Laura Knight Portraits

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National Portrait Gallery
11 July- 13 Oct

This summer at the National Portrait Gallery marks the first ever exhibition solely focusing on the portraits of Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970). The small exhibition comprises a novel approach to her oeuvre offering fresh insights and in part modifying the way we view some of her better-known works. Comprehensively covering her entire career with regards to one crucial but neglected aspect of her oeuvre, the show assembles for the first time her poignant studies of real people and documents one female artist’s experience of the era.

For the full review go to
http://onestoparts.com/review-laura-knight-portraits-national-portrait-gallery

Collecting Gaugin: Samuel Courtauld in the 20s

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Courtauld Gallery, 20 June- 9 Sept

A summer display of paintings, woodblock prints, drawings and sculpture by Paul Gauguin. These works, from the collection of Samuel Courtauld, offer us keen insight into the artist and the reception of post-impressionist art in 1920s Britain. The exhibition exemplifies the quality of scholarly research and excellence in presentation that we have come to expect of The Courtauld Gallery.

For full review go to http://onestoparts.com/review-collecting-gauguin-courtauld-gallery-london

Work of the Week

La Nana
Pablo Picasso, 1901, Oil on board

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La Nana forms part of the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901. Portrayed is a dwarf performer either from the circus or cabaret. It follows in the tradition of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in rendering the bright lights and glamour of Parisian nightlife.

It epitomises Picasso’s work of his time in Paris in 1901 as he prepared for his Vollard Gallery Exhibition. Picasso worked at a rapid pace, sometimes creating up to three paintings a day for the show. We see this in the rapid brushstrokes and dabs of colour which comprise the painting. This vigorous brushwork and the brilliant burst of divergent colours capture the energy and excitement of the city at night.

The works of this period constitute Picasso’s response to some of the masters in whose footsteps he followed. This image can be seen as an incendiary response to Edgar Degas’ ballerinas. Degas’ dancers are watched unknowingly as they go about their business in graceful oblivion. Picasso’s dancer looks straight at the viewer with a self-assured attitude. It may also be seen as a reference to the well-known 17th century masterpiece of Vélazquez, Las Meninas, which Picasso is known to have admired.

The work really embodies the gaiety and excitement of the young artist and his desire to make a mark on the Parisian art scene as he followed in the footsteps of the masters who had gone before him. The loose brushwork and impressionistic experimental style contrasts with the melancholy works of his blue period which would shortly follow.

Barocci: brilliance and grace

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National Gallery, London
Until 19th May 2013

Frederico Barocci (c 1533-1612) straddled the Renaissance divide between design and colour and mastered both. An outstanding draughtsman and colourist, one is astounded by his fusion of precise and masterly composition with sumptuous colour harmonies which results in a luxurious viewing experience. His works, though obviously indebted to the work of Raphael, remind us of Titian in their sumptuous use of colour and anticipate by almost half a century the principles of Baroque art in their sweeping and dynamic compositions. This current exhibition at the National Gallery aims to put Barocci back on the map. It is incredible that an artist, whose works were so sought after and copied during his lifetime that he subsequently had to repair them, is no longer part of the mainstream artistic ‘canon’.

Barocci returned to his native Urbino after a severe illness in Rome, where he had gone to fulfil his prodigious artistic potential. The illness, perhaps due to poisoning by a jealous rival, was not successful in hampering his artistic career. At once received and championed by the prospering Della Rovere Court at Urbino, his loyal patron the Duke Francesco Maria II Della Rovere ensured that his renown spread far and wide. This theme of fruitful patronage runs throughout the exhibition in the relationship between the Duke and Barocci. Small devotional works commissioned by the Duke for his private quarters are included along with his portraits and other commissions secured through his advocacy. Their friendship is documented through the works along with the importance of patronage to the artist. His highly polished sketches, included throughout the exhibition, surely played a role in impressing potential patrons and reassuring actual patrons of the quality of the finished piece at the end of his laborious creative method.

F. Barocci, Study of Hands

F. Barocci, Study of Hands

The real theme of the exhibition is Barocci’s obsessive preparatory process entailing his pioneering technique of making coloured preliminary sketches in chalk, pastel and oil. A baffling array of preparatory images greets the viewer in each room, executed in a remarkable assortment of media. They capture the attention of the viewer to such an extent that they too must be considered masterpieces in their own right. Included are his rapid initial compositional sketches, his extemporaneous life sketches and polished full-scale head sketches executed in oil. His preparatory sketches reveal his devotion to the precise and effective use of light and shade. Some of the most wonderful preparatory sketches in the exhibition are those which, at a late phase in the creative process, studied the chiaroscuro, or the fall of light and shade, for his final compositions. One of the most stunning of these pieces was for the Madonna of the Rosary. He was quite unique in this practice and this interest in the play of light and shade continued throughout his whole oeuvre. He also rehearses his colour harmonies and compositional layouts. His fastidious attention to detail is observed in repetitious studies of hands and feet while his exactitude of planning is revealed in his small sketches which mirror precisely the finished works. He explores, studies and meditates on every nuance of his works before completion of the whole.

F. Barocci, Chiaroscuro sketch for Madonna of the Rosary

F. Barocci, Chiaroscuro sketch for Madonna of the Rosary

After his early devotional pieces in the first room, the second room focuses on two of his large and masterful altarpieces and their painstaking design process. They belong to the period in the 1560s and 70s when Barocci was creating resplendent altarpieces for Urbino and central Italy. His Entombment (1579-82) was so popular in its day that Barocci had to repair it 25 years after its completion due to copies being made from it. The preparatory sketches document his notoriously slow working process. Some of these pieces are so ‘finished’ that it is hard to believe that they were not produced for resale such as the full-scale head of John the Evangelist which exists in not one but two exquisite versions. John is highly idealised with wind-swept hair and the glowing rosy cheeks which characterise many of his protagonists. These independent studies of the personages comprising the final composition capture the tumultuous emotion of the individual responses within the work. Here in lies one of Barocci’s strengths in integrating the parts into a dynamic and moving whole. He studied the pose and disposition of each personage obsessively and co-ordinated them into the final piece.

F. Barocci, Study for the Head of John the Evangelist

F. Barocci, Study for the Head of John the Evangelist

Barocci was primarily a religious painter completing breath-taking and massive altarpieces along with smaller scale devotional works. A real undercurrent throughout the entire exhibition is the spirituality and religious sentiment of the artist. His meticulous and unrelenting series of preparatory sketches betray significance in the actual process of preparation. This compulsive process seems almost to have been a form of devotion. We can sense that he has chosen religious themes that were especially significant to him in the attention that he lavished on each detail of the sacred personages and the scenes in which they take part. His devotional intensity manifests most clearly in the images of St Francis of Assisi found towards the end of the exhibition.

The man behind these devotional works is betrayed in the human touches found in many of his paintings. Charming representations of animals and children are included in most of his works. These endearing elements draw the viewer into these elevated sacred scenes. We can see from his preparatory sketches that they have been done from life and there is an intimacy and warmth which they embody and add to these majestic religious works. His family groups included in devotional pieces for private patrons such as the Rest on the Return from Egypt (1570-3) are wonderfully engaging. There is such a tenderness and humanity to the work. The cherub-like Christ child interacts most wonderfully with his mother as she fills water in a pewter cup while Joseph picks cherries in the background for his family. The work is above all a moving family scene. Its sweetness extends beyond the subject matter and the soft gestures and glances of the figures to the colour harmonies which add to the appealing nature of the work.

F. Barocci, Rest on the Return from Egypt

F. Barocci, Rest on the Return from Egypt

His preparatory sketches also form a witness to his appreciation of the human condition. A rare female nude study for the Virgin contains really personal elements such as the roll of flesh over her ribs. A well-known anecdote concerning the artist’s treatment of his models is included in the exhibition. It is related that Barocci ensured his models were in a sustainable and comfortable pose in order to achieve the level of naturalness he required. This certainly shows in his works and perhaps is the ingredient which makes his paintings so humane. Despite willing his personages to attain a natural disposition, his figures are sublimely idealised and conventional in their beauty. Their beauty is matched by the saccharine sweetness of the overall work in its colour and composition. If one cannot appreciate the spiritual significance of the works, they can be enjoyed on a purely visual level. The title of the show is thus fitting; his figures are thoroughly imbued with breath-taking naturalism, poise and grace.

F. Barocci, Nativity

F. Barocci, Nativity

Barrocci thus captures the humble humanity of biblical figures in honest simple paintings for devotional use such at the Madonna of the Cat (1575). He also encapsulates the inexpressible glory of God. The massive works at the end of the exhibition embody most closely the Baroque ideals which came after him in their huge sweeping compositions and turbulent emotion. His gentle and yet dynamic compositions anticipate the Baroque in their undulating curves and sense of movement. He depicts the glory of the ineffable divine light radiating from the heavenly apparitions in his spectacular altarpieces. His Nativity (1597), captures both humanity and ineffable divinity within the same work. The divine light which radiates from Christ and illuminates the Virgin signals the advent of God into the world. At the same time, the scene essentially comprises a mother gazing adoringly at her swaddled newborn baby. The large study for the head of the newborn which accompanies the finished work was evidently created from life. These life studies obviously allowed the artist to lend humanity to the gravity of the moment depicted.

F. Barocci, Study of a Newborn

F. Barocci, Study of a Newborn

The only real criticisms of the show would be that some of the exhibition is slightly technical for the average viewer in terms of the artistic process described with some specialist terms used and not sufficiently explained. The rooms were certainly dim and atmospheric and to a certain extent this recreated a ‘spiritual’ atmosphere in which to experience the works so that our encounter could closely mirror that intended by the artist. The gloomy lighting also accentuated the bright incandescent colour harmonies. That said, the rooms bordered on being too dark to properly see the works. The commentary on the works becomes a little repetitive after a while, focusing as it does on his creative process. There are other themes within the exhibition which could have been isolated and discussed at greater length for the viewer such as the celebration of Barocci as a colourist, his increasingly dramatic use of illumination, his influence on the artists who came after him and the experience of these works by contemporary viewers. His works were clearly intended to bring on a taste of enrapture. This is tantalisingly mentioned in relation to the Visitation altarpiece made for the Chiesa Nuovo of the Oratorians but could have been expanded on. The video accompanying the show is important to view in order to experience some of these works within their original context, integrated as they were into their architectural and decorative surroundings. These works would of course be more rewarding if we could enter into the original experience.

Overall it is an exhibition which is long overdue and laudable in its aim to reintroduce Frederico Barocci to the general public. The works are more rewarding than one would think when properly understood and certainly worth a visit.

Kenji Yoshida: Supreme Beauty

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18th April- 18th May 2013
October Gallery, London

The uncompromising artistic vision of the late Kenji Yoshida is showcased at October Gallery in London. This posthumous show is a timely opportunity to reflect on the work of an artist who should be more widely celebrated than he is. Cosmic forms document the intensity of the artist’s encounter with his work as he aims to express the force inherent in life itself.

For the full review go to http://onestoparts.com/review-kenji-yoshida-supreme-beauty-october-gallery

Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch

Frederic Church, Sunrise, 1862

Frederic Church, Sunrise, 1862

National Gallery, London
6 Feb- 28 April 2013

Frederic Church (1826- 1900) was a seminal figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters in the 19th century— a group of artists influenced by Romanticism who sought to capture the breath-taking beauty of the American wilderness. The current show takes its place among the plethora of landscape exhibitions available in London of late. It is refreshing, however, to see a landscape exhibition of an American artist rather than the usual Turner, Gainsborough and Constable shows that we are so familiar with. This exhibition seeks to redress the imbalance by focusing on the work of the American master Frederic Church— an exciting opportunity given that the holdings of his works here in the UK are negligible.

The subject of the exhibition is the landscape oil sketch and it works to have such a narrowly defined theme for such a small exhibition. On display is a small group of twenty five landscapes sketches which most certainly suffice to document his unique landscape idiom. This defined scope offers us a tantalising taste of the artist’s oeuvre and leaves us wanting more.

Frederic Church, Hudson, New York at Sunset, 1867

Frederic Church, Hudson, New York at Sunset, 1867

His subject is the awesome power and beauty of nature and its infinite variety. He captures this in firey sunsets such as Hudson, New York at Sunset, 1867 or in the breath-taking scope and scale of Iceberg, 1857. Nature is both his muse and his subject matter. In this way, Church did roughly follow in the tradition of Romantic landscape painters such as Constable and Turner. Indeed in 1859, when his awe-inspiring works were exhibited in Great Britain to great acclaim, Church was heralded as taking the mantle from these artists. The Art Quarterly even hailed him as the new Turner and we know Church to have studied Turner’s works at the National Gallery in London during his visit to Great Britain.

Iceberg, 1857

Frederic Church, Iceberg, 1857

His oil sketches were made throughout his travels. An exotic topography thus marks the exhibition with these exquisite landscapes coming from Ecuador, Jamaica, Newfoundland, Labrador and the Hudson River. These far flung locations and topographies are interpreted through the eyes of one man. They betray Church’s penchant for adventurous travel. It makes for a sort of visual travel log documenting the intensity of the artist’s encounter with nature throughout the world. His works embody his immediate and passionate response to landscape and yet never diverge into pure expression. We get a real sense of the awe of the artist before such natural phenomena. It is this reverence which makes the works almost emotional responses on the part of the artist but he never abandons a highly illusionistic presentation of nature.

Some of these paintings served as preparatory sketches for his large scale works while others were created purely for his own pleasure. Either way, they all form a testimony to his plein air mode of work. The presentation of the works in this exhibition heralds these sketches as masterpieces in their own right, however. The dramatic lighting and deep purple walls display the paintings as precious treasures. The works are lent an air of sanctity through these curatorial choices which mirrors the veneration of nature that we find in Church’s works. The rich purple of the walls serves to accentuate beautifully the artist’s sensational use of colour and hue in the works. It is his vibrant use of colour which really sets Church apart along with his flair for attractive composition. Works such as Obersee Germany, July 1868 are an explosion of colour with rich and vibrant hues of blue, green, turquoise and mauve. In his colouration he really captures the life force and vitality at the core of nature. We don’t find such exuberant colours in the exhibition across the hall conceived as a European counterpart to the show entitled Through European Eyes: The Landscape Oil Sketch (for a full review see http://onestoparts.com/review-through-european-eyes-landscape-oil-sketch-national-gallery-london).

Frederic Church, Obersee, July 1868

Frederic Church, Obersee, July 1868

He produced hundreds of these oil sketches in his lifetime commenting that of all the artistic practices he found this ‘most delightful’. Some of his works are highly polished and indulge in the minutiae of detail while others are attractively unfinished such as Floating Iceberg, Labrador, June/July 1859. Many are meticulous in detail and complete in their composition. The subjects that Church deems worthy of this fastidious attention range from the grandeur of a majestic volcano to a humble campfire in the Maine woods. He dutifully reproduces what he sees before him to form an illusionistic scene. Although some of the scenes are almost photorealistic, they at the same time idyllic and endowed with enhanced colour. In this way, he was a faithful topographer but also endowed his works with mystery and an enhanced aesthetic appeal. He accentuates the beauty of the scenes which he so faithfully reproduces through his fantastic colouration and perspective. Most of all, he endows both his modest and grand subjects with a sense of the sublime. He captures vast breath-taking vistas in small scale or focuses on a leaf and elevates it to the level of the sublime such as in Fern Walk, Jamaica, July 1865.

Frederic Church, Floating Iceberg, Labrador, 1859

Frederic Church, Floating Iceberg, Labrador, 1859

The intended pinnacle of the show is the huge work entitled Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867, on loan from the National Gallery of Scotland. As the last work in the show it is presented as the outcome of four smaller preparatory sketches included beside it giving us a sense of the process followed by the artist in the creation of his better known larger works. In these falls paintings he encapsulates the sheer force and power of nature. Their incandescent white and glowing turquoise portray a mysterious life force. Through their misty cascading water and radiating spray the overwhelming force of the water is palpable. This huge work is majestic in scope and undoubtedly impressive but his smaller less finished preparatory sketches probably appeal more to a twenty first century taste. The luminous colours which are so appealing in small scale now seem a bit crass when blown up.

Frederic Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867

Frederic Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867

It is laudable that the National Gallery are endeavouring to put Church back on the menu in the UK in an exhibition which focuses on a lesser known part of the artist’s oeuvre. His sketches, made out of doors, convey the artist’s passionate and immediate response the natural phenomena which he experienced on his voyages. His sunrises, cliffs, icebergs and volcanoes with their brilliant and luminous colours become masterpieces in their own right and rival any impressionist piece in terms of sheer prettiness. The exhibition, though not cerebrally challenging, is worth visiting for an indulgent aesthetic experience.

Through European Eyes: The Landscape Oil Sketch at the National Gallery

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Through European Eyes: The Landscape Oil Sketch is a small yet effective exhibition currently at the National Gallery in London. It takes a fresh look at some of the great masters through focusing on the landscape oil sketch. Painted out of doors, the works give a real sense of these artists grappling with the natural phenomena before them.

For the full review visit http://onestoparts.com/review-through-european-eyes-landscape-oil-sketch-national-gallery-london