Posts Tagged ‘Gainsborough’

Blackpaint 453 – Making Colour, Orwell and Kafka, Rolf Harris

July 4, 2014

Making Colour, National Gallery

Exhibition of works taken from the permanent collection – nothing new here – illustrating various points about, unsurprisingly, the history of colour use in art.  The technicalities are interesting and some good pictures (see below):

 

caracci

 

Caracci – similar colours in the Veronese exhibition recently.  Love the gesture: “Yeah, straight on down and take a left – can’t miss it.”

stamina

 

Stamina – St. Margaret’ s execution.  It’s the executioner’s purple robe that is the focus for this painting.

Masaccio_StGeromeAndStJohnTheBaptist

 

Masaccio – Sts. Jerome and John.  The colours, the facial expressions and the little lion.

Thomas_Gainsborough_015

 

Gainsborough – Mrs.Siddons.  I think there’s another Mrs Siddons by G in Dulwich Picture Gallery; looks like the same dress.

 

 George Orwell – Taylor’s biography

The Bernard Crick bio is still the one of choice for me, but Taylor’s has the odd illuminating detail missing from Crick.  For example, late in his life when a collected works was being contemplated, Orwell had no personal copies of Burmese Days or Clergyman’s Daughter – he had to do a JR Hartley to get copies.  Can you imagine a modern author without at least one copy of every single edition of his/her work?  Neither can I.

Finished Nineteen Eighty – Four again; I’d forgotten what a gruelling experience the last section was.  Apparently, some prospective reviewers were unable to sleep after reading it.  I wouldn’t go that far, but its certainly depressing.  Taylor discusses the similarities to Murray Constantine’s  “Swastika Night”, and, rightly in my view, dismisses the on-line view that Orwell nicked the plot.

A faint echo that sounded for me was the story “In the Penal Colony” by Kafka.  It will be remembered that an officer of the colony has inherited from his governor an execution machine that kills by repeatedly penetrating, ever deeper, the flesh with needles that write out the “crime” on the body until the condemned is dead.  The point (excuse pun) is that the prisoner comes to some higher understanding of the nature of his crime as he dies.

This is akin to the need of Ingsoc to go beyond just killing malcontents like Winston; first, they must be remade, by torture and brainwashing,  to see their previous ideas as errors and to love “Big Brother”.  this is a real need; to simply dispose of opposition by murder is not sufficient.  It undermines the whole point of totalitarian society to tolerate the existence of opposition, even passive dissent, even in the past.  Dissent must be changed to acceptance and the past must be restructured.

The officer of Kafka’s penal colony himself submits to the machine, because the new governor is against him and  the unnamed observer fails to see a reason for the machine and disapproves on humanitarian grounds.  In this absolutism, the officer resembles the Party in Orwell’s novel.

Jonathan Jones on Rolf Harris

In today’s Guardian, Jones (an art critic) recounts an anecdote in which he” saw Harris’ s dark side years ago” .  At the unveiling in 2005 of Harris’s portrait of the queen, Jones asked him if he seriously believed that “his portrait was a good work of art”.  This brought out the Dark Side, apparently; “anger suddenly crossed his previously beaming face”.  Well, what did Jones expect?  In my experience, creative people are narcissistic through and through and anything less than 100% adulation is unbearable – unless they’re going for shock effect, of course.  If you publicly insult someone in front of the assembled media, I would have thought it quite likely you’ll see an angry expression pass over their features.

He goes on to draw a parallel between Harris’s “determinedly inoffensive daubs” and the “banality of evil”, famously, Hannah Arendt’s phrase describing the Nazis.  “The middlebrow is inherently corrupt”, perhaps, says Jones; “Chocolate box art is a lie”.

What complete nonsense this is.  I would guess that there are some, maybe even many, conventional, inoffensive, “chocolate box” painters who don’t have Harris’s predatory sexual habits.  Some of them might even be decent citizens.  Same goes for the fans and punters – too stupid to recognise the banality of evil, maybe, but not necessarily perverts.

 

 

 

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Blackpaint – St. Clement’s

7.04.14

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Blackpaint 396 – Mummy Goes to the Tate

May 30, 2013

Tate Rehang

A couple of dozy errors last week – obviously getting old.  first, Gainsborough.  I said there was a picture by G that looked just like a Hogarth, and nothing like the feathery, impressionistic portraits that characterise Gainsborough.  But of course, G did “Mr and Mrs Andrews”, which is similar in style to the family group in the Tate, and which I’d forgotten about.  So, Gainsborough changed his style between 1750 and 1780; not very earth-shattering.

And Fiona Rae – I wrongly located her next to Frank Bowling and opposite the Anthony Caro red metal sculpture.  She’s actually in a different room, opposite Peter Doig. It’s Peter Blake’s portrait of David Hockney with coloured balloons that is near the Bowling.  So what? you ask – well, the room with the Caro, Bowling and Blake is by far the most attractive room in the whole Gallery when viewed as a whole from the archway at the end; and I said as much last week.

Rose Wylie

There is a whole room full of Wylie’s huge, rough, cartoon-y paintings, reminiscent (a bit) of Guston and cartoonist Barry Fantoni; they look like they are done on board or cardboard by a punky youngster – Wylie is 77 years old, a trained artist and ex-lecturer.  I like them, especially her Nazi generals (see below), a painting inspired by the Tarantino film “Inglorious Basterds”.

wylie

Why are they there, though?  There seems no obvious reason why her pictures should get a room in the Tate rather than any other artist – apart from the fact that, being huge, they look good.  Maybe the answer lies in Germaine Greer’s support.  In 2010, she wrote a big puff for Wylie in the Guardian, pointing out that she had deferred her painting until her children were raised, Greer had bought a couple of her pictures and that there were others available.

Greer began her article by saying that in Wylie’s house, there were two working artists.  She then wrote exclusively about Wylie, not naming Roy Oxlade, Wylie’s husband.  Why say there were two artists, then write about only one?  Pathetic.

Mummy

At Tate Britain, with my 90 year old mother-in-law, ex- 1st violinist with Amsterdam Philharmonic and Liverpool Philharmonic, bit deaf but as sharp as a razor – addressed by the attendant as “Mummy”… “Shall I get Mummy a wheelchair?”  Thank goodness she didn’t hear him.  I suppose he was being kind, but still…

James Salter

Reading three Salters at once; “Light Years” and “Burning the Days” I’ve read before.  I’m interested to find that the new book, “All That Is”,  is actually an easier read than the first two, despite the fact that Salter is now 87 years old; maybe he’s more interested in getting the story told now, than in coming up with surprising and original metaphors.  All three are beautifully written, though.  I read a short story by him in the Saturday Telegraph Review – about a long affair and its end.  Only two pages long. but halfway through, Salter states that the woman let her lover whip her once.  Why?  Seems odd just to bung a whipping in gratuitously….  Maybe it went on more in Salter’s younger days….

Dan In Real Life

This Steve Carell/ Juliette Binoche vehicle on TV the other night; one of those US films, usually set in New England (this one’s Rhode Island), where there’s a huge. talented, odd, kind, musical/theatrical/literary family, all living with their precocious kids in a huge, rambling, ramshackle mansion, bitter-sweet, working out issues, playing games, being lovingly eccentric.. I hate them with a burning hatred and blame John Irving of “Garp”, if he founded the genre, as I think he did.  Mind you, sounds a bit like Dickens, when you think about it.

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Headlong

Blackpaint

30.05.13

Blackpaint 377 – The Chocolate Staircase and the Shinjuku Thief

January 17, 2013

Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape at the Royal Academy

Sounds impressive, but most of the pictures on show are etchings and other prints made from original paintings by the above.  I’m always amused to see the little figures in them – you couldn’t just do a landscape in England; it wasn’t a proper picture.  There had to be a kid with a cart and some cows, or maybe a mythological subject – a giant snake killing some chap by a stream, maybe, or some hero fighting a dragon.  I think it might have been Gainsborough who broke that taboo and did the first true “landskips”; have written about it in a previous blog.

Some really bizarre scenery on show – there are several etchings of cwms – is that right? – in Wales that appear to be surrounded by monolithic, flat faced slabs of rock, the likes of which I have never seen.  Plenty of thunderstorms, wild seas, rainbows, billowing cloud; a few beautiful, postcard-sized Constables tucked into corners.  And there are a few large paintings; dark and dramatic in the midst of all the black and white prints.

In the stairwell, an incongruous sight, but a very welcome one; a huge painting by Basil Beattie that looks like a melting, chocolate cream staircase on raw brown-green linen – a staircase in a stairwell.

basil beattie

Swinton and Scott Thomas

Watched films starring these two actresses in foreign films recently; Tilda Swinton in an Italian film, “I Am Love” (English title) and Scott Thomas in “Leaving”, a French film.  At times, I felt as if the two films were somehow bleeding into each other.  Both women married and comfortable/wealthy; Swinton falls for an Italian chef, Scott Thomas for a Spanish builder.  lots of torrid sex in idyllic, rural mountain surroundings; both leave their boring, bourgeois husbands for the exciting studs.  OK, the endings are rather different but the general situation and shape the same.  Continental art films – they can churn this stuff out endlessly.

Oshima

RIP. ” Ai No Corrida” I’ve got on video – yes! Video still working! – but will someone please bring out “Diary of a Shinjuku Thief” on DVD?  Can’t remember much about it from seeing it at UEA many years ago – except that I spent a rather sleepless night, tossing and turning, after seeing it.

Other films that need to be brought out on DVD as soon as possible (I’ve been looking for them for ages):  “The Damned”, directed by Visconti and “The Spider’s Stratagem”, Bertolucci, I think.

London Art Fair at the Angel

Went there today; a very mixed bag, but some beautiful paintings by Adrian Heath, Robyn Denny (especially), Paul Feiler. and two real beauties by Douglas Swan – that blue one with the yellow circle.

douglas swan

Also, however, some real clinkers – a terrible Keith Vaughan, an awful, and huge, Hoyland – red, green, yellow and crude – and Patrick Heron, especially one that looks as if he’s painted it over with white enamel.  It’s very heartening for a painter to see that the masters can knock out rubbish from time to time,too.

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Bloody Doors and Windows

Blackpaint

17.01.13

Blackpaint 318 – 5 o’clock shadow and the Chrysler eggs

January 10, 2012

Larry Cohen

This week, the new DiCaprio film “J.Edgar” is on release, which reminds me of Cohen’s great film of 1977, covering the same ground: “The Private Files of J.Edgar Hoover”.  This must be seen, if for no other reason than the fact that it stars Broderick Crawford as Hoover.  In addressing one of his FBI agents, he delivers the line, “You have a tendency to 5 o’clock shadow – shave twice a day”.  Quite why this is brilliant coming from Crawford, I’m not sure – would it be as resonant from DiCaprio,though?  The film has Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s (alleged) lover.  The cast list, in fact, is full of famous names from the 50s.

The Chrysler eggs refers to “Q the Winged Serpent”, Cohen’s later masterpiece, in which Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec deity, pictured as a sort of archaeopterix – type dinosaur, nests in the top of the Chrysler building and starts to snatch and eat unwary New Yorkers.  Fantastic, funny and I’ve just decided to get both on DVD.

The above is not intended to disparage DiCaprio, who I think is a strong and versatile actor; Broderick Crawford just has to be himself, though – he’s a winged serpent.

Gainsborough

Nicola Kalinsky in the Phaidon book says that G was not much good at figures; the Andrews, for instance, are “peg-like” and stiff….clothes horses”.  I suppose this is true enough – I always felt there was a caricature-ish appearance to this picture, as if G were satirising them in some way.  It’s interesting that Gainsborough did his own dresses and draperies, rather than leaving it to an assistant; nowadays, we tend to prize the rendition of the silks and satins more than the subjects – after all, who knows what they really looked like?

Van Gogh

There really was no pleasing him; when, in 1889, Isaacson the painter praised his work, calling him a pioneer, VG wrote that his review was highly exaggerated and “it would be preferable if he said nothing about me at all” (letter 611).  Later, when Aurier wrote a very overblown piece on him, he wrote back saying Gauguin and Monticelli deserved the praise.  And he sold a painting, “the Red Vineyard”, at the Les Vingt exhibition in Brussels.  All this leads Walther and Metzger, in the Taschen Van Goch, to the colossal assumption that “His solid conviction that he would have to pay for success, sooner or later, was to drive Van Gogh to suicide” (Van Gogh, the Complete Paintings, Taschen 2010, p.573).  Lovely example of art criticism – not a scrap of evidence that this is true.

ICA – Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011:  In the Presence

This is a free exhibiton of 40 recent art graduates’ work, and there is a lot of interesting and some good stuff to be seen.  I’ll start with three today:

Jessica Sarah Rinland

“Nulepsy” – a video dream sequence, I imagine, of a naked young man sleeping, interspersed with stills of him with parts of his body shrouded in some white, film – like mould on a corpse – too quick to see more clearly.   Naked skateboarding in a park follows.  Yes, we’ve all done it in our dreams.

Jonathan Trayte

“In the Presence of Nature” – A huge joint of meat on the sawn-off bone, like a section of a sheep’s torso, cast in bronze and sprayed or coated gold.  At least, I think (and hope) it’s meat; wood wouldn’t be as interesting.

Joshua Bilton

“Post Diptych” – A pair (obviously) of photographs, lovely white and grey tones, one of a wooden triangular structure like a giant dog kennel in a bare field of earth; the other a tree study, which close up, contains a trellis like structure.  One of those things that draws your eye across a room.  More next time.

Figures in a (Crowded) Landscape

Blackpaint

10/01/12

Blackpaint 317 – Wandering Ears and Landskips

January 4, 2012

Van Gogh’s Ear

The Taschen book shows three self portraits done in August and September1889, in which Vincent appears to show the left side of his face in half-profile.  In two, the ear is clearly intact; in the other one, it is mutilated.   Since it was the left ear that was damaged, the viewer is probably seeing a mirror image transcribed by VG.  The same goes for the two pictures with bandaged ear; the bandage appears to be on the right ear, so it must be mirror image.  In the third self portrait, presumably also done with a mirror, the ear is damaged .  So, what’s happened here?  He must have realised the “error”, and put it right – or maybe he just preferred himself with the ear intact.  Doesn’t matter, I know; but he had a thing about realism and it intrigued me to know.

Gainsborough

Reading the Phaidon book on above, and to my surprise, it’s fascinating.  Gainsborough refers to a “landskip” and my Dutch mother-in-law tells me that’s the Dutch spelling of landscape – which makes sense, as the Dutch more or less made the genre their own in the 17th century.  The author suggests that G may have had a job putting little figures in imported Dutch landscapes to make them acceptable to the English market.

“Landscape with Sandpit” – to my eyes, completely atypical of Gainsborough; chunky, blocky, low sandhills surrounded with lush vegetation, like some Caribbean treasure island (Dutch landskips by Ruisdael and Hobbema, for instance, sometimes look like Sumatran jungle, rather than European woods and copses).

There is that staggering portrait of the Linley sisters, in the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  The distinctly creepy, challenging stare and smile of Mary, peering slightly down on us head-on, rather than slightly tilted in other portraits.

Unfinished

I was surprised to read that several of the best-known pictures are unfinished; The Andrews husband and wife icon is one; there is a patch of plain canvas in Mrs. Andrews’ lap, under her folded hands.  The portrait of G’s two daughters pursuing the butterfly is also unfinished, as is the Diana and Actaeon.  I have to say that I don’t think they are any the worse for this; like Turner, whose sketches of Venice outshine many of his highly finished works.

William Gear

The book on the two Roberts that I referred to in the last blog, mentions this Scottish painter as one of the earliest British abstractionists; he apparently exhibited with CoBrA in 1949, so maybe they should have got an “E” for Edinburgh in the title somewhere.

Klee

Reading a Taschen on Klee – sounds like a tiresome individual in a number of ways.  A couple of paintings, one called “The Daub”, remind me of a wobbly Sean Scully.

Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

Again, the cinema (Ritzy) was freezing, but at least they had an apology pinned to the door.  I think the success of the Swedish Wallander (Kristerson) and The Killing was partly due to the distance provided by the foreign language and subtitles, which somehow smooths over the ridiculous plots and unlikely twists.  This new version of the Larsson is in English, so the absurdity of the plot is all too apparent.  However, Rooney Mara is a real face; she reminded me a little of Darryl Hannah’s replicant in Blade Runner – the black eye make-up, I think – and also, strangely and I don’t know why, of the girl in Franju’s Yeux Sans Visage.

Blackpaint

4/01/12

Blackpaint 273

May 11, 2011

Ai Weiwei

I understand that the Tate Modern has “Release Ai Weiwei” in enormous letters on the outside of the building; if this was the case when I wrote, criticising the management, I hope they will accept my apologies.  I was up there the other day – Sunday, I think – and didn’t notice it; maybe it was on the other side.  Good to see two new exhibitions at Somerset House and Lisson Gallery and campaign for his release gaining momentum.

Tate Modern

The Rothkos are back in their central “temple” after being temporarily replaced by Agnes Martin and the bloody Austrians.  Looked a long while at the Dubuffet, “Busy Life” –  saw the boulder thing.  The figures, scattered at all angles, look as if they are scraped into rock.  Maybe this is because I saw Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” the other day (see 270).

Stanley Spencer

His “St. Francis Feeding the Birds” looks very much like a portrait of Mike Leigh in costume – unlikely, given the disparity of dates.  This brings me to today’s main theme, which is top ten portraits.  I have two lists of my favourites:  20th Century and pre – 20th century.

Portraits pre 20th Century

1.  Holbein – Thomas Cromwell.

2.  Holbein – Unknown Lady with Squirrel and Starling

3.  Velasquez – Pope Innocent X

4.  Rembrandt – self in age.  Any of them – but especially at the age of 63.

5.  Gainsborough – Mrs.  Siddons, or the Linley Sisters

6.  Leonardo – Lady with an ermine, Cecilia Gallerani (doesn’t the ermine resemble her?)

7.  Ingres – the landlady in the National Gallery.

8.  Goya – Duchess of Alba

9.  Salvatore Rosa – Self portrait.

10.  Whistler – Symphony in White no.2

20 th Century Portraits

1.  De Kooning – Marilyn Monroe.

2.  Marlene Dumas – Jule the Woman.  The red face.

3.  Francis Bacon – 3 studies of Muriel Belcher, or 3 studies of George Dyer.

4.  Gerhard Richter – Betty.

5.  Lucien Freud – Harry Diamond next to the Aspidistra – it’s called “Interior in Paddington”.

6.  Larry Rivers – David Sylvester.

7.  Frank Auerbach – all of them!

8.  Otto Dix – Von Harden

9.  Singer Sargent – Ena and Betty Wertheimer.  And, of course, Lady Agnew.

10.  Joyce’s father – Patrick Tuohy.

Bela Tarr (cont)

The accordion plays the melancholy, repetitive tune, while two drunken old men execute a dance by a snooker table, involving brandishing a chair.  A crowd of unshaven, capped, feral, moustached, semi-drunken men wait in a cobbled square; one forces spirits down the throat of a timid youth who is foolish enough to approach him.  The same youth comes eyeball to eyeball with a rotting, stinking whale in a huge wooden container in the same square – it resembles the recent Balka installation at the Tate Modern (container, not whale).  A drunken mob invades an asylum and lethargically beat the occupants with sticks, fists and feet.

The Banks of the Nile

Blackpaint

11.05.11