Friday, June 27, 2014

For Art's Sake 2: "...the God-given genius of certain individuals..."

There have been quite a few visits to galleries this year, some more memorable than others.

We went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see their exhibition titled DAVID HOCKEY: PRINTMAKER and while not making me any more of a fan, it certainly showed the breadth of his ever-roaming interest in creating art - the show even ended with artworks he has created on a photocopier. The colours were particularly vibrant and lush...

We also saw the exhibition at the National Gallery, STRANGE BEAUTY: MASTERS OF THE GERMAN RENAISSANCE.  Again it didn't exactly rock my world - once you have seen one North European wizened, monkey-like face you have seen them all.  But there were some that I really liked... Jan Van Eyck's famous "Arnolfini Portrait" of the named couple looking very stately yet mysterious, Lucas Cranach the Elder's enigmatic "Portrait of A Woman" and Hans Holbein was well represented by a cameo of Anne of Cleves as well as "A Lady With A Squirrel And A Starling" - the squirrel was particularly lovely!

At Tate Britain, there was a very interesting exhibition called KENNETH CLARKE: LOOKING FOR CIVILISATION which was an overview of the wide-ranging art collection which belonged to the art historian and broadcaster, whose 1969 BBC series CIVILISATION was one of the first 'personal view' arts series.

Across the exhibition you follow Clark's life, from his privileged upbringing to his remarkable ascension to being, at 30, the youngest ever director of the National Gallery.  He used his influence - and private wealth - to help artists on their way (particularly during WWII).  Also during WWII, he saved the National Gallery's finest works from the London bombings by hiding them in Welsh caves while keeping the building open for free lunch-time recitals. 

The show has been criticised for showing his traditionalist interests - he was famously dismissive of the 1950s explosion in Modern Art - but there was plenty to enjoy.  It is unsurprising however that Clark himself remained an elusive, anonymous subject - can you understand anyone simply by their interest in art?

Clark was a particular fan of Bloomsbury and in one of the rooms Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell's self-portraits are close to each other, as well as Vanessa's portrait of daughter Angelica as a Russian princess and home furnishings designed by them too for Roger Fry's Omega Workshop.

 I was particularly excited to see two paintings by Seurat which I had never seen before: the mysterious and hazy "The Forest at Pontaubert" from 1881 and the glorious "Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp" from 1885.  The reproduction really does not do it justice - his remarkable use of colour in his pointillist style was hypnotic and I stood for a long time in front of it, lost in it's rhythm.

I was hugely engaged walking around the exhibition and among other fine works were a glowing Samuel Palmer painting from around 1830, some moody works by Victor Pasmore and John Piper and Paul Nash's epic BATTLE OF BRITAIN from 1941.

Sharing the space with this huge canvas were smaller, more painful works based on the human experience of conflict.  Henry Moore's cramped and gloomy sketches of people huddled together in the tube stations during the Blitz and the evocative and haunting works of Mary Kessell, a WWII accredited war artist who was based in Europe at the end of the conflict and was well-placed to document the refugees and the revealed horrors of the concentration camps.

I particularly liked her 1945 work "Refugees: '... pray ye that your fight be not in the winter...' Matthew XXIV, 20" of refugees trudging through an impenetrable winter.

This hugely enjoyable exhibition is on until 10th August.

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