Gregynog Wedding

Gregynog Hall, near Newtown in Mid Wales was the venue for a very enjoyable wedding ceremony on Saturday. The weather was wonderful which made for an especially great day for everyone present.

Gregynog is interesting for its architecture, being one of the earliest houses in the U.K. to be constructed in concrete. The decoration is all painted and is inspired by the traditional wooden framed Montgomeryshire farm houses.

Gregynog, University of Wales, Rodin, Davies Sisters.

The hall’s place in the history of art is by virtue of the amazing collection amassed, and bequeathed to Wales, by the Davies Sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret. The sisters were grand-daughters of David Davies, the Industrialist and philanthropist from Llandinam.

The Davies Sisters started their collection in 1906 and were the first in Britain to seriously purchase impressionist and post impressionist art, their collection featuring the works of Degas, Pissarro, Manet, Monet and Rodin, as well as seven ‘Turners’ re-attributed in BBC’s Fake or Fortune show.

The University of Wales was gifted Gregynog in 1960 as a centre for the Arts by Margaret Davies. The core of the collection of 260 works was gifted to the Cardiff Art Gallery and can be seen in the Davies Gallery, there. However, there is still an eclectic display of paintings and sculpture at Gregynog and we discovered a Rodin sculpture of Victor Hugo in the Senior Common Room.

August Rodin, Victor Hugo

Van Gogh at the Tate

(The) Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968) was one of the most influential albums of the 1960s. Released by the Scottish psychedelic folk rock band, The Incredible String Band, it’s title suggests the beauty of the afterlife. This concept may go somewhere to explaining the love affair the British have with Van Gogh.

Van Gogh, Britain, Tate
Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait (1889)

Van Gogh in Britain at the Tate seems to epitomise this feeling ‘after the pain’. Yes, Vincent Van Gogh came to Britain for three years from 1873, yet he was not painting in those years, and, yes he influenced much art of the twentieth century. But, it is as a stretch that this period influenced the artist to the extent that the Tate curators believe and, by 1910 Britain was so immersed in the colour of Impressionism and its subsequent post impressionist ideas that influence by Van Gogh alone is probably an illusion.

However this is a thinkers exhibition and in his guide, Ben Okri, The Nigerian novelist, posits that our love affair with Van Gogh tells us more about ourselves than it does about the artist. Van Gogh came to London with employment at the art dealers, Goupil & Son, and love, with a Lambeth girl. London was the leading industrial and capitalist powerhouse of the day, and in his letters to his brother, Theodore, the young Vincent anticipated the stay with much excitement. He left three years later with no employment, no amour, and a failed attempt in the priesthood; it could be said that London beat him. But he was absorbed by the images he saw of ‘ordinary’ things and the literature of the likes of Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stow (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), editions of which he has included in his portrait, The Arlésienne.

Van Gogh, Tate, The Arlésienne, Arles
Vincent Van Gogh, The Arlésienne (1890)

The journey to the Madhouse in Provence, the frantic paintings, the reverence of the ordinary and his remote death may well have had their roots in the darkness of the Britain he found.

But to the exhibition.

The Tate has provided the relationship with Britain (London) in two halves with very expert curation. Firstly Van Gogh’s time here leaning heavily on the influence of the illustrator, Gustave Doré, and the literature of the likes of Dickens. Star of this section is The Arlésienne, the 1890 portrait of the Station Cafe owner in Arles, above. While in London he bought several contemporary prints and his The Prison Courtyard (1890) is a virtual copy of Doré’s Exercise Yard at Newgate Prison (1872).

The second half of the exhibition relates to Van Gogh’s influence on twentieth Century British artists. This is where the exhibition is a little weaker but does show some very fine examples of post Impressionism in Britain such as Roderic O’Conner, and the Bloomsbury Set.

Roderic o’connor! Vincent Van Gogh! Tate! Van Gogh and britain
Roderic O’Connor, Yellow Landscape (1893)

Sunflowers, of course, are the great representation of the ordinary and a homage to Van Gogh’s great painting in the National Gallery comprises one room with various twentieth century versions. One in particular I liked is by the sculptor Jacob Epstein. You will either love or loathe this room! The Guardian called it a a mausoleum!

Epstein, sunflowers, Van Gogh, Tate
Jacob Epstein, Sunflowers (1933)

All in all, though, a very enjoyable day out. Van Gogh exhibitions now look much deeper into the artist’s life than previously. This interesting idea, that he was greatly influenced by his time in Britain, if a stretch of imagination, has been well presented. It does make you think about yourself, though.

If you can stand in front of Vincent’s Chair (1988) or his (peasant’s) Shoes (1886) without feeling emotion you have no soul! The hangman’s daughter is indeed beautiful.

Hangman, beautiful, daughter, incredible, string, band, cellular song
The Incredible String Band, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, Electra publishing (1968)

“Van Gogh in Britain” is at the Tate Modern in London until 11th August.

Renoir Umbrellas 1881-86

Renoir’s Umbrellas seems wholly appropriate as My Painting of the Month for this very wet June. I have always loved this painting in the National Gallery but never quite sure why. It seems such an unusual scene. I think it is the engaging looks Renoir seems to conjure up. Is it the ‘Girl with the Basket’ who enchants us or the young girl engaging directly with the viewer? And who has the man with the hat on the left an eye for. We are left to wander.

Umbrellas, London, Renoir
Pierre August Renoir, Umbrellas, 1886, National Gallery London

Umbrellas is interesting in that it was painted two halves. The right hand side, painted in 1881 has that free impressionist style and the gaiety of that time. By the time Renoir returned to the painting in 1886 he had suffered a crisis in his work and had returned to studying much earlier works in the Louvre, such as prints by Ingres. The brushwork of the girl is much more deliberate and classical, but the face is typical Renoir.

The painting is also an exercise in using black in the palette. I tried copying this many years ago, and must say failed miserably. The simplicity of Renoir’s faces is also their complexity.

Do go to see this enchanting painting in the National Gallery, and consider walking around London on a wet June day with so many umbrellas around – and mobile phones. Complete chaos I would imagine.

Chiharu Shiota – The Key in Hand

The Key in the Hand marks, for me, the coming to an end of my exhibition, and a move back to the world of ‘real’ art. I am planning to visit the Venice Biennale later this year so I thought I would start to immerse in the world of the contemporary.

Chiharu Shiota, a resident of Berlin, is one of the foremost installation artists practising today. She represented the Japanese pavilion at Venice in 2015 with this installation of red yarn, keys and two boats.

Venice Biennale, Venice, keys, Memories, red yarn
Chiharu Shiota, The Key in Hand, 2015

The Venice Biennale is renowned for large installations so this piece fitted well with the tradition. When I first saw the image I was very worried as my initial reaction was of blood and violence. The artist’s explanation presents a very different picture, however. Although a reminder to all of us of the inevitability and individuality of death, the keys aim to represent our emotional memories. Each key we ever possess becomes full of our memories. These are collected up by the boats, presumably from the underworld, and our memories are passed on for eternal stewardship.

Whatever your views are of the afterlife or next world, Chiharu Shiota is saying our memories continue. I cannot wait to get to Venice and the Biennale and the Japanese Pavilion will be on my list of ‘must sees’.

Joan Miro – Painting of the Month

Joan Miro is the twentieth century Spanish surrealist who features in my Painting of the Month.

Miro, May 1968, Paris, Students
Joan Miro, May 1968, 1968-75, Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.

May 1968 was an idea he painted between 1968 and 1975, late is in his life. It is a challenging view but is there to remind us of the revolutionary fervour that overtook Europe in 1968; this month 51 years ago. The current lack of faith in the political system seems to echo the challenge to the establishment of the sixties.

The strong colours that were with Miro all his life are here, but the black he normally uses for outline has been added to. In this painting there is an overlying image, almost thrown at the canvas and allowed to run. The hand prints, I Am Here, echo the primitive cave images found throughout the world but especially in Spain and France.

If Postmodernism has its birth in the views of the French Philosophers and the Student Riots of 1968 then this painting reminds of this transition.

The Garden (1925) shows Miro earlier expressing the more upbeat optimism of surrealism.

Miro, Garden, Tate
Joan Miro, The Garden, 1925