More postcards from exhibitions and galleries...
1) UNVEILING COOKHAM WAR MEMORIAL (1922) - Stanley Spencer
I cannot remember if I bought this at the Dulwich Picture Gallery at their CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE exhibition or at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in his home town of Cookham. That was quite a special visit as on the way there we visited the Memorial that is portrayed in his painting.
It was a bit quieter than the scene Spencer painted - his figures are squashed around the towering war memorial just after it has been unveiled with a billowing Union Jack being pushed out of the picture frame. At the other side, young men lounge on the grass, almost deliberately ignoring the throng around the memorial, the people standing beside them look like they are in their best clothes and also seem to be ignoring the hubbub. However Stanley draws our attention to the white-clad schoolgirls who are laying flowers at the base, doing their best to ignore the misbehaving schoolboys standing behind them although one of them is turning around to acknowledge them. Oh and the bank of trees are in the distance? That is now obscured by a large pub where we had our lunch!
2) LE DOCTEUR PAUL GACHET (1828-1909) (1890) - Vincent Van Gogh
This was bought at marvellous Musée D'Orsay in Paris. Dr. Gachet not only knew a number of artists but was also an avid collector of their work. Gachet's house was painted in a landscape by Cézanne and he numbered among his friends and clients Victor Hugo, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissaro, Auguste Renoir and Eduard Manet.
Van Gogh's vibrant but turbulent painting of his doctor was one of his last paintings, completed only a month before his suicide. The painter thought little of his doctor and Gachet's weary expression probably reflects his relationship with his troubled patient.
3) THE ARRIVAL (1913) - CRW Nevinson
Although this is a Tate postcard I suspect I bought it at the CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery which celebrated the pre-world war class at the Slade School which included Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer and Christopher Nevinson. It was an unhappy time for him; he fell in love with Carrington at the same time as his friend Gertler but she favoured the latter which ended his relationship with his friend, and he left with a lifelong grudge against his professor Henry Tonks who had advised him to give up painting.
In Paris just before WWI he met the Futurist painter Marinetti and immediately allied himself with the movement as well as it's UK spokesman Wyndham Lewis. Their constant sniping at Bloomsbury and the British art world no doubt had been provoked by Nevinson's Slade experiences. However, as is the nature of movements, their relationship foundered when Nevinson and Marinetti published a UK Futurist manifesto without consulting Lewis who in spite set up the Vorticist movement from which Nevinson was barred! THE ARRIVAL however is a fascinating mixture of Cubist themes - the fractured planes of view, the numbers and lettering - but also the dynamic Futurist subject of the large ship looming into harbour and the streaming steam from the two tugboats in the foreground.
4) ANNE OF CLEVES (1540) - Hans Holbein the Younger
I bought this at a Holbein exhibition at Tate Britain in 2006. All art misleads but sometimes it misleads famously. Anxious to be married again, Henry VIII was urged by Thomas Cromwell, his feared advisor, to consider the German Anne of Cleves as a good prospect as her father was a staunch Protestant and could be an ally against the Pope. Along with written accounts of her provided by Cromwell, court painter Hans Holbein was sent to paint several portraits of her. Henry liked what he saw so it was full steam ahead. On New Year's Eve 1539 the couple finally met - and the steam disappeared.
It turns out Holbein's full-on face portrait disguised her rather protruding nose as well as her pitted skin. Holbein was not on the end of Henry's anger but Cromwell was. The marriage was annulled as quickly as possible. However Anne proved herself so amenable to the agreement that she had property and gifts lavished on her and was granted status as Henry's "beloved sister". All of which left him free to marry Anne's previous lady-in-waiting Catherine Howard - on the same day that Cromwell was executed, a fate that Catherine suffered only 19 months later. Anne's obvious common sense and pragmatism shines out from her infamous portrait.
5) MARIE ANTOINETTE A LA ROSE (1783) - Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Another court-approved painter, another Queen, I bought this at the marvellous Vigée LeBrun exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris last year. Marie Antoinette, unhappy with the portraits that had been painted of her, turned in 1778 to the popular society painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun to paint her portrait for her mother Empress Marie Theresa. Both women were only 23 years old and developed a friendly working relationship; Vigée Le Brun was soon the unofficial court painter to the Queen and her family. Skilled at downplaying any obvious failings in her sisters, Vigée Le Brun's portraits also glow with a warm-hearted humanity
In 1783, with the Queen's help, the painter was accepted into the Académie Royale and exhibited in the Salon for the first time. It was, of course, a portrait of Marie Antoinette but it caused uproar as Vigée Le Brun had painted the Queen in a white muslin dress, holding a rose and wearing a plumed summer hat and no jewellery, a style the Queen favoured when at her own palace La Petit Trianon at Versailles. The horrified opinion was that this was *not* how a Queen of France should be presented so it was quickly withdrawn and Vigée Le Brun painted a replacement with the Queen still holding a rose but more 'appropriately' attired in grey silk, lace and ribbons, pearls, a gold necklace, rouged and wearing a powdered wig with plumes. Ironic isn't it that one of the charges against Marie Antoinette was that she too extravagant? Vigée Le Brun's changing the setting from an indoor to an outdoor one also gives the portrait a more classical Romantic feel.