Loving Vincent did not win an Oscar or an Academy Award. Somewhat like Van Gogh himself overlooked in its lifetime. We watched this 2017 film last week and were greatly moved by it. The film was a joint U.K. Polish project directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and included in the line up is Adlestrop’s adopted celebrity from Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson. She plays a cafe owner, Adeline Ravoux. Interestingly her co-star Aidan Turner is here as well as the boatman (top right).
Animation has never been like this in film making. You could say this is as close as film gets to traditional painting. The production team recruited over 120 artists to paint over 65000 canvases in the style of Van Gogh. It is fascinating how the scenes merge in and out of known canvases mainly centred on the village of Auvers-sur-Oise.
The storyline focuses on an imaginary investigation into the events surrounding the artists suicide, one year on, by the postman’s son, Armand Roulin. It becomes a typical ‘Midsomer’ with everyone in the frame for murder but settles in the end for…well I can leave that for you to find out by watching.
Lianne la Havas’s cover of Don Mclean’s Vincent which closes the film is simply stunning and leaves you motionless in your seat while the credits roll.
‘Van Gogh and Britain’ is due to open on the 27th March at the Tate, which will be a must see but this little film is a beautiful preparation. It would always be an enjoyable and interesting debate as to who the greatest ever painter was; but it would be unlikely not to include Vincent Van Gogh as a leading contender.
Do search your film and media provider and look out Loving Vincent.
Genre paintings are not normally selected as my Painting of the Month but I was reminded the other day of this glorious scene from the 1880s. Watercolour is also not to be found in my selections normally so this is a ‘double first’.
In a Cornish Fishing Village – Departure of the Fleet for the North, is quite a title for this, full of emotion, watercolour of 1886, to be found in the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. But it is in his complex titles that Langley emphasised the hardships and poverty of the lives of the people of Newlyn. The panoramic scene shows the departing fishing fleet on the horizon as a backscene to the intricately set group on the quayside. Those left behind. Does the central figure with the glass viewing the fleet feel he is in the wrong place? The groups of women feature strongly in Langley’s works; often older sages with young fanciful girls.
The Newlyn colony of artists sprung up around the Cornish fishing village in the late nineteenth century. Most were incomers but they had studied and in many cases lived in Europe. Walter Langley from Birmingham and, the Irishman, Stanhope Forbes, were perhaps the two most accomplished Newlyners but the whole colony created a special British Art with a European flavour. Unlike the abstract emphasis of the St Ives School of the twentieth century the modernism created by the Newlyn group was of social comment through figurative and genre works.
This painting was awarded a gold medal in Chicago and saw Langley as an exponent in portraying the struggle for existence, while also seeing the social impact. Every time I see Langleys paintings I feel like a voyeur to some event I know very little about but at the same time feel drawn into the scene.
If you also sense this look out other Walter Langley works such as Breadwinners, 1896, or the tragic, Among the Missing, Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village, 1884, also to be found in the Penlee Hoùse Gallery.
The Fosse Gallery in Stow on the Wold is very excited about its March exhibition. There is a terrific buzz of enthusiasm.
Mick Rooney the Royal Academician is showing a new series of works entitled “From Genesis to Nemesis”. I called in last week while I was in Stow and saw the delivery of the five foot high Waiting and Wandering – breathtaking. There is so much going on with this very interesting artist. I have been intrigued by Mick Rooneys work for a few years now and even splashed out on one of his Aviary series.
So it was with some excitement that I arranged to meet the artist in January as he was completing the preparation for the exhibition. I expected to meet an eccentric working in a sort of Harry Potter world so was very surprised by his level headedness, unbelievable memory and wit leading to a pleasurable couple of hours of loquacious discussion.
Where did his art and creativity come from – not inherited from his parents or family he was keen to explain. “My parents were very practical and straightforward settling in Surrey in the thirties”; so it was down to others around him to notice he was slightly different. He puts this down to an accident in childhood which seemed to effect his education – this from a man fluent in several languages! But relatives and friends observed the six year old travelling in a different direction than expected and he was lucky enough for their support through art schools and Schools of Art. “A calling” he describes his art, but like other great talents he explains how “I found I was quite good at painting and didn’t need to spend time having to think hard about it as it all appeared to be there”. It is all there in the colour and composition that seems effortless.
So what about all these creatures, some mythological, some real, the androgynous humans, the beautiful palette. I was of course keen to understand where the imagery came from. When tackled with the question and after a little thought, he astounded me with his answer. “We all spend our time simply going up the escalator taking it all in, but I found when I got to the top I managed to retain all I had seen on the way up.” His memory is inspirational, and it seems he just opens the door with the paint brush and the images flow out as if they all know there place already.
His memory for these early developments astounded me and I could have sat for hours as his development into a very accomplished artist unravelled before me. What became clear though that here was not a man who simply painted but one who had a thirst for knowledge and experience in a poetic manner. And there is a message. The looks in the animals tells us that as we hurtle towards perdition we cannot solve it ourselves. To survive we and nature must become equal partners. These are deep thoughts with Mick Rooney. Not just once in our discussion did he revert to his profound idea that to “see the six year old – see the man”
The Fosse Gallery show “From Genesis to Nemesis” opens on 4th March. Do go and see this exhibition of works to inspire your innervision. Maybe you might splash out as well!
Tate membership brings many benefits and I am grateful to my family for buying me an annual card in a (not very) secret Santa draw last year. We made our first trip to London for a while to visit Tate Modern last week, to test the membership and view the retrospective of Sir Edward Burne Jones.
First to the membership. Everyone warned me that the Private Members Room would be very busy which, arriving late morning, it was. I had also expected it to be a posh London crèche, and it was, so I cannot feel disappointed. I also remembered why I try to avoid London Blockbuster exhibitions – too many exhibits, too many people, too many people standing in front of exhibits discussing their shopping trips or medical ailments and too many mobile phones. All that having been said the exhibition is quite superbly curated. The show is set out in seven rooms tracing the artists life from apprentice to master of large scale ‘exhibition’ and ‘series’ paintings and platforming his talent both as a draughtsman and a designer.
Sir Edward Burne Jones is an inspiration to all who wish to enjoy success. Not naturally talented and educated away from art schools and academies, he became associated with the Pre Raphaelites and worked very hard to become very good in various media. His main influence was his life long friend and colleague at Oxford University, William Morris. He did much design work which is on show here for the Morris Company. My own preference is his stained glass windows which are to be found all over the world and the exhibition may have been better with more examples.
Burne Jones’s technical excellence cannot be refuted, especially his later work with its romantic poetic beauty, and he certainly has a huge following arguing his place amongst the great British artists. The problem for me and my objection to the Pre-Raphaelites generally is their rejection of modernity. While the group were rejecting the modernity, striving to return to medieval whimsyness In Britain, across the Channel impressionists, post-impressionists and the avant garde were making great strides forward embracing the modern world, with all its faults, paving the way for the twentieth century.
What I do like is the poetry of the art. As a great favourite of Sandro Botticelli I see many parallels in Burne Jones. Not just the strength of line and the poetry but also the speed with which both artists lost favour in the times, but to be appreciated later.
On our way home we paid a short visit to see the German fantasist Artist, Martin Eder’s ‘Parasites’, at Damien Hurst’s Newport Street Gallery. Technically very sound but probably not to everyone’s taste.
The Sir Edward Burne Jones show was at the Tate Modern until 24th February so unfortunately closed now.
To accompany my Painting of the Month I thought I might change the header image. Botticelli Reimagined is a 2012 imitation of The Birth of Venus by Japanese artist Tomoko Nagao which gave its name to an exhibition at the V&A in 2016. The exhibition was in three parts; a collection of Botticelli paintings, a series of nineteenth century paintings inspired by the Renaissance Master, and numerous twentieth century pastiche copies in many media from tapestry to David Bowie album covers.
I was taken by the Tomoko Nagao version for its banality; its comment on the sky being full of planes and the sea full of junk.
For the purist the original Birth of Venus painted by Botticelli around 1485, below, is also in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence with The Primavera.
Sandro Botticelli was at one stage one of the most sought after and accomplished artists of the Florentine Renaissance. Then, after centuries of almost total obscurity his stock rose again in the mid nineteenth century to reach the fame his works enjoy today. Whereas his early public works were the numerous Madonnas and Virgins his modern popularity comes from the poetic, so called mythological works of which Primavera or Allegory of Spring, hung in the Uffizi Gallery, is one of the most well known. I have chosen this as my Painting of the Month and the theme of Poetry and Art.
Primavera is a wonderfully executed painting with eight main characters in a scene containing some five hundred different plants, including almost two hundred flowers. The exact interpretation of the scene has been lost in time, if it was ever completely clear, so is now open to many interpretations. The main description has Venus, Goddess of love, centre stage in an orange grove, with her blindfolded son Amor firing his arrows. In front of Venus a story unfolds traditionally read from right to left. Zephyrus, the gentle wind, is in fact invading the garden pursuing the nymph, Chlorus, who is transforming into Flora, the Goddess of Spring. Further on we see Venus’s companions, The Three Graces, dancing for her. But look at the central one, who is the target for Amor’s arrow of love, and notice her eyes are fixed on Mercury to the left. And what is Mercury doing in the scene, looking out the picture frame completely?
According to Barbara Deimling in her 2014 work, Sandro Botticelli, we have to know more about the patronage to understand Mercury’s role. The painting was commissioned by the Medici’s for Lorenzo di Francesco and hung in his bed chamber. The answer to the Mercury question may lie in the painting that hung to the left, Pallas and the Centaur. Pallas Athene, Goddess of Wisdom, dressed in Medici adorned garments is seen in the act of arresting the centaur in an enclosed space, that he has invaded, just in the act of firing his arrow (itself an allegorical action). Mercury, The winged messenger maybe carrying a message from Venus to Athene.
Zephyrus and The centaur are both in the act of hunting innocent nymphs so reading both paintings together the viewer maybe witnessing the victory of chastity over lust, or good over evil. Indeed the victory has been orchestrated by the Medici family as signified by Athene’s dress symbols. These scenes do not appear in any single text together but it is believed that Botticelli’s ideas originate in De Reum Natura, by the Italian poet Lucretius. But wait…just when you thought you understand it Botticelli launches another surprise. Is he attributing the victory to the Medici’s or covertly to Christian belief? Look for an array of Christian symbols in the straight erect trees above the Graces, the random bending trees framing Zephyrus. Do these echo the tradional order and chaos of the last judgement. Probably the most striking symbol is the halo above the Venus – is she really the Virgin Mary. The interchangeability of The Venus and Mary was a common idea in medieval thinking.
Primavera could keep you busy for years understanding the plot, testing the theories, dismissing ideas, but really the painting can be simply enjoyed for its imagery and beauty. No wonder it is such a huge draw in The Uffizi. Enjoy.
The Barber Institute in Birmingham is probably one of the finest small collections of Western Art to be found anywhere in the world. When Lady Hattie Barber set out the acquisitions policy through the trust deed in 1933 the seeds were sown for a brilliant representation of the progression from early Italian painting through to the post impressionists of Paris. However the stipulation that no object created after 1899 should be acquired; reversed by the trustees in 1967, created the dearth of twentieth century art we see now. With the exception of two or three lonely examples; Howard Hodgkin’s, Artificial Flowers (1975), on loan, and Leger’s Composition with fruit (1938) abstract art is largely missing.
Chance, Order and Change, the exhibition, therefore came as a complete surprise to me in 2016 attracting my attention; a look into the world of abstraction, and, in particular, constructivism. This post is taken from a Frieze competition entry I wrote that year. On display were twelve works from a private collection, and therefore, normally excluded from public scrutiny. The show ran from 11th February to 8th May 2016.
Josef Albers was the star of the show; one of the giants of geometric abstraction. There were two examples of his ‘Homage to the Square’ series; Red Tetrachord (1962) and a smaller study, Affectionate (1954). These paintings of four diminishing squares, set symmetrically horizontally but descending vertically towards a points, moving around on the retina in quite a hallucinatory way. The colours of Red Tetrachord diminish through red / yellow through earth, pure red to red / blue. This is not a painting to quickly walk past, but one to ponder, enjoy and even enter it trance like. The squares and the colours become more excited, the longer they are viewed and the colours move freely around the spectrum in patterns on the eye.
The square dominated the show; eight of the twelve exhibits being based on the equal quadrilateral and the remainder rectangles offering a substitute. Pure curves are almost absent, although there are occasional curvilinear works such as those by Bridget Riley; Orphean Elegy 7 (1979) and her Study for Studio International cover (1971). Riley’s’ is possibly the most familiar exhibits and the only ones which offer the most colourful palette. The curves are more subtly observed in Kenneth Martins Chance, Order, Change (1983) and Victor Passmores Line and Space No 21. Here the straight line still dominates as either groups of lines, the number determined by the throw of a dice, in Martin’s ‘Chance’, or as an array of short flecks in Passmore. But spending time with these sweeping shapes starts rewardin the viewer as strong curves, natural curves, hints of eroticism, appear behind the geometry.
At Chance Order Change half of the exhibits were either black or white, and of the remainder four were monochrome or had only red or blue to offer. The show finished with Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting(1957), a canvas of monochrome black; the ‘end of painting’ as he described it – no line, no colour, no form, no object. But wait; shapes start to appear, more landscapes, more images; representation. What the ambiguity of these minimalistic abstracts prove is that painting did not die but, with time and patience, they become so full of vitality, images and figures. By reducing art to the most complete abstraction and asking so much more of the viewer, the reward is representative imagery that can transgress beyond any of the aspirations of the creation.
My entry did not win the Frieze prize but the exhibition was worth the effort though!
Worcester was our choice for a day out this week for some mid January therapy, and I thought, for a change, it was time I wrote about stone again. Memory was an important concept in the Middle Ages for church decoration and Worcester Cathedral is full of commemorative art. The architecture of the Cathedral is stunning, but we concentrated our visit on two particular memorials which commemorate interesting figures of Plantagenet blood.
King John’s tomb dominates the choir. The stone base conceals the tomb and is decorated with Plantagenet heraldry (the original three lions anticipated by Geoffrey De Plantagenet) and is topped with a life size effigy of John in purbeck marble. The effigy from the mid thirteenth century was one of the earliest to reflect the actual likeness rather than the more normal baronial type of representation. By his side is an unsheathed sword and on his shoulders are his two saints, the patron saints of Worcester; Wulfstan and Oswald. At his feet is a richly carved lion representing regal power.
Just a view yards away on the north side of the high altar is the tomb and chantry chapel of Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, the first born of the new Tudor dynasty. The tomb holding the fifteen year old heir is highly decorated stone with the heraldry of the English Sovereign with lions and fleur de lys, still revealing aspirations in French territory. The chantry chapel with it’s altar were adorned with numerous statues before a later iconoclasm (Edward VI) caused much damage. The richness of the decoration, however, clearly befits such an important heir and the fan vaulted roof is exquisite. Decorating the north exterior wall of the chapel is an array of significant emblems ranging from the white and red roses of the warring cousins, the combined Tudor rose, the portcullis emblem, adopted by parliament, the Yorkist fetterlock and the pomegranate representing Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s wife.
“What might have been?” There are many times throughout English history when that question may have been asked and these two tombs in Worcester Cathedral show how unlikely events can swing the history of a nation. It is enthralling to sit in spaces like the great gothic choir of Worcester Cathedral and ponder on these events.
King John was the youngest of five sons of the first Plantagenet, Henry II. But for the rebellious nature of his elder brothers, all meeting premature deaths, he would have probably led a quiet life in some backwater in Ireland or France. Instead his own treacherous nature led to his taking the crown of England and nearly losing it disastrously, very nearly losing England as well. The subsequent reigns of Henry III, crowned at the age of nine at Gloucester, and Edward I probably led to the nation becoming more English than at any time since the legendary King Arthur.
And Prince Arthur? Following the final demise of the Plantagenets at Bosworth, the new dynasty depended on the legitimacy of the royal blood through Elizabeth of York, to support the usurper, Henry Tudor. Arthur was the first born, whose task was to finally bring a close years (maybe centuries) of Plantagenet wars and a herald a new glorious age. He died unexpectedly at fifteen, his younger brother ,Henry, married the widowed Catherine and the rest, as they say, is history…
To accompany my Painting of the Month (Turner – Rain, Steam, Speed, 1844) I have a new header series of paintings by Claude Monet from the third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877. They represent views of St Lazare Railway Station in Paris and were the most talked about at the exhibition. The view on the middle right is La Gare St-Lazare, 1877, which is in the National Gallery in London.
The Great Western Railway in the 1840s must have been both exciting and a subject of huge trepidation. Steam power had been established for some years by the time Turner painted this view in 1844, which is my ‘Painting of the Month’ for January. The public railway was quite new though, especially in southern England, maybe 10-15 years at most. What people must have thought of the prospect of thundering down from London to Bath at 40 miles per hour who knows. Nearly two hundred years on the railway is so much part of our life and landscape it becomes headline news when fares go up.
Maybe the acceptance of the early railways has similarities with the internet. The technology is well established and understood but the power and consequences of the internet fill traditionalists with fear and trepidation while the forward looking acknowledge the opportunities and benefits to be realised.
What did the great English painter, Turner make of it? He certainly anticipated the Impressionists in finding comfort in painting scenes of modernity and nothing represented the modern better than the railway. Turner’s image is universally recognised as Maidenhead railway bridge with the old “Bath Road” stone bridge on the left. The view is towards Taplow and London but it is difficult to see quite where Turner’s perspective was looking down on the train.
The train will be hauled by one of the early steam engines to appear on the railways coughing out fire, steam and smoke and of course noise. The bridge, completed in 1839, is one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpieces, still the largest brick arch in the world. The centres of the arches are so wide that the brickwork is virtually horizontal making it such a fantastic feat of architecture / engineering.
Turners painting style is instantly recognisable in the painting and picking up detail is difficult but look out for the hare running alongside the train. What is the hare telling us. Is it simply running away from the noise? Is it Turner telling us how fast the train is travelling? To reach the speed of a racing hare in 1844 was indeed quite an achievement. Is it more subtle – maybe the traditionalists saying modernity is all very well but nature still produces faster transport. Maybe a short sited view, to be proved untrue only a few years later, akin to not appreciating the power of digital technology.
I never fail to be inspired by Turner’s atmospheric paintings and seeing this great representation of burgeoning modernity in the National Gallery is always a treat. Do see the original and not the numerous copies in station waiting rooms the length and breadth of the West Country.
Rain, Steam, Speed – The Great Western Railway, 1844, William Mallord William Turner, The National Gallery, London.