Posts Tagged ‘Watercolour at Tate Britain’

Blackpaint 252

February 17, 2011

Vincent’s Sunflowers

As I said a blog or two ago, I could never warm to the famous Sunflowers; now, “research shows” (Guardian, Tuesday) that sunlight turns 19th century yellow chrome paint brown – but “only if the yellow paint had been mixed with white pigments based on sulphates.”

This maybe explains the difference between these sunflowers and the blazing, yellow/orange entities that Van Gogh painted in Aug – Sept 1887.  Something I didn’t know about Van Gogh was how much he was influenced by Japanese art and culture – witness the 15 or so paintings of orchards and trees in blossom he knocked out in Arles in April 1888.

As for industry – the Taschen book shows 25 pictures for July 1890; not bad going, considering he shot himself on the 27th.

Turner

I was interested to discover that Turner used scraping away as a Technique in some paintings, notably the bottom left foreground in “Rocky Bay with Figures”, c.1830 and the crown of “Death on a Pale Horse”, c. 1825 – 30 (see William Gaunt’s Phaidon book).  This struck me as pretty advanced for the time, but my knowledgeable partner sniffed at my ignorance and said it was common.

I’m not convinced – Turner seems so way ahead of everyone else.  “Ship on Fire” and “Boats at Sea”, for example; the latter defines minimalism.  I suppose they are every bit as “abstracted” as that Melville I go on about –  and done decades earlier.

Watercolour Exhibition at Tate Britain

Which brings me to this show, which opened to the public yesterday, and which I attended with two companions and several hundred  grey retirees, mostly teachers, I would guess.  Within minutes, my friend had pronounced “Wrotham” incorrectly when reading a label – he was promptly and tartly corrected by the woman next to him; “It’s pronounced ROOT-HAM, actually. ”  She moved on with a tight little smile, leaving us suitably corrected and chastened.

Anyway – loads of brownish landscapes, as you would expect – I liked the Indian powder works on the riverbank – jewel-like miniatures, beautiful botanical drawings in eye-destroying detail, bright little Books of Hours.

Best thing is if I just list my highlights:

John Piper, Nantfranccon (I think); Layered rock strata, like piled bodies.

Edward Burra, a valley in Northumberland with a great, green, lowering hill overlooking it.

Ravilious’ lovely White Horse, with the slanting lines (rain?).

Girton’s Bamburgh Castle, one of David Dimbleby’s choices in his series on British art and landscape.  Stunning picture – doesn’t look much like Bamburgh Castle now, though.

Blake, Jane Shore doing penance – proof that Blake could do really ordinary, boring pictures too.

Samuel Palmer, “Dream in the Appenines”; hints of Raspberry Ripple in the sunset; Benjamin West, American Sublime and all that – bloody awful painting.

Arthur Melville, “Blue Night, Venice” – and what a blue it is; little bit green, but translucent, against the tower.  Comes close to Turner’s Venice sketches.  Why is he not better known?

Turner – the two already mentioned above, and several small sundown sketches, including “The Scarlet Sunset”, with the yellow wiggle on the water surface; it’s only the size of a postcard!

There’s a war room:

William Simpson – a butterfly rests on a cannonball, a lizard scuttles past, or maybe holds a frozen pose for an hour or two, in the aftermath of battle.  It’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” – but from an earlier war.

Mutilated faces from WWI and a French hussar dying, with his intestines exposed by a sabre cut at Waterloo.

A really strange Burra – “Soldiers at Rye” – in which the soldiers, with their bulging muscles, theatrical stances and inexplicable pointy-nosed masks, look like a troupe of travelling players from the 17th century.

The lovely little Samuel Palmer with the horizontal crescent moon, to offset the Appenine monstrosity; maybe he needed the small format…

Two David Jones, white and grey, that from a distance, bear a faint resemblance to Dubuffet’s scraped – away pictures.

Lucia Nogueira, her blots and stains with intermingling colours, so simple but memorable.

The Patrick Heron, of course; not as intense as the oils, though.

Roger Hilton – two of the child-like pictures, done in posters I think, from his bed-ridden period.  One with the dog, strangely affecting.

Peter Lanyon, fabulous of course, like a skate egg case on its side, and colours like Alfred Wallis.

Left the best to last – huge, on the end wall, is Sandra Blow’s “Vivace” with it’s glorious, vulvic sweeps of red acrylic, chucked from a bucket onto an off-white canvas.  Just what this constipated exhibition of little, detailed exquisiteness needs.  For some reason, Adrian Searle chose to be dismissive of this celebratory work in his Guardian review; he called it “silly”.  Wrong!  Blow’s painting is like a pint of cold Guinness with a creamy, perfect head, looking up at you from a bar counter – after a long drought, passed in the company of prissy relatives.

One last thing; £14.00, or £12.00 for concessions, is a lot for an exhibition put together substantially from Tate’s own resources.  A tenner, maybe….

This Flight Tonight (to Joni Mitchell)

Blackpaint

17.02.11

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