the brushwork.  Haven’t been to the RA yet, so don’t know if the Moulin Rouge pictures are in the show – I suspect not, or they would have been reproduced in the Observer article.

Zoe Leonard

Should have included her in my list of artists using strange materials (see Blackpaint 162, July 5th): she has made baseballs (must be – she’s from New York) out of orange and grapefruit peel, stitched in sections and a purse out of banana skin with zip fastener attached; “unzip a banana”, as the advert used to tell us.

Mariotto Albertinelli

A strange “Creation and Fall” in the  Courtauld collection by this artist;  Eve is emerging from the sleeping Adam’s side, assisted by an angel supporting each elbow.  To the right of sleeping Adam is Adam awake, receiving the fruit from Eve, who stands by the Tree.  The serpent’s human (but sexually indeterminate) head appears to be whispering in her ear – and a thin twig from the tree, or maybe a foot of the serpent, appears to be tickling her pubic hair.

Blackpaint’s Quiz

A new feature, the result of inexorable dumbing-down pressures on the writer.  Correct answers will be included in Comments, of course – and that will  constitute the prize.

Q.  Who painted a plaster head, a green ball and a glove (looks like rubber) in the same painting?

St.Dorothy by Blackpaint


Blackpaint 139

May 24, 2010

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

A lot of real treasures and the most helpful attendants I’ve encountered.

First, they’ve got an exhibition relating to “Dance” in a little gallery at the back; I was astonished to see a Roger Hilton woman, the blue and yellow “Dancing Woman”, leaping across the wall opposite me; interesting to see how ropey the drawing was, close up – the beauty is in the energy of the image.  There was a Sickert chorus line, Degas ballet dancers and two astonishing postcard -size watercolour pictures by Arthur Melville, one of the Scottish Boys, done in 1889.  They are titled Dancers at the Moulin Rouge, which the pink, white and black one shows, but the other one is abstract.  It has a large patch of egg-yolk yellow with a touch of brown decalcomania at the base, a mid region of Prussian-ish blue and a red/orange patch on grey/brown at the bottom.

1889 is early for a British abstract, surely; more surprising when you consider the other beautifully done, but conventional watercolour paintings by Melville on display (conventional in composition – he was an experimentalist with the watercolour medium).


The ground floor is dominated by a huge, mad canvas by Benjamin West, of a Scottish Mediaeval king being saved from a raging stag by the spear of one Colin Fitzgerald.  Opposite is the defeat of Tipu Khan (of Tipu’s Tiger fame) by David Wilkie.  Nearby is a portrait of Lady Kinneard, wife no doubt, of Lord FU Kinneard of legendary fame.


In an alcove is Rembrandt’s “A Woman in bed”; it’s Saskia, leaning out of a four-poster, pushing the canopy curtain aside – and her hands are enormous.  Her left is towards us, so that might be right, but her right is away from us, across her breast, and its the same size.  They’re good hands, but they’re  too big.  Yes, it’s an obsession with me (see blog on Mick’s David, Blackpaint 106)

Dutch Lobsters

There are several perfectly painted Dutch lobsters with glistening fruit; my partner says it’s because lobsters were an expensive status symbol – I suspect it might be that one painter, Kalf for example, did a really brilliant lobster and all the others had to try to beat him.


The old woman cooking eggs, with the blunt-featured, crop-haired young boy looking on; a picture so beautiful that I  can’t think of a sardonic comment.

I’m going to leave the Titians, Raphaels, Leonardo and the Impressionists until tomorrow and finish with

“the Death of St.Ephraim and incidents in the lives of the Hermits”. 

I think that’s what it’s called; irritatingly, it isn’t in the otherwise brilliant Companion Guide to the gallery and I can’t remember who painted it – the Master of somewhere or something. 

It’s full of strange little vignettes – a hermit, cave and lion like  St.Jerome; a monk chasing naked women; black demons in boats with naked women; a circle of flagellants processing round a sort of maypole, scourging themselves; a skeletal corpse rising from a rock to terrify-passers-by; a monk riding a dragon… Who was St.Ephraim? Must look him up.

The Snail Crab Dance by Blackpaint

Listening to Cinnamon Girl, by Neil Young and Crazy Horse

“A dreamer of pictures you run in the night,

You see us together, chasing the moonlight, my Cinnamon Girl”.