St Tropez – Musée de l’Annonciade

St Tropez never fails to marvel. There are several ways in and road is definitely not one of them though. The views from the water taxi from St Maxime is stunning, with the sun picking out the lovely sandy pinks of the old fishing port. Naples Yellow should have been called St Tropez Yellow as it sums up the colour so well. We visited the Musée De l’Annonciade, primarily to see the work of Paul Signac, who discovered the old port in 1892 and stayed.

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Interior of the delightful Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez, founded in 1922 in an old chapel, with pointillism from Paul Signac and bronze by Aristide Maillol.

One of my essays at Oxford was about The Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat (in The National Gallery) so I was well versed in pointillism and the theory of adjacent colours, and was looking forward to seeing the work of Signac, so inspired by St Tropez. There are more Signac’s  than you can throw a stick at in this delightful ex-chapel including his famous L’Orage, but at the same time a number of other delights.

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St Tropez, l’orage, 1895, Paul Signac, Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.

I was taken by the sensual life size bronzes by Aristide Maillol, and other works by other postimpressionists, Bonnard, Vouillard and Matisse, of course, who we missed in Nice. Interstingly, in addition to the French post impressionist works was a large collection of what seemed like seventeenth century Dutch landscapes. All donated or borrowed from the Musée De Beaux Artes, Dunkerque. Why – I have no idea and am still trying to find out.

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La Nymph, 1932, Aristide Maillol. Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.

I suspect the best days of St Tropez are long gone but it is still a good day out and if you do go, search out La Sardine for good value harbourside food and the Annonciade for visual delights. Also look out for the old old harbour to get a flavour of what Paul Signac saw and fell in love with in the 1890s.

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La Port De St Tropez, 1899, Paul Signac, Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.

Côte d’Azur (3) Nice Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

The trouble with Museums of Modern and Contemporary Art is that there is normally too much to see and the themes are so varied that the spectator is blown away by the experience and exhausted. The additional problem with post modern art is that it also asks a lot of the spectator to understand, so you have to view the image and read hundreds of explanatory words. The exhibits are also normally housed in a building of exceptional architectural interest. Nice is no exception 

So we were beaten by the museum as there is so much to see in Nice. Maybe a couple of hours with Chargall just beforehand was too much! The building, designed by Yvres Bacardi and Henri Vidal is stunning and based on classical ideas of the square and the arch with a very modern accent. The 4000 square feet of exhibition space is on three floors with terraces on the roof to view the arches and the City of Nice.

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The Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain, MAMAC, Nice, 1990.

Regarding the art there was just too much to take in from the twelve rooms. Every single piece is worthy of note for the technical expertise of its construction, whether it be sculture, photography or film (not much painting) but as already noted, difficult to understand. For instance, Ernest Pignon-Ernest (b1942), the Nice born Fluxus and Situationalist artist, very politically charged anti nuclear, and anti apartheid.

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“Jean Genet”, 2006, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, MAMAC, Nice.

Definitely not to be missed, maybe because of its familiarity, is the Yvres Klein level with the rich untramarine (Klein Blue) works in sculpture and paint. The fact that he arranged for paint covered nude girls to roll about the canvas is interesting, but of far less importance with Klein’s other experimentation with sculpture in the room. Until you see Klein Blue in the flesh, so to speak, you do not realise it’s evocative power.

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Part of The Yvres Klein permanent exhibition at MAMAC, Nice.

… so by the time we had visited Marc Chargall and MAMAC it was time to skip the visual arts and head for the Old Town (Vieux Nice) and the culinary arts.

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Les Sardines Farcies Niçoise, 2018.

Côte d’Azur (2) Nice – Marc Chargall

Marc Chargall pops up everywhere in France but no where can you see such a unified display of his iconographic themes than in the Musée Nacional in Nice. In 1966 he gifted to the nation his The Biblical Message collection, a group of large paintings based on the books of Genesis, Exodus and The Song of Songs. All this in a purpose designed exhibition building and auditorium on the hillside above Nice.6A765B4C-A829-46A6-A0FE-835D026A4865.jpegParadise, 1961, The Biblical Message, Musée Nacional Marc Chargall, Nice.

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Song of Songs II, The Biblical Message, Musée Nacional Marc Chargall, Nice.

The exhibition is based on this bible series, showing not only the finished works but Chargall’s preliminary works in all manner of media from sketches to ceramics.

The auditorium also displays three beautiful full height stained glass windows depicting the themes of the creation of the world, and on a wall outside a fifteen foot square ceramic mural entitled The Prophet Elijah.

Côte d’Azur (1) Biot – Fernand Leger

Biot is a lovely hilltop Provençal village just inland from the Côte D’Azur near Antibes. Famous for its glassware and the later home of Fernand Leger, it welcomed us with “the mother and father of thunderstorms.” We came to visit the Musée Nacional Fernand Leger and were well rewarded. The museum was built after the artist’s death in 1955, by his wife, Nadia, and architect, Andreï Svetchine on the hillside outside the village, and is now a state owned legacy to Leger.

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Unfinished Mural, originally planned for stadium in Hamburg, now on exterior front of Musée Nacional Fernand Leger in Biot.

Fernand Leger was originally associated with the cubist period with Picasso and George’s Braques (who co- sponsored the museum) but developed in his own right after the First World War, influenced by the machine orientated futurists. His life time love of colour and the human form has affected many artists since and could be said to be one of the artist’s that inspired pop and, maybe, urban graffiti art. 

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The permanent collection was based mainly on Leger’s later works in painting and ceramics while we also enjoyed a temporary exhibition, vis-à-vis; Fernand Leger and his friends, which linked the artist and his style to other twentieth century artists such as Roy Lichtenstein. 

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Untitled Composition! 1978, Roy Lichtenstein, diptych showing Leger influence with simplified grey shaded face.

Oxford (again) and Modern Drawing

Frantic. That is how modern living can be described. Last Saturday we were in Oxford showing off the Pitt Rivers Museum to Ellie, and finding a good seat for the World Cup Quarter final. Then all the business of a week in retirement, not to mention exit from said competition and here I am back in Oxford again. This time at Modern Art Oxford, for a rare drawing exhibition.

Drawing as an art form had a very difficult twentieth century when attempts were made by art schools to render it obsolete. Luckily we have all come to our senses and drawing is back. Not just the renaissance and historical drawings that the Ashmolean, Fitzwilliam and British Museum are famous for (not to mention the Royal Collection at Windsor) but modern and post modern gems.

The latest exhibition at Modern Art Oxford,  A Slice Through the World “updates and challenges some of the ideas tested during an important moment in Oxford art history, namely the international group show”; Drawing 1972. There is so much to see here that shows the modern artists at their creative best, but not ignoring traditional ideas and materials. Aura- Natasha Ogunji opens the show with The proof, an undersea volcano, attraction, extraction, distraction, 2017. Ink, graphite and thread on tracing paper display several levels in the artist’s mind and the lightness of the paper shimmers in the breeze within the gallery. Are the figure(s) gods above the abstract lava flows? Blue flows replacing the red of molten rock and are the threads part of the human figures or part of the lava flow? Take your time to take in the messages. Leave the frantic world outside.

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Aura-Natasha Ogunji, The Proof, an undersea volcano, attraction, extraction, distraction, 2017.

Laid out on trestle tables like an exam room (Oxford) are 100 pages of an atlas of Europe, pages blacked out with graphite, except for single white spots denoting each settlement. Are we being asked to look at our busy continent as if we would view the night sky. There are no borders here, no history, no prejudices, no conflict – just that tranquility and intrigue we enjoy when we look at the stars on a stlll moonless night. And yet there is the blackness of the sea which like space is the emptiness that is necessary to define the boundaries.

There are, of course, traditional pencil on paper figurative work and the best of these can be found in the Piper Room. The theme here is that the artist has adopted other media, mainly photography, and created their own forms. Most importantly the moment has been celebrated by the artist rather than simply copying the event in film. Look closely at Nidhul Chamekh’s Trois Poses De Fadhel Sassi, 2016, made from burned bread and charcoal on canvas. The original photos were of Fadhel Sassi, a Tunisian professor being assassinated During the bread riots of 1984. Where there was no movement in the original, Chamekh has subtly reframed them and reorganised them to tell his story. Grim as it is it is important for journalists to record the event and for the artist to prick our consciousness  the spiritual meaning.

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Nidhul Chamekh, Trois Poses De Fadhel Sassi, 2016

Next door is Barbara Walkers brilliant graphite on embossed paper, Untiltled, 2018 with its relevance to this years commemoration. The medium allows for the military actions of the black soldiers, marginalised by history to receive a special presence, juxtaposed with the embossed removal of their white colleagues. 

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Barbara Walker, Untitled 2018

To me there are three types of drawing to see at exhibitions. There are the preparatory sketches necessary in the development of paintings and sculpture. There are the drawings and cartoons that have been created through history which, due to the fame of the artist and his other works, have become works of art in their own right. Then there are those drawings that are created to stand alone and individual. This exhibition at Oxford is a celebration of these in the modern era. Set in the calmness of this wonderful inner city space these works invite a reverence that is not unlike a medieval cathedral. Don’t rush through but take time and the spirit of these works will reveal themselves to you. What you see in a drawing is more of the artist’s mind than probably any other art form.

They are of course a few high energy works. Look for Disgrace I, II, III & IV, 2009, where Kate Davis, while acknowledging Amedeo Modigliano’s vacuous female nudes, has also chosen to confuse your senses with her own image. She has taken / appropriated some of Modigliani’s drawings from a monograph and superimposed lines and marks which she traced around her own body. While your first impression is one of desecration you start to see the intermingling of the bodies and some substitution, and again what she is saying with the strength and emotion lost in other media.

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Kate Davis, Disgrace, 2009

You may gather from all this that I believe in drawing as the primary elemental artform , even the essence of art going back to the caves and the starting point for everything else. Enjoy the great drawings of the renaissance of course but also come here for raw beauty and emotional consciousness.

A Slice Through the World is at Modern Art Oxford until 9th September

Southampton

I handed in my final essay this week which is a great relief. Having enjoyed the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright* and the sculptural beauty of Barbara Hepworth I think I need a little time with some two dimensional art. And what better place than Southampton. Just a few minutes from the station is the civic and cultural centre with its City Art Gallery, Sea City Museum and Solent University’s John Hansard Gallery.

The City Art Gallery first. Bridget on the course recommended the Gallery, maybe because she lives here. The main gallery is on the first floor, a long room with a very eclectic mix of mainly nineteenth and twentieth century paintings. There are the Camden Town Group here, the London Group, Graham Sutherland and some interesting work from Cornwall, together with some very fine small bronzes by Epstein, Rodin and Degas. All in all, I thought that was a quaint little provincial collection – where next?

But then I ventured into the side galleries. An early Italian room houses a superb altarpiece by Allegretto Nuzi (1315-1373), and there is an intriguing room with a series of gouache preparatory paintings on the subject of Perseus by Edward Burne Jones (1875-1885). The final work, commissioned by the Prime Minister, Balfour, was never completed so these preparatory paintings are the only full series. It is the story of Perseus’s defeat of the gorgon Medusa and his rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster. Burne-Jones is an acquired taste but a must see nonetheless.

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Perseus and the Sea Nymphs, Edward Burne Jones (1877), Southampton City Art Gallery

A very interesting twist on displaying popular lively work was to ask various members of Southampton Football Club to pick their favourites. I was particularly taken by  a remake of Ford Madox Brown’s, The Work, chosen by James Searle, the Internal Communications Manager. Painted in almost the same spot in Hampstead by David Redfern in 1977, the machinery is added but all the old favourites are present, the “honest labourer, the idler, the unemployed, those employing mental labour.”

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Work, David Redfern (1977)

In another Gallery was a special exhibition by George Shaw entitled ‘My Back to Nature” – a pun on his creating the work in the studio. The theme is what happens in the artist’s local woods – a lot of growing up, initiation and a few unsavoury goings on to delight the eye. I first saw  the artists work at the Royal Academy in 2011, and was astonished by the use of ‘Humbrol’ modellers paint in serious art. The subject matter then was derelict scenes on  a Coventry housing estate and the woods of this exhibition are adjoining the estate. This new exhibition, commissioned by the National Gallery is touring the country.

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The Rude Screen (2015), George Shaw, from My Back to Nature (National Gallery 2016)

The final gallery was showing the work of Kelly Richardson an advocate for reminding us how far we have gone in the human destruction of the planet. Her ‘Pillars of Dawn’ are digital painted bare monochromatic trees in the unnatural light of dawn – or is it dusk? I have added Orion Tide (2013) on the main banner as an image that particularly took me. The audio visual video presentation showed launching pillars of fire from a desert landscape. Are they rockets, escaping space craft or simply what they appear to be, plumes of flame?

On the doorstep is Sea City with its exhibitions of The Titanic and Southampton Football Club (again) and the John Hansard Gallery with an Artist Room special on Gerard Richter. More of these another time.

My Back to Nature is at the Southampton City Gallery until1st September.

Pillars of Dawn is at the Southampton City Gallery until 6th October.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was a great American Architect who just happened, also, to be one of Paul Simon’s pen names for Art Garfunkel.

A Trip to the Barber

Recently I visited the Barber Institute at Birmingham University. Easy to get to – train to University and keep walking. I went to see an exhibition entitled Rhythm of Light, a celebration of the so called Scottish Colorists. These are a group of turn of the (20th) century Scottish artists who discovered light and colour in Paris and the South of France. I enjoyed the exhibition but to be honest having enjoyed the works of S J Peploe and J D Ferguson for years I found the curation somewhat tame. Some of the work of these two artists in Edinburgh and Perth is simply stunning so while the exhibition was good and has been well received it wasn’t for me this time. 

It was ironic that probably the best Fergusson in the building was His 1902 Portrait of Jean Maconochie in the permanent collection. Well I suppose it’s a matter of taste. 

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J D Fergusson,  Jean Maconochie, 1902, The Barber Institute, Birmingham.

However I did spend a little time in front of one picture in the permanent collection which made me ponder on a few things. There is a painting of The Madonna and Child and Infant St John the Baptist. The title notes attributes the picture to Sandro Botticelli, around 1480. My first thoughts was how wonderful it was that this painting was still here hanging in Birmingham over 500 years after it was created. I pondered further on the events around Birmingham and Florence all those years ago. Both experiencing royal civil wars, both about to see great dynastic changes which would eventually challenge the heart of religious doctrine of the day. 

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Sandro Botticelli, Madonna and Child and Infant St John the Baptist, 1480, The Barber Instiute, Birmingham

But then I thought – Botticelli – that’s interesting – How strong is the attribution? Is it an autograph work? Is it with collaboration? Is it a factory work? Well the notes accepts that Botticelli had a very successful studio but claims the very fine work makes it the master. So what does my “complete Works” at home tell me. Well it becomes very interesting. It turns out that Botticelli painted this scene several times and my oracle claims the original of this painting is in the Galleria Palatina in the Palazzio Pitti in Florence and is attributed by all the experts. A reverse copy exists in Paris and is partially attributed. The Birmingham painting is a second reverse copy with the same dimensions as the Paris version and the same partial attribution. So I now know how busy these studios were back in the fourteen hundreds – step back Andy Warhol!

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Sandro Botticelli, Madonna and Child and Infant St John the Baptist, 1480, Galleria Palatina, Palazzio Pitti, Florence. (Note the reverse to the Birmingham version)

But then I thought – The Bible makes no mention of this meeting. Did the infant Baptist meet the Christ Child? There are numerous Renaissance and Baroque paintings devoted to this event. It arises from some of the apocryphal accounts of the Life of Christ abundant in the Middle Ages and refers to Jesus meeting his cousin on the holy family’s return from Egypt. These must have echoes of Luke recounting the unborn John recognising Christ in the womb (Luke 1:41).

But so to the painting – it is gorgeous. I hope my photograph does justice to the colours. It is difficult for me to judge on the level of restoration but the colours in egg tempera are just wonderful. And just look at the gold on The Madonna’s shawl. But most of all look at the faces. I am not sure if Italians have ever looked like Botticelli’s Madonna’s or Venus’s – but wow anyway. Most of all look at the Christ Child’s eyes. From a distance they look closed but get closer and you see just what a great artist Botticelli was – just open and clearly focussed on John. 

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Madonna and Child and Infant St John the Baptist (Birmingham) – detail.

It is worth taking time with a painting and certainly worth it with a truly great painter like Botticelli to see how really good The Old Masters were.

The Rhythm of Light is on until 13th May and is seriously worth it but do take a few minutes with Botticelli. You will not regret it.

Royal Brighton

Looking at the Royal Pavilion tells you much about the philosophy of pleasure as enjoyed by George IV and Victoria. George saw Brighton as a a place to enjoy and had this sumptuous building, converted from the original Marine Pavilion by John Nash between 1815 – 1822, to lavish enjoyment on his court. The architecture and the decoration reflect an expression of extrovert pleasure. Close to the centre of Brighton and with the growing interest in the sea, Nash created this Indo-Saracenic Palace for the King’s delight displaying the increasing Eastern spiritual flavour with its domes and minarets.

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The Garden Front of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton

The two main interior spaces are the Banqueting Room and the Music Room. The walls of the Banqueting Room are adorned with bold oriental illustrations by the designer, Robert Jones and the highlight is the chandelier held in the claws of a silver dragon weighing in at just over one ton. The highlights of the Music Room are the decorations by Frederick Crace, the Rock Clock (c1735) and the (restored) Axminster carpet. Unfortunately the Royal Saloon, with its sumptuous Egyptian couch, with crocodile feet, was closed for refurbishment for our visit but there is much to be seen in the state rooms, corridors and the upstairs rooms. Although mainly restored the flavour of excess is visible throughout; do look out for the bright yellow hand painted wall papers in Queen Victoria’s apartments.

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The Banqueting Room, Brighton, with silver gilt, pedestal lamps and chandelier.

Which brings us to Victoria. Her pleasure was much more introspective preferring the company of her family, and finding Brighton far to brash and close to the people. Having decided on the more remote Osborne House on the Isle of Wight she stripped the palace bare, to furnish Windsor and Buckingham Palace, before selling to the Corporation of Brighton in 1850. She and others have returned much of the property over the years and a long term loan from the current Queen Elizabeth II has allowed the original feeling of excess to return. Amongst the accoutrements look out especially for the eight pedestal lights and the Regency silver gilt in the Banqueting Room and the various eighteenth and nineteenth century pianos, reflecting the Prince Regent’s love of music. The list of items to note is almost endless.

We finished our trip with a look around the Art Gallery which is a quaint provincial affair resembling an emporium in part. Highlight for me was the permanent exhibition of Glyn Philpot Paintings. The family gift to Brighton shows Philpot as a highly understated twentieth century figurative painter, perhaps not fully embracing Modernism. We also love seeing the British Abstractist, William Gear, wherever we go and exhibited here are Caged Yellow 1971 and Ascending Orange 1969. Also worth seeing is the exhibits of fashion and the tastefully curated rooms looking at  transology and exhibitionism.

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Ascending Yellow, William Gear, 1971, Brighton Art Gallery.

Brighton is a great place to visit for its different approach to the world of pleasure (we were here for the Marathon) and neither the Pavilion, the museum or, indeed, the City will let the visitor down.

Congratulations, Dave for completing with a PB time of 4 hrs 27 mins

New Art Gallery, Walsall

I have been to The New Art Gallery in Walsall before and regard it as an oasis. The strength of the gallery is the Garman Ryan collection which covers two floors. Kathleen Garman was the wife of the great twentieth century sculptor Jacob Epstein. After his death in 1959 Garman started collecting art with her friend Sally Ryan, daughter of American entrepreneur Thomas Fortune Ryan. Together the two women collected over 400 pieces from Albrecht Drurer, through to nineteenth, twentieth century and contemporary works. The collection was donated to the People of Walsall in 1973 and has the been part of the permanent collection in the gallery since 2000. Go to the Black Country and see Constables, Renoir, Cezanne, Modigliani  alongside Jacob Epstein sculptures, prints and paintings. With such a prestigious collection it is not surprising that Walsall has attracted exhibitions from some of the finest contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.

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Amadeus Modigliani, Caryatid, 1913

As part of the Artists Rooms Tour (sponsored by The National Galleries of Scotland and The Tate) the gallery is showing works by Vija Clemons. The American Latvian artist includes drawings and prints of the natural world, such as the stars, the surface of the oceans and expanses of deserts. Her display is part of a wider  Wilderness exhibition showing extremes of the natural world. The exhibition is also showing Esther Johnson’s short film about a community living on the disappearing Yorkshire coast at Holderness.

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Vija Clemons, December 1984

My reason for going on this occasion was to see Lionheart by Mike Nelson. Obviously not everyone’s cup of tea the installation consists of found objects depicting a drifters hut. The objects were all found along the old human trade routes of Eastern Europe which had been closed during the Soviet regime but are reopening with migrating peoples again. The work was first installed in Bremen in 1999, and was selected to represent Great Britain in the Venice Biennale of 2011.

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Mike Nelson, Lionheart, 1997-2018

On the Ground floor is The National Gallery’s Masterpiece Tour 2018 centred on Hans Holbein the Youngers’s 1526 painting of Lady Anne Lovell, A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling.

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There are five floors of great paintings and sculpture to see at Walsall but I also like the architecture of Caruso St John’s new building opened in 2000. Praised by RIBA as almost flawless and vilified by Theodore Dalrymple as a “giant sauna on the inside and grain silo on the outside”. You can be the judge but must go there to see it. Like all centres of areas of urban regeneration, time will be the judge but for now we must thank Kathleen Garman and Sally Ryan for making their collection so accessible.

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View from second floor to Town Canal Basin

The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour ends on 22nd April

Wilderness and Artists Rooms ends on 6th May

Lionheart ends on 3rd June

 

 

 

 

Tate Britain

Went to the Tate Britain last Saturday with the Diploma group from Oxford and had a great study day. For information for those that think the Tate is a long way from the transport network try Pimlico on the Victoria Line and a short walk to the new entrance. We spent the day looking at British Art between the Wars including paintings by David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer, Adrian Wallis, Francis Bacon, Ben Nicholson and others and sculpture by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Epstein. There was too much to report on for this post but one picture took everyone’s eye.

Green Tree Form: Interior of Woods 1940 by Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980

Green Tree Form: Interior of Woods (1940) by Graham Sutherland was inspired by a tree fallen across a grassy bank with its roots exposed. The resulting surreal part figurative part abstract was mesmerising for the spectator in front of it. Is it a sea monster? is it a distorted humanoid figure? The stuff of nightmares. Writing about his process, Sutherland stated, ‘The prototype in nature has got to be seen through the terms of art. A metamorphosis has got to take place.’ There were more Graham Sutherland paintings to be seen at the Tate and all over the UK. He painted surreal landscapes, underground mining views and some very special war paintings, as well as famously the 80th Birthday portrait of Winston Churchill.

Not many feet away from the Sutherland is Pelagos (1946) which I could not resist reporting on , being a ‘new’ fan of Barbara Hepworth.

Pelagos 1946 by Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

This single piece of work encapsulates all that represents Hepworth; the carved natural material, the interior space, the taut strings. Although clearly abstract the work is inspired by the two sides of St Ives Bay and the tension between Hepworth and the sea.

Cannot wait to go to Tate Britain again