Mar 3 2017
I have just been to see the most exiting exhibition at the perfect time of year!
We are just planning all our landscape painting courses and I have booked some landscape painting trips. I have been getting my pochade boxes ready and Scott has been making lots of perfect panels.
This exhibition makes one long for the season where you can stay outside and paint. It is a beautifully sunny day and the second day of the meteorological (as opposed to astronomical) spring and all the anticipation of the spring and summer freshness is around us!
The exhibition has a great little film, which is utterly unpretentious but totally clear. It is a small and exquisite show that unlike so many others doesn’t have fillers, so the message of the curators is simple and therefore so much more compelling.
In 1874 in Paris a group of artists lead by Degas, Monet and Berthe Morisot (yes a woman!) calling themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, put on an artist led exhibition. By their third exhibition they were to be the Impressionists. They weren’t part of the grand Salon and were not being guided by the rules of convention.
A group of Australian artists across the world followed suit and in 1889 put on their own exhibition in Melbourne. I find it wonderful how soon after the French exhibition this took place. Many artists today, and many curators like to paint an image (excuse the unintentional pun) of artists being independent creators, devising inspiration from their own individual and isolated worlds. And yet the beauty of art is that it has always been an international movement, with ideas and visual trends not isolated but shared both consciously and subconsciously across continents.
The small paintings most attracted me. There is a series painted on cigar boxes roughly 9’x5”. Compositionally they are fantastic. I thought the framing was incredible in these large unapologetically impressive frames (though maria didn’t like them).
The first few by Tom Roberts have an incredibly muted palette, as the catalogue rightly points out, still impressionistic but not French impressionism, rather reminiscent of Whistler. It is one of the reasons I love painting in England. There is ironically so much more beauty in the colour when there is colour harmony and subtlety. It is not garish obvious colour but understated and evocative. His paintings are utterly un-linear, painted in clear value masses of varying greys.
These three paintings are all of London; Trafalgar Square, Fog Thames Embankment, By the Treasury
Arthur Streeton’s small sketches have a little more colour and the brushwork is laid on thick. He plays a lot with colour shifts within the same value planes. The painting sketch of Sandridge is compositionally daring with the dark values on the right and lights on the left, but this imbalance emphasise the subtle colour shifts. I think all these 9×5 are wonderfully painted in mass with subtle value or colour shifts to describe distance, focus or atmosphere.
There is a comment next to Tom Roberts painting of Saplings that the brushwork is rapid. The paintings may be small but it is wrong to think they are therefore rapid or hasty. If you look closely they are incredibly deliberate and cleanly painted. Rapid is definitely the wrong word. In the film the truer word vigour is used to describe the difference between the studio paintings and plein air paintings. I love painting plein air, I think the choices you make as an artist are more instinctual and less contrived, more immediate and reactionary, but that does not mean hasty.
In my opinion the urban paintings don’t translate so well on the larger scale. They are still impressive but the colours become a little cruder and less harmonious, the image a little more drawn and less massed in. Compare Arthurs Streetons Between the lights to his Hoddle Street. Perhaps it is when they are dealing with the urban landscape, they have found it a little harder to reduce the information and give us the balanced colour, so that the colour become muddy and can clash. Compositionally they remain strong.
In the second room there are two paintings by Tom Roberts that have such an English palette, all warm greens and browns. The painting of the Gardiners Creek is so compositionally original and clever, a perfect balance of drawing and atmosphere. The bridge and reflections are boldly placed in strong value contrast to the atmospheric background and distant trees.
The most impressive paintings are Arthur Streetons two large-scale landscapes titled after the Romantic poets Shelly and Wordsworth, the style may be impressionistic but the delivery is utterly bucolic within a romantic vision. The purples moon’s transparent night is so amazing. The simplicity of touch and bold paint application does not mean a lack of drawing skill. The colours are so harmonious, the chroma but not the colour melting away to give the sense of distance and atmosphere. In his painting of Golden Summer the colures are richer, the values stronger and he continues the play of atmospheric perspective, so ingeniously. Look at the sheep on the right, how they are so beautifully drawn in the foreground and melt away into the abstract mass of the grasses as they recede. I find these paintings so inspiring.
In the last room there are two painting of the same view of Coogee Bay by Conder and Roberts. The comment states that the paintings are ‘strikingly different”. The only difference is a slight colour palette; the approach to painting technique and the reliance of values to create form remains the same. They are in fact strikingly similar and show a great camaraderie. I love the idea that these painters were together, painting together, discussing ideas together and putting on exhibitions. I love painting with artist friends. We are so lucky to have friendships that go beyond just the chat, standing in fields together trying to capture colours, mood, atmosphere and so much more.
John Russell is a very different artist. He painted in the South of France and is much more impressionistic and even expressionistic. Some of the colours are startling and wonderful but it is less to my taste and for me seems over stylised and lazy, but perhaps at the time it was considered fresh and groundbreaking.
There is so much more I would like to share about this exhibition but perhaps the best thing (if you haven’t already) would be for you to visit. I think we are going to go next friday evening 10th March. Join us!
I find there is a beauty in the honesty and clarity of the other artists’ work, Roberts, Streeton and Conder. They have experienced and seen the work of the early impressionists and have taken the naturalism from the work and translated and interpreted this to their own native country and palette, thereby creating there own unpretentious and unique style.
Jan 25 2017
Today I set off with my mother and daughter Florence to see the Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery. Unfortunately this time it was the exhibitions last week so my New Year’s Resolution’s is to see the exhibitions before their last weekend, perhaps in their first week! That would be a good thing so that you might be able to take a little from what I have written with you around the exhibition. I am not an academic or a historian. My intention in these posts is just to give a little insight into the visual language of the artists. A little insight so that when you are on Museum trips or when you are drawing or painting at the studio or in your home, you can see the paintings from an artist’s perspective.
Many of the paintings on show are from the National Gallery’s own collection, so there are still many opportunities to see them. The rooms were heaving, which although for selfish reasons is less appealing, is a wonderful testament to Caravaggio and to figurative oil painting as a whole. I’ve never been squashed for space at Tate Modern or visiting the Turner prize, and this isn’t just because of the scale of the buildings!
For sheer number of paintings the exhibition was a little overwhelming but I always chose just to look at a few paintings in each room that grab my attention. As a painter your main job is not to imitate nature but be selective, so to at exhibitions, more often than not the curator is just bulking out the show with numbers, so you too can be selective about which paintings you look at! Though perhaps it’s in seeing the second rate along side the masterpieces that we can better appreciate the masterpieces. It’s also nice to see that even Caravaggio had his off days!
One of Caravaggio’s key skills, is that his paintings often leave a great proportion of the canvas to the imagination, lost in the scuro of the chiaroscuro. The premise of the exhibition was that Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro (light dark) and his realism were novel and ground breaking, and that artists from across the continent, even some who didn’t know him would borrow from his style and methodology, traveling to Rome to see his work. Personally I find this overly simplified. Artistic movements and tastes are not created by a single individual, but might be dictated by the patron, a dissemination of many artist, and other art forms. It is no coincidence that the birth of opera happened around the same period- a dramatization of music and drama, both on the stage and on the canvas.
Though I liked the fact that the narrative that went alongside the exhibition was not wordy or overly intellectualised. In the rooms there was a clear painting to grab ones attention, amongst lesser works. In the first room the painting by Caravaggio of a Boy with a Lizard is so fresh and alive. Here he really is showing off his skills, the beautiful still life, the portrait, the wonderful chiaroscuro and the paint quality which is exquisite and controlled and yet the image is so dynamic and lively.
In the second room, despite knowing the painting so well, I was again thrilled by the supper at Emmaus. I asked my daughter if she noticed anything odd about it; I wanted to see if she could spot the misjudged proportion of the hand in the distant, she did notice that his arm looked too short, which is another way of saying the hand was too big. She also thought Jesus looked rather feminine but what really struck her was the feet on the roast chicken! Even Abel and Cole while including the giblets and necks, always remove the feet!
In the 5th room Caravaggio’s paintings are hung next to Giuseppe Ribera’s work. Ribera is one of Scott’s favourite painters, and it is obvious to see why. Where Caravaggio’s style is slick and punchy, Ribera is powerful and emotional. Caravaggio is an amazing artist and image creator, but there is no doubt that Ribera has a greater mastery of paint. The paint quality of a Ribera is astounding, the chiaroscuro just as powerful but the naturalism so much greater than a Caravaggio. The emotional impact and the fleshiness he achieves is awesome.
In the final room the Gerrit van Honthorst has a different sense of chiaroscuro, although it is all about the light, the palette is so much softer, and this lends to the tenderness of the subject. And there are so many other artists to mention, like Georges de la Tour but the blog would get too long!
Instead as it is a Caravaggio exhibition I will leave on his painting of Saint John the Baptist. The cleanness of his shadow shapes and the clarity of his images are unrivalled in painting. He is a wonderful painter to look at as an aspiring artist and as a resource for a teacher. As we tend to want to overcomplicate and over-explain our images, his simplification of value patterns and clarity of colour notes and shapes are such a good lesson for us all.
Jan 13 2017
This morning I got up early to set off on my first artistic and cultural adventure of 2017, accompanied by my daughters. We left Broccoli behind as, although she loves our arty escapades, Museums are less welcoming to furry friends.
We drove to Oxford, with Rene Aubrey playing in the background. Driving through the city, waves of nostalgia washed over us – the architecture and familiar street names have inspired some of our greatest literature, most gripping murder mysteries and characters.
We arrived at the Ashmolean in good time. The building was recently renovated and boasts light and airy modern spaces. There is much to see, too much and for this reason we decided to focus on just one floor. We will have to return for the other floors and to revisit our favourite paintings.
A whole room is dedicated to Dutch flower painting. We felt spoilt by the number of paintings and whilst it was a treat to have so many masterful examples of the genre in one room, by the end we were able to be quite picky about what we enjoyed and what we felt was overdone and overwhelming.
We concluded that the paintings just marginally under life size did not work, they looked mean and disproportionate rather than merely under life size. There really is no need to paint something as small as a flower under life size, and it doesn’t make visual sense. Obviously this is not a rule that holds true to all subject matter, for a building to be painted life size would be ridiculous!
The lighter backgrounds were fresh and stood out amongst all the dark backgrounds. Why were Dutch flower paintings predominantly painted on dark backgrounds? Fast forward to the delicious Colombian feast we went onto after the Ashmolean. It was served on typical dark Colombian pottery, which Maria considered an effective way of emphasising the colour of the food. It made me think of the Dutch flower painting – perhaps the dark backgrounds were a device to accentuate the colours? Then again, in the days of no artificial lighting, I would have thought it would have been brighter to have lighter images?
My daughters were fascinated and did a great job finding at least one bug in every painting, like an arty Where’s Wally. I wonder, were the bugs there to entertain the artist, the children, or help explain the freshness and aliveness of the flowers!?
From flowers to landscapes, we moved through two rooms dedicated to the landscape sketch, mainly from the Gere Collection. These paintings are always a delight to see, their freshness and purity – no bugs needed, just pure observation. Leighton’s sketches are uncluttered and utterly underworked (very different to his large paintings); Valenciennes’ colours and shapes are crisp and simple, almost modern. Here too we were spoilt by the number of paintings and yet, by the end, similarly judgmental and quick to comment on the lack of accurate perspective. There is a clear difference between exaggerated perspective, which helps give the effect of distance, to forced and misjudged perspective.
The Constables were at the end of the room and had great impact. I am a huge fan but on closer inspection and after the light sketches of the Roman Campagna, they were disappointing.
The last room we entered was much more eclectic both in terms of timeline and genre. The jamboree of images did have some advantages as it made it very easy to pick out the gems in the crowd! The portrait by Lawrence, on a bone ground was striking and particularly remarkable for its colours and simplicity.
In the same room was the most amazing Hogarth sketch, a small oil painting on canvas. It is phenomenally modern, if it weren’t for the style of dress one would think it was a Walter Sickert. The painting is a sketch for the final episode of Marriage à la Mode; the looseness of the paint and the melting edges are incredible. However, what really brings the painting into the 20th century are the pure colour notes thickly applied, and the use of impasto to guide the storyline.
The painting feels very free, today we would be astounded by the sureness of touch and paint quality – alla prima at its best. Yet for Hogarth it was just a preliminary sketch!
There is so much more to be said – and this is just the second floor! However, my account would not be complete without indulging in what was the greatest pleasure of our visit: the Van Dyck studies. Two preparatory sketches of bearded men both in ruffs on a grey ground that brings a delicious warm tone to the work.
Van Dyck uses a very limited palette, his colours are clean and direct and every brushstroke has a purpose. This is not painting sketchily, nor slowly finding your way round till the end fits in with your visual start. It is instead considered and carefully applied so that, every brushstroke makes sense, in terms of its shape, value, temperature, colour. In these paintings there is nothing to trick us or lure us; no flashy colours, unnecessarily thick paint, or layers of glazes; no dripping paint or splashy backgrounds; just the purest form of honest painting. Every brushstroke is purposeful and none is excessive.
As an aspiring painter, what more could you hope for than the purest distillation of paint, and a lesson to apply to more aspects of our lives than just art!
Dec 28 2016
Last term I had the opportunity to give an art lecture. My chosen artist was Dorothea Tanning.
I first came across her work at the Alison Jacques Gallery on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition entitled Web of Dreams. It was named after one of her paintings and spanned the periods 1939-89. She has since become one of my most favourite artists, from whom I draw great inspiration. The title, Web of Dreams, really sums up what I love about her work: the jumble of fractured ethereal spaces, tangled bodies, prismatic surfaces and rich colours. Together, they deliver a deeper emotional richness and at times a dark eeriness that I really enjoy.
Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) lived until she was 101. She was an American artist who, to begin with, was closely associated with surrealism; over time she developed a more individual style. In addition to her work as a painter, she wrote two autobiographies and several novels, launching a second career as a poet in her 80s. She won the Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets. Dorothea Tanning was married to Max Ernst, the German painter and pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.
‘Family Portrait’, oil on canvas, 1977
An evening in Sedona, oil on canvas, 1976
To my mind, the series Insomnias, beginning in 1955, is amongst some of her most poignant work, described by her in unpublished notes: all of my pictures of this period I felt you should discover slowly and that they would almost be kaleidoscopes that would shimmer and that you would discover something new every time you looked at it.
‘Midi et demi’ (Half Past Noon), oil on canvas, 1957 – Full of hidden forms, the colours in these paintings seem almost crystalized in their fragmentation.
Alongside Insomnias, and bearing the same intensity are her ‘living sculptures’, completed towards the end of the 60s, and her matured paintings in the 70’s. The latter encompasses her series of flower paintings exhibited this year in London – the first time since 1999.
‘Asclepius formidabilis’ (Griefbane), oil on canvas, 1997 – Dorothea Tanning: Flower Paintings, September/October 2016, Alison Jacques Gallery
I prepared feverishly for the talk and in the end it paid off, I enjoyed sharing sharing, and in some cases introducing, the work of Dorothea Tanning to my peers. The time spent researching was beneficial in enriching my own knowledge and understanding of her journey as an artist. This was aided by the fact that Dorothea Tanning was a proloific writer as well as artist who left behind a wealth of fascinating and insightful material. It felt as if I were receiving a guided tour into her life.
For those keen to learn more I would recommend her autobiography, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World, 2001 and her novel, Chasm: A Weekend, 2004. A Public Space is a NY based literary and cultural magazine that this year featured a short story by Dorothea Tanning, Dream It Or Leave It, along with extracts from her personal journal, rough sketches and letters written to friends while she resided in Sedona. These can be found in Issue 24, Spring 2016.
‘Pounding Strong’, oil on canvas, 1981
The post Dorothea Tanning: notes from a student’s talk on the artist. appeared first on London Fine Art Studios.
Dec 1 2016
We are thrilled with the results of our first ever postcard competition! We received many varied and beautiful images and were hard pressed to narrow it down, however, after much deliberation we selected 8 works to reproduce as postcards.
The postcards have now arrived and are on sale in our shop, Lavender Hill Colours. They are available to buy in person and online: 70p per card or £5 for the set of 8 images.
All proceeds go towards our Next Generation Fund.
Many congratulations to the winners and with thanks to all those who took part!