Simeon goes to Amsterdam

32866310_10213968890207792_2656639836118581248_nMeet Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please). Instead of swinging from tree to tree in the subtropical rainforests of Bangladesh, Borneo or Sumatra, Simeon enjoys going on trips with his human friends. Fortunately, being a stuffed toy (do not mention that to him, it is a sore subject) Simeon can easily fit in hand luggage and be taken into all sorts of places where animals are not usually welcomed. This year, 2018, was a very special year for the small ape; in May, Simeon experienced his first trip abroad to the artistic capital of the Netherlands: Amsterdam.

Jetting off from London Southend Airport, Simeon landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol a mere 35 minutes later. It took less time to get from England to the Netherlands than it did to get from home to Southend! Schiphol is the main international airport of the Netherlands and sits nine kilometres southwest of Amsterdam. Despite being the third busiest airport in Europe, Simeon and friends whizzed through security to discover their luggage was already waiting for them on the conveyor belt – a complete contrast to most of London’s airports!

Without any to-do, Simeon found himself on a train heading to Amsterdam Centraal. Not only was this his first trip abroad, it was his first ride in both an aeroplane and a train! And what a good experience it was, too. Despite understanding little Dutch, it was quick and easy to get from A to B, the only issue being which exit to use at Centraal Station.

 

 

Soon to be connected to the Eurostar line, Amsterdam Centraal is the largest train station in the Netherlands and has been listed as a rijksmonument or national heritage site.  The Gothic/Renaissance Revival station building was designed by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) and first opened for public use in 1889. Like the majority of buildings in Amsterdam, the station was constructed on the canals and required 8,687 wooden poles. The structure and surrounding area have since been redeveloped to make it more pedestrian friendly.

Despite renovations, Amsterdam Centraal Station is one of the most impressive buildings in the city; it looks more like a palace than a station. The building is richly decorated both inside and out. The façade is made up of red brick with prominent carvings on the towers either side of the main entrance. Each tower is topped with a spire and displays a large dial, however, only one of these is a clock. The other, which at a glance may look like a clock, is a read-out for the weather vane that sits on top of the station.

33401578_10213993463502109_6251086077671505920_nAmsterdam has an area of approximately 84.68 square miles, which is far too much for a little gibbon to walk. Fortunately for Simeon, there are 16 tram routes across that city, the majority of which begin their journeys outside Amsterdam Centraal. So, with 72-hour travel pass to hand (other time periods are available) Simeon was ready to check in and out of the trams as he made his way from one destination to another.

Although trams travel all over the place, the best way to experience Amsterdam is on the canals. There are plenty of canal trips to choose from of varying lengths that traverse the 60 miles of water. The most famous canals in Amsterdam are Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht, however, the small ones are just as interesting to travel along – gracht means “canal” and Prinsen, Heren and Keizers can be translated to “Prince”, “Lords” and “Emperor’s” respectively.

 

 

Initially, the 17th-century canals were a form of defence but eventually became a means of navigating the city. Today, they are one of Amsterdam’s greatest attractions. Simeon opted for the open-top tour by the Blue Boat Company that took its guests around the more narrow canals in the city. The trip began at the company office on the edge of the water in Stadhouderskade, which is a short walk from the Museumkwartier where the major museums are located.

Depending on the tour company and guide, not only does a canal trip offer extensive views of the city, it provides a lot of interesting information and local knowledge that may not necessarily crop up in guidebooks. On an hour and 15-minute ride, after Simeon had got over his disappointment about not being allowed to drive the boat, he learnt a lot of fascinating facts about Amsterdam.

The name Amsterdam comes from Amstelredamme, indicating its origins as a 12th-century fishing village around a dam in the river Amstel. Although the city has lots of canals, it sits around two-metres below sea level. Originally, the area was farmed for peat, which was used to heat houses, resulting in the low level of the land. Due to this, Amsterdam was not inhabitable as a city until grand developments in the 14th and 15th centuries when the majority of canals and original buildings were constructed.

Most of the buildings in the city look fairly old, however, they do not date back as far as the conception of the city. Many of the buildings in Amsterdam were built during the 17th century and, as Simeon was amazed to see, stand rather crookedly, leaning forwards, backwards or even sideways. There are a number of theories for this strange sight but do not worry, they are unlikely to topple over.

Original buildings were built on wooden poles so that they would be raised above the water level. Unfortunately, due to the peaty quality of the soil, the poles began to sink into the ground as they tried to sustain the weight they were holding. This may be the cause of many of the slanted buildings around the city. Thankfully, the situation has been rectified by filling up the gaps below houses with cement so that they would not sink any further.

What surprises some people to learn is that some of the structures were deliberately built at a slant. This is known as op de vlucht bouwen and was a building regulation pre-1800. This may have stemmed from medieval times when the top floor of a wooden building traditionally jettied out further in order to prevent rain from flooding the floors below. The strongest reason for the leaning buildings is for economical purposes. As a staple port, Amsterdam was receiving daily deliveries from merchant boats of cotton, spices and so forth. Warehouses tended to be situated in the attics of the buildings along the canals and in order to store the crates, they were winched up on ropes from a hook on the top of the building. In order to prevent damages to the walls and windows, buildings were slanted forwards to provide enough room for the boxes to swing without hitting anything.

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One thing that will not go amiss, regardless of whether you take advantage of a canal tour or not, is the width of the tall, Dutch buildings. Typically, houses are three windows wide and four windows high and were built as such due to heavy taxes imposed upon the people of Amsterdam. Similarly to London, Amsterdam had a window tax meaning that the more windows a building had, the more its owners would have to pay. Another tax was on the width of the houses – the wider, the more expensive. Large families were forever going up and down narrow, spiralled staircases in order to navigate their tall but thin houses. Any buildings wider than three windows were likely owned by the wealthier people of Amsterdam.

33167034_10213993573304854_4090493120037257216_nA good thing about travelling via the canals is, at least in Simeon’s opinion, you are not at risk of being hit by any of the 881,000 bicycles zooming around the city … or so you would think. To the astonishment of the people on the boat, the tour guide revealed that 15,000 bikes are pulled out of the canal every year. These are not necessarily a result of clumsy cyclists; thousands of bikes are parked against railings on the edge of the canals or bridges every day. It only takes one to fall over before a domino effect pushes them all into the water. Cars are also parked by the side of canals and risk falling in, fortunately, only five unlucky drivers are affected by this!

Returning to the Museumkwartier, Simeon had the opportunity to visit two of the most popular museums in Amsterdam. The city itself is one of the most visited cultural places in Europe and it is without a doubt in part due to its most famous museum, the largest museum of art and history in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum. Opened in 1885 and designed by Cuypers in the same Gothic-Renaissance style as his station building, the Rijksmuseum houses a number of different collections including 19th-century art and art from the middle ages. The most well-known section, however, is the masterpieces of the 17th-century painted by the school known as The Dutch Masters.

 

The majority of artworks in the museum are of Dutch origin and can be found in all the collections, however, the artist visitors flock to see is the magnificent Rembrandt (1606-99). The Rijksmuseum owns 20 of his works including the extraordinary Night Watch or De Nachtwacht, which impressed Simeon with its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm). Initially called Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq by the artist, it portrays the eponymous company being led out by Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch, who are captured in a dramatic use of light and shadow, giving the impression of movement. Traditionally, portraits of military groups were static and posed but Rembrandt broke away from this custom.

Visitors also get to see paintings by other famous Dutch artists such as Vermeer (1632-75), Hals (1582-1666) and Van Gogh (1853-88). Simeon was particularly ecstatic to see The Milkmaid (Het melkmeisje) by Vermeer as well as look at examples of sculpture and decorative arts.

Amsterdam is a great city for art-lovers and on the opposite of the Museumplein is a museum devoted to one of the greatest Dutch artists from the 19th-century. Vincent van Gogh was born in Zundert, a small town in the south of the Netherlands. Although he spent a large amount of his artistic career in France, the Van Gogh Museum has brought 200 of his paintings back to his home country. As well as paintings, the museum has an enormous collection of drawings and letters made by van Gogh at various times during his life.

Visitors are not allowed to photograph the exhibits, however, they have provided a couple of areas where snap happy tourists can record a few memories. Simeon was pleased to discover that one version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was in one of these areas – this vain, little gibbon loves having his photograph taken!

The museum is set out in chronological order so that guests can learn about the artist’s life as they peruse his paintings. This also allows the more art savvy to notice and compare the development of van Gogh’s paintings as he progressed through his ten-year career. These are interspersed with artworks by other notable painters who inspired van Gogh or had a personal connection to him, for instance, his friend-cum-enemy Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

The museum is located in two buildings joint together by way of underground passage. One side houses temporary exhibition and the other contains three floors of van Gogh’s work and timeline. Designed by Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964), and eventually completed in 1973, the museum is a stark contrast to the Rijksmuseum. The architecture is modernist and features wide open spaces, although, once the crowds enter, there is not much space left!

Already seen in the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands boasts another famous artist, however, to discover more about him, Simeon had to move away from the Museumplein and get the tram to Rembrandtplein. This artist is, of course, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Rembrandtplein, originally called Botermarkt, was established in 1668 as the central square for a dairy market. Today, it lies in homage to the 17th-century Dutch artist with a large cast iron statue of Rembrandt standing in the middle. Although Rembrandt was born in Leiden, South Holland, he bought a house nearby in Amsterdam, making him a significant famous association with the city.

In honour of his 400th birthday in 2006, a bronze-cast representation of his famous painting, The Night Watch, was erected in front of the statue of Rembrandt. Tourists are drawn to the square like magnets thanks to the brilliance of these figures produced by the Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov. With so many cameras around, Simeon had to be quick to get his photograph taken with the majority of the characters.

The house Rembrandt owned is not on the square but a short walk will bring you to the very building now known as Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Decorated to look exactly how Rembrandt lived, Simeon enjoyed exploring the 17th-century rooms and seeing hundreds of collectable items that the artist had amassed during his career.

Rembrandt both lived in and worked from this building between 1638 and 1658, painting and teaching new students. His studio, kitchen and sleeping areas give the impression of an artist’s life during the 17th-century. People were shorter and did not need tall doorframes, causing visitors to duck in order to enter a room – not a problem for Simeon! Their beds were also much shorter but not because of their stature; the Dutch slept sitting up in fear that lying down would cause the blood to rush to their head and kill them.

With the main art museums fully explored, Simeon had time to visit smaller, lesser-known museums in Amsterdam. These were Cromhout Huis and Het Bijbels Museum. The former is a canal-side house once owned by the Cromhout Family who lived there for almost two centuries. The house faces the Herengracht canal and is decorated as splendidly as it would have during its Golden Age. An audio guide educates visitors about the seven generations of the Cromhouts, their ups and downs, and their unique pieces of furniture and art collection.

On the top floor of the house is Amsterdam’s Biblical Museum where the Bible is mixed in with art and Dutch culture. The collection features rare Bibles, including the oldest printed copy in the Netherlands (1477), Egyptian artefacts and many other treasures. Simeon’s favourite was the model of the Tabernacle and the 19th-century model of Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

There may be many museums in Amsterdam but there are so many other things to see. Dam Square, where the national monument and Koninklijk Palace can be found, provides several photographic opportunities and is surrounded by souvenir shops. However, the best places to buy mementoes is at one of the city’s markets, particularly the Bloemenmarkt situated along the Singel Canal. This flower market has been a tradition since 1862 and is open all year round so that both locals and tourists can benefit from the brightly coloured plants. The best time to visit this market is in the spring when the Dutch tulips are in full bloom, however, at any other time of year, the market is full of fake but beautiful tulips (Simeon thought they were real), or you can purchase bulbs to take home to plant in your own garden.

Simeon was only in Amsterdam for a few days, and although he visited so many places, there is still so much to explore. Amsterdam is the type of place tourists can visit time and again and discover something new on every trip. There is, of course, the “other side” to Amsterdam that gives it a bad name and evokes the saying “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Amsterdam” but that is an extreme exaggeration. Nonetheless, Simeon has compiled his top tips for those wanting to visit the Dutch capital city.

Simeon’s Top Tips

1. Be careful crossing the road. Bicycles and trams have right of way.
2. Don’t take photographs in the Red Light District. This is where all the prostitution and sex-oriented businesses can be found.
3. Avoid Coffee ShopsYou may end up purchasing 5g of cannabis with your order!
4. Try the Stroopwaffels (syrup waffles) but make sure it does not contain a certain ingredient … Marijuana
5. Book museum tickets before you go. Particularly the Van Gogh Museum, it works on a timed entry system and runs out of tickets quickly.
6. Don’t fall in the canalThat would be silly.
7. Don’t eat the cannabis lolly pops or ice creamIt may look yummy but might not do you any good.
8. If purchasing tulip bulbs, make sure you can legally bring them homeSome bulbs need special licenses to be taken abroad.
9. Always check in and out of tramsNot just in.
10. Be prepared to pay by cardNot all shops take cash.

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Portraits at the Mall

img_881020copyEvery year, hundreds of people visit the Mall Galleries in London to view a diverse and exciting programme of exhibitions. From well-established artists to amateur painters, the Galleries host an abundance of different shows. Known for being Central London’s leading gallery for contemporary art, a whole range of visual arts can be viewed and purchased annually.

Run by the Federation of British Artists, the Mall Galleries gives individual artists and societies the opportunity to showcase their work. Established in 1961, FBA is a visual arts charity that comprises several of the UK’s leading art societies, including the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists and the New English Arts Club. With each of these societies hosting an annual exhibition, the Mall Galleries becomes host to an eclectic range of artworks from all types of mediums: oil paintings, watercolours, pastels, prints, sculpture and so forth.

rp300x233One of the more recent exhibitions, which opened for two weeks during May 2018, was curated by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Carefully selected by professionals, around 200 works by serious contemporary portrait painters of all stylistic approaches were there to be admired and appreciated, including various competition winners.

Now registered as a charity with Her Majesty The Queen as its Patron, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters was established in 1891 with painters such as Millais and Whistler as members. With the intention of promoting enjoyment and appreciation of the art of portraiture, it aims to encourage up-and-coming artists and develop new modes and perspectives of painting.

The past 500 years has seen portraiture at its most popular in Britain, beginning with the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Hans Holbein and Van Dyck, the latter two famous for portraits of the monarchy. These painters have helped to illustrate English history and give us great insight into the upper classes during the Tudor, Stuart and Victorian era. In more recent years, portraits of the middle classes began to emerge followed by the working class, as contemporary artists began using their family and friends and models. Examples include paintings by Lucien Freud and David Hockney who were prominent during the 20th century.

Present day portrait painters have entered an “art for art’s sake” period where commisions for sittings are less common leaving artists to their own devices and experimentation. With so many past art movements to be influenced by, painters have far more scope to play with, rather than in the earlier years when a particular style was expected. As seen in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ exhibition, there is a huge range of techniques that not only portray a likeness of the sitter, express emotion and personal concerns as well.

There will come a day when these portraits of 2018 may be reflected back on in a similar vein to society’s appreciation of painters from the 16 and 1700s. Particularly in the case of well-known faces, such as Michael Noakes’ portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, some of these paintings will help to reveal what the people and lifestyle were like at the beginning of the 21st century (although, we also have photographs for that job). However, the majority of the paintings submitted to this exhibition were portraits of anonymous people, personally known by the artists, and therefore meaningless in terms of documenting history. On the other hand, they are a great way of studying different styles, techniques and talents of individual people.

Starting off the exhibition was an incredibly detailed portrait titled Sophia by the Spanish fine artist Miriam Escofet (b1967). An associate member of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Escofet describes herself as a contemporary figurative painter and has been painting ever since graduating from art school in 1991. Her work is inspired by classical painters, which can be seen in the smoothness of the brushstrokes that are virtually invisible in this hyper-realistic painting of a young woman. What makes the painting so remarkable, and arguably the best in the exhibition, is the attention to detail, particularly in the lace dress. It is almost as though one could reach out a hand and feel the material or stroke the hair. Sophia is a phenomenal piece of work, it is hard to believe it is a painting.

There were a few other extremely realistic portraits that took on the appearance of photographs rather than paintings. An example is Sandra Kuck’s (b1947) Yvonne in which a flawless young girl sits in front of an elaborately decorated background. In this painting, Kuck not only shows her talent for portraiture but displays her skill at working with intricate detail, delicate lighting and vibrant colours.

Although photorealistic portraits are awe-inspiring, the majority of the works included in the show were of a more impressionist nature. Neale Worley’s (b1962) small painting Ilea sits on the border between impressionism and realism. From a distance, the portrait could be mistaken for a photograph, however, up close the brush strokes are more visible. Similarly to Kuck, Worley is also extremely talented at capturing skin tone and the texture of the fabric in the background.

Some people confuse the concept of impressionism with surrealism but often these paintings still look realistic, however, with more obvious brush strokes. Although they could not be mistaken for a photograph, they provide a lifelike impression of the sitter. Alice Boggis-Rolfe‘s (b1990) highly commended Self Portrait with Brushes is produced with loose brushstrokes that concentrate more on the application of colour than the preciseness of the composition. Nonetheless, the final result is a faithful portrayal of the artist at work as seen through the reflection of a mirror.

Nneka Uzoigwe’s portrait of Fiona, on the other hand, is produced with more precise brushstrokes, yet still adopting an impressionistic approach. The model almost appears to be emerging from or fading into the dark background and looks ever so slightly blurred, resulting in an ethereal quality that most realistic paintings fail to achieve. Uzoigwe is mostly known for floral still lifes but she has managed to transfer her method of painting to portraiture to produce something as equally beautiful.

Toby Wiggins‘ Girl with a Ring may be more recognisable than other paintings in the exhibition since it was selected to be featured on the advertisements published online and in magazines. Wiggins studied at the Royal Academy Schools and is an established portrait painter and member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

“With every new sitter, I try to respond afresh to the repeated challenges that portraiture offers. I hope that my work is an honest expression of the particular individual(s), a translation of what I see and what I feel”
– Toby Wiggins

Girl with a Ring (stop looking at her hands, it is a lip ring) is more than just a portrait. It is full of unexpressed emotion and tension revealed through the contrast of the background with the blue dress, which leads the eye to the tense posture of the model. Although the girl appears to be attempting to suppress her true feelings, her wary facial expression and stance suggest a notion of unease.

Whilst the favoured medium of the exhibition tended to be oil paint or acrylics this was not everyone’s preference. Produced in monochrome, some artists opted for charcoal or etching for their portraits. The latter has reduced in popularity since the advent of digital art, so it was refreshing to come across an etching hidden amongst the numerous paintings. Bernadett Timko (b1992) is a figurative painter but chose to use the method of etching for her portrait of Franke. This allowed her to expressively draw the tightly curled hair and scratchy stubble, something that would have been nigh on impossible with a paintbrush.

Anna Pinkster was awarded the Prince of Wales Prize for Portrait Drawing for her charcoal sketch of Em and Bruno. Complete with a black background, charcoal was an interesting choice for a portrait containing a black cat; he almost disappears into his surroundings and merges with the material of Em’s shirt.

Michael Travis Seymour (b1976) also chose to work with charcoal for his Study of Tatiana. Unlike Pinkster, Travis Seymour has a much more delicate approach to drawing and does not rush the process. Although it is not a finished portrait, the face and hair almost look like a black and white photograph due to the fine lines and shading.

As well as Her Majesty the Queen, there were a handful of well-known people framed on the walls of the Mall Galleries. One of these was Dame Judi Dench by the English artist Michael Noakes (b1933) who was elected as a Member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1967. Known for painting several important people, including members of the royal family, Noakes comes across as someone who takes portrait painting very seriously, however, there is something not quite right with his portrait of Judi Dench. The 83-year old actress leads a very busy life and it was often hard to find a date to sit for the royal painter. On the occasions that she was able to meet with Noakes, she was often fidgeting, resulting in the artist deliberately adding an extra appendage to Dench’s body in an expression of his frustration. “That is why I portrayed Judi with three arms, showing her in a rushed state.”

Carl Randall (b1975) is another painter who produced portraits of famous names, however, his results are a little unusual. The two examples of his work submitted to the exhibition were of the animator Nick Park (b1958) and the illustrator Raymond Briggs (b1934). Animator Nick Park and the Dinosaur Gallery, to give it its full title, shows the Wallace and Gromit creator behind a representation of the Natural History Museum. In the foreground are eight three-dimensional, cartoonish-looking dinosaurs, prancing around outside of the building. Randall’s choice for this scene was inspired by Park’s memories of visiting the museum to sketch the dinosaurs when he was a student.

This portrait is part of a series called London Portraits in which Randall asked 15 British celebrities who had contributed to British society and culture to choose a location in London that meant something to them to be used as the background of their portrait. In this instance, Park became part of the background with his chosen location in front of him, however, the clouded sky that makes up the backdrop is remarkably eye-catching.

Walking into a gallery and seeing Animator Nick Park and the Dinosaur Gallery on the opposite wall, the eyes are immediately drawn to the optical illusion effect of the white clouds. Until seen standing directly in front of the portrait, the painting appears to be three-dimensional. It is easy to be fooled into thinking the clouds are made of plastic and stuck on to the canvas.

The portrait of Raymond Briggs, famed for The Snowman (1978), is less bold and does not “pop” like its neighbouring painting. Briggs selected 65 Ashen Grove as the backdrop of his portrait, which is where he grew up as a child. It is also the setting of one of his famous graphic novels Ethel and Ernest (1998) and, therefore, holds lots of meaning for him.

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Sisters – Saied Dai

Quite a few of the portraits at the Mall Galleries had won or been selected for various awards. One of these prizes included the RP award presented by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. This year, 2018, judges were looking for painters who had produced portraits that incorporated the theme “friends”. The £2000 prize was awarded to Saied Dai (b1958) whose portrait, Sisters, contained the interesting and engaging aspects the judges were looking for.

Dai was elected to the Society in 2004 and has since won several awards, with the RP being the most recent.

Seeing all the portraits together, it is clear that no artist has the exact same style as another. Whether photorealistic or impressionistic, everyone approaches the canvas differently. Naturally, there are similar styles, however, there were a couple that stood out from the others. These were not necessarily the best of the bunch but they were very different in terms of technique.

Melissa Scott-Miller, a middle-aged English artist, had two paintings in the exhibition. Both of these featured a figure named Adam, her son, who regularly appears in her compositions. Adam and Marsell, his friend since nursery school stood out for its cartoon-ish appearance, vibrant colours and detailed setting. The artist did not only focus on the human subjects, she painstakingly included everything in the room around them, from the apples on the table to the crucifix on the wall. She also added a picturesque view from the windows situated behind the two boys. Although this style may not be what people expect when thinking about portraits, it is still pleasing to look at and is refreshing to come across after so many generic portrait paintings.

David Graham, who likes to work in oils without any preparatory sketches, produced the portrait Coptic Priest, Jericho. This initially stood out for its energetic colours and brushstrokes, however, it also attracted attention for being one of the few paintings to represent a different culture.

“I relish working with artists who help me view the world from a different perspective, often challenging my own views in the process.”
Aliona Adrianova

Alongside the main exhibition was a smaller display of photographs by Aliona Adrianova who photographed many of the portrait artists in their studios. This is part of the Mall Galleries major project “In the Studio” which aims to encourage new artists by revealing the ways different artists work and to learn about the creating process. With her photographs, Adrianova aimed to capture the artists in their creative settings as well as reveal their relationship between life and art.

This was a perfect addition to the portrait exhibition, providing the opportunity to discover the artists behind the artwork and appreciate the time and energy focused on the creative process rather than only viewing the finished product. It is easy to forget the challenges and difficulties painters face in order to create the perfect outcome. These photographs reveal the artists as human beings rather than portrait producing machines.

Although this particular exhibition closed on 25th May, there will be future opportunities to view portraits by members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The Society uses the Mall Galleries for their annual exhibition, therefore, keep an eye on the gallery’s diary for 2019 so that you do not miss out next year.

The Mall Galleries next exhibition is the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition 2018, which runs from 15th June until 23rd June. Admission is £4 (£3 concessions), however, National Art Pass holders receive 50% off. All exhibitions are free for Friends of Mall Galleries and under 18s.

Auguste Rodin and the Parthenon Stone

It started with a kiss …

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The Kiss, 1889

Walking into the Rodin and the art of ancient Greece exhibition at the British Museum brings visitors face to face with The Kiss, one of Rodin’s most famous sculptures. This special exhibition explores the influence the museum had on Rodin’s work, which he visited for the first time in 1881. Home to the Elgin marbles, Rodin was instantly captivated by the beauty of the ancient Parthenon sculptures. Containing a mix of Rodin’s work and the early masterpieces, the British Museum explores how the ancient world influenced his aesthetic imagination.

 

 

“Your beautiful museums, with their marvellous collections, Greek, Assyrian, and Egyptian, awakened in me a flood of sensations, which is not new, had at any rate a rejuvenating influence, and those sensations caused me to follow Nature all the more closely in my studies.”
– Auguste Rodin

The French sculptor Auguste Rodin (François-Auguste-René Rodin, 1840-1917) was one of the most influential European artists of the period and the first since the heyday of Neoclassicism to engage the public with his form of art. Although he is now a famous name, his background was not so propitious. Rodin came from a poor background, the second child of Marie Cheffer and Jean-Baptiste Rodin. He was mostly homeschooled until age 14 when he attended the Petite École, a school that specialised in art and mathematics, however, his application for further study at the École des Beaux-Arts, was rejected on three separate occasions. For many years, Rodin worked as an ornamental mason but he aspired to be something of much more importance.

Rodin’s first major influence, before he visited the British Museum, was Michelangelo (1475-1564), whose statues inspired him when he visited Italy at the end of 1875. Michelangelo’s male nudes were one of the stimuli for Rodin’s The Age of Bronze (1877), which also sits near the entrance to the exhibition. In order to produce this particular bronze statue, Rodin studied the body of a Belgian soldier, Auguste Neyt; a Roman statue of the spear-bearer Doryphoros; as well as Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (1513-16). When The Age of Bronze was first exhibited, it sparked controversy because of its naturalistic appearance. Although Rodin had sculpted it by hand, he was accused of having cast it from a live model.

 

 

 

By 1880 at the age of 40, Rodin’s reputation had been established, earning him a commision by the Paris state to produce a decorative door for the proposed Musée des Artes Décoratifs. Entitled The Gates of Hell, Rodin poured his finest creative energy into the work for 20 years, however, the museum never came into being. Nonetheless, it resulted in 200 figures of which many formed the basis of Rodin’s most famous sculptures, such as The Kiss and The Thinker (1881-2).

The name and the figures featured on The Gates of Hell were inspired by Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) Divine Comedy. The individual figures, ranging in height from 15cm to 1m, represented a scene from the first section of the narrative poem, Inferno.

Through me the way into the suffering city,
Through me the way to the eternal pain,
Through me the way that runs among the lost.
Justice urged on my high artificer;
My Maker was Divine authority,
The highest Wisdom, and the primal Love.
Before me nothing but eternal things
Were made, and I endure eternally.
Abandon every hope, who enter here.

Dante, Inferno, 3.1-9

The Kiss and The Thinker, both featured in the exhibition, are large marble versions of the original sculptures Rodin produced for the gate. It was normal for sculptors to produce several versions of their work in various sizes, particularly when the originals were in miniature form. In order to exhibit his work, Rodin created the larger versions that the British Museum has borrowed for this show. In fact, one cast of The Thinker sits overlooking Rodin’s grave in the garden of Meudon, where he once lived.

The Kiss, whilst seemingly romantic, has a darker side. The two figures are Paolo and Francesca, two lovers featured in The Divine Comedy, who are about to be discovered by Francesca’s husband – also Paolo’s brother. In a fit of rage, the husband/brother kills the pair; this scene is their final, bittersweet embrace.

The Thinker was designed to sit up high on The Gates of Hell, looking down on all the people wishing to enter. This was originally going to be Minos, the judge of the damned as described in Dante’s version of Hell. After the gates never came to fruition, the soon enlarged sculpture became known as The Thinker. It shows a man with an athletic body sitting with his chin resting on the back of his hand as though lost in meditation. Alternatively, art critics have interpreted it as a man in a state of depression over the tragic nature of the human condition. The pose in which he sits is typical of the sign of mourning in ancient Greek art.

Other figures from the gate are also displayed in the exhibition, however, they are significantly smaller and less impressive than the two previously mentioned. These include The Crouching Woman, Falling Man and Sister of Icarus, the latter being a character entirely made up by Rodin’s imagination.

Interspersed between Rodin’s sculptures are examples of the remains of the Parthenon marble statues produced between 438-432 BC. The majority of these have lost their heads and extremities, leaving only their torsos and upper legs intact. Nevertheless, Rodin saw the beauty in these sculptures, proclaiming, “… they are no less masterpieces for being incomplete.”

As visitors to the exhibition will notice, Rodin frequently created works that resembled these ancient Greek sculptures, complete with missing heads. He aimed to honour the remains he so admired, relying on the bodies to give expression to the figures.

 

 

 

“This is real flesh! … It must have been moulded by kisses and caressess … one almost expects, when touching this torso, to find it warm.”
– Rodin, 1911, speaking about Torso of Venus

For many years, Rodin spent a large amount of his time at the British Museum; it became his second home and allowed him to visit ancient Greece without leaving London. The statues he so admired were originally from the Acropolis of Athens, which Lord Elgin (1766-1841) had brought to England in 1803; these sculptures are often referred to as the Elgin Marbles.

It is thought that many of the Elgin Marbles were designed by Pheidias (480-430 BC) who is regarded in antiquity as the greatest artist of all time. Unfortunately, the most famous of his works have not survived, notably the statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  In 447 BC, the Greek statesman, Pericles, commissioned Pheidas to produce sculptures, which would later decorate the Parthenon in Athens, in celebration of the Greek victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars (490 BC).

Although only fragments of the original marble statues survive, Rodin was inspired by the headless, limbless figures and deliberately appropriated this all’antica (“after the antique”) look in his own sculptures. He was particularly drawn to the way motion could be expressed in stationary stone.

During his lifetime, the process of photography was rapidly developing and artists were able to capture and study movement for the first time. Rodin, however, disliked the photographic outcomes, stating “It’s the artist who tells the truth and the photographer who lies. For in reality, time does not stand still.” (1911)

Pheidias, or other artists who worked on the Parthenon, depicted movement through the position of the body. Despite the limbs no longer existing, movement can still be detected by the angle of the torso and the drapes of the tunics or cloaks the figures wear. With this in mind, Rodin replicated the ancient master’s technique, particularly in his bronze sculpture of The Walking Man (1907). This decapitated body is full of energy, which makes it appear as though he has been walking purposefully for a length of time.

“It is not my Walking Man in himself that interests me but rather the thought of how far he has come and how far he has yet to go.”
– Rodin, 1907

 

 

 

Whilst Rodin has a reputation for lopping off heads and appendages, he also produced a number of sculptures with all their limbs intact, for instance, The Kiss and The Thinker. Another example is a monument commisioned by the city of Calais in honour of six men who were willing to sacrifice themselves to end Edward III’s siege on Calais during the Hundred Years’ War. Fortunately, as described by the medieval writer Jean Froissart (1337-1405), one of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered as a sacrifice, followed by five other burghers, however, their lives were spared by the intervention of England’s queen, Philippa of Hainault (1310-1369), who persuaded her husband to let them go, claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

Rodin’s monument, The Burghers of Calais (1884-9), depicts the six hostages in a range of stances from anguish to courage as they anticipated the threat of death. Each figure is dressed in sackcloth and their bodies and facial expressions reveal the tension and anxiety they felt. Along with Eustache de Saint Pierre, who looks like a worn-out old man, stands Andrieu d’Andres with his head in his hands, Jean d’Aire, Pierre de Wissant and his brother Jacques, and Jean de Fiennes.

The result of Rodin’s hard work was not exactly what the civic authorities had hoped for; they were expecting something that portrayed the burghers as heroic and patriotic. Nonetheless, The Burghers of Calais is a strong example of Rodin’s radical designs.

 

 

The British Museum’s exhibition contains the bulk of Rodin’s masterpieces, beginning with The Kiss and The Thinker, and ending with The Burghers of Calais and The Walking Man. Interspersed between Rodin’s works are several ancient marble sculptures, the majority of which the British Museum already owned.  What is interesting to note, aside from Rodin’s appropriation of the Parthenon sculptures, is the skill and technique used to produce such perfect figures.

It is safe to assume Rodin never actually worked the stone but rather produced plaster models for others to copy. Likewise, it is doubtful that Pheidias produced the Parthenon stones, most likely only being the designer. Nevertheless, the marble versions of Rodin’s sculptures are made to look exactly like his initial versions, complete with finger marks and indents.

31947471_10213870351584388_6564395979045339136_nTo engage visitors, the museum has provided examples of the tools used to sculpt marble and the process the stone goes through, from rough edges to a smooth finish. Everyone is invited to touch and feel examples of marble during different stages of the sculpting process.

The first stage labelled “roughing out” is the least delicate of the processes. With a hammer, tools such as a pitcher and a point are struck against the stone in order to remove large, unwanted chunks. The remaining stone has a rough texture where pieces have broken away. The sculptor then applies various chisels to refine the surface and gradually shape the stone into their desired appearance. Finally, the marble is finished with a rasp or emery stone, which creates a highly polished surface.

Another technique that Rodin employed was bronze casting. For this, the artist would produce his sculpture in clay with his hands, which would then be covered in plaster by studio assistants. When dry, the plaster could be carefully removed, thus producing moulds to be sent to a foundry where it would be filled with bronze to create the final outcome. This was a particularly expensive process and Rodin only used it when he was commissioned to do so, for instance, The Burghers of Calais.

From beginning to end, Rodin and the art of ancient Greece is set out by theme, finishing with Rodin’s ability to depict motion in his statues. It is fairly easy to navigate with a semi-one-way system ensuring that visitors get the opportunity to view everything in the exhibition. The only issue with this is in busy times queues form in order to read the information by each individual sculpture. Also, as photography is permitted, people are forever waiting to get a clear shot of the statues.

Although the sculptures are given the praise and justice they deserve, the information about Rodin himself is rather limited. Rodin is described as a radical sculptor who was not appreciated as much during his lifetime as he was after his death. Now considered one of the greatest sculptors of the 19th and 20th centuries, Rodin was ridiculed for his ideas, which were simultaneously modern and antiquated.

The information provided by the museum is only in relation to Rodin’s work or his response to the Parthenon sculptures. Missing are details about his upbringing, family life and personal factors that help connect visitors with the artist. Granted, the British Museum focuses on antiquity rather than art, but it would have been beneficial to know more about Rodin’s history. There is barely any reference to his models, particularly his lovers Gwen John (1876-1939) and Camille Claudel (1864-1943). Nor is there any meaningful acknowledgement of his 53-year relationship with Rose Beuret, whom he finally married in 1917, a mere two weeks before her death. Rodin died in November of the same year after suffering a severe bout of influenza.

“At certain times, he simply stands before his relics, meditating … How his fingers tremble when he touches these old stones!”
– Gustave Coquiot, 1917

Essentially, Rodin and the art of ancient Greece is as much a celebration of the ancient Parthenon sculptures as it is a reflection on Rodin’s work. There is something of interest for both the historian and the artist. Although not particularly educational, it makes up for this with the brilliance and awe-inspiring nature of the sculptures on show. It is a fantastic opportunity to see Rodin’s most famous works up close and to appreciate the detail in the art of the ancient Greeks.

Rodin and the art of ancient Greece organised by the British Museum with Musée Rodin, Paris is on show until 29th July 2018. Tickets are priced at £17 per person, although discounts for certain visitors are available. Members of the British Museum can visit for free with a valid pass.

Picasso, 1932

LOVE, FAME, TRAGEDY

The year is 1932, a leap year. The United States and the United Kingdom are suffering from the Great Depression. Europe is in the grip of economic depression and mass unemployment. National Socialism is on the rise in Germany and political developments in France are adding to the growing tension. Picasso is 50 years old and preparing for his first major retrospective to be held in June at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. This year could either make him or break him.

Dubbed his “year of wonders”, the Tate Modern has chosen to examine the life and works of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) during 1932. Married to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, although having an affair for the much younger, 22-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso was living the life of a well-to-do bourgeoisie in France, wearing tailored suits and owning a personal chauffeur-driven car. However, political and economic problems throughout the world remained persistently in the background, a constant premonition of tragedies to befall both the artist and the rest of the world.

“The work that one does is a way of keeping a diary.”
Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, 1932

Now considered the Father of Modern Art, Picasso came from more humble origins. Born Pablo Ruiz Picasso on 25th October 1881 in Malaga, Spain, he developed his love of art from his father who taught at the Escuela Provincial de Bellas Artes. A young prodigy, Picasso purchased his own studio in Barcelona at the age of 16, however, he spent the majority of his time there in poverty.

Picasso’s move to Paris at the turn of the century was a blessing for both his artwork and his financial situation. His collaboration with the French painter Georges Braque (1882-1963) led to their invention of Cubism, a revolutionary new artistic approach. At the same time, Picasso met Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) who he married in 1918, and celebrated the birth of their son, Paulo (1921-75), three years later.

As Picasso’s wealth and reputation excelled, his family life suffered. By 1932, his marriage was under considerable strain, not helped by his clandestine affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-77). Despite the situation with his personal relationships, Picasso was determined to compete creatively with his contemporaries, working hard to facilitate his own retrospective.

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso: Woman with Dagger

The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 opens with one of Picasso’s final paintings of 1931. Woman with Dagger is an example of the style Picasso was known for at this period of time. The Surrealist technique reduces the image to a series of lines and colours, morphing into strange shapes. This painting shows a woman stabbing her sexual rival to death, however, the bodies are so distorted, it is difficult to make out who is who.

Being the first painting of the exhibition, Woman with Dagger gives an inaccurate precedent of the works to come. As visitors will note as they walk through the following rooms, Picasso focused heavily on portraits, particularly of women, often seated in an armchair. Judging from the date and frequency of these paintings, the sitter is likely to be Picasso’s lover, Marie-Thérèse, however, the artist admitted himself that he rarely painted from life, preferring to use his imagination or memories of dreams.

 

Supposedly, the armchair in Picasso’s paintings symbolises death. Whilst the sitter is young, painted with bright, vibrant colours, the muted, darker background and chair represent the constraints of life. Often, the model and chair amalgamate, suggesting that the woman is tied to the chair, tied to fate, tied to inevitable death.

A typical feature in Picasso’s portraits is the dual profile of the face showing half from the side and half face on. Although many art critics have their own theories, commentators at the Tate have suggested this evokes a form of sexual tension. The face is half woman, the way she sees herself, and half male, or the way a lover or sexual predator may view her. Glancing at a Picasso, it is easy to miss these sexual references, however, those who opt for an audio guide at the beginning of the exhibition, soon get all the details pointed out to them.

Despite always working in a surrealist-like manner by distorting the female body, Picasso occasionally experimented with the way he treated the painting. In Woman in a Red Armchair, Picasso converts his flat, colourful shapes into three-dimensional abstract forms, comparable to a sculpture. As well as painting, Picasso turned his hand to sculpting, however, if this painting were to be produced in clay, cement or such like, it would immediately fall apart.

Prior to 1932, Picasso experimented with unorthodox methods of sculpting whilst at his 18th-century château in Normandy. During this time he produced a number of busts of a woman – again, likely to be Marie-Thérèse – in a similar fashion to his painted versions. The bulging, distended shape of the face has been replicated in cement, creating a dual profile that changes its overall appearance depending on what angle it is viewed from. Seen from the side, the bust looks like a typical face (despite the oversized nose), however, from the front, the facial features are terribly out of proportion. A series of photographs of a selection of Picasso’s sculptures are on display taken by the French-Hungarian photographer Brassaï (1899-1984).

 

Throughout the first half of 1932, Picasso continued to focus on his portraits of women, often depicting them in the nude. The surreal, abstract quality of his work prevents the paintings from becoming overly provocative, just as the original reclining nudes of the Renaissance-era were not unduly sexualised. By taking a traditional subject and reproducing it in a contemporary style, Picasso was endeavouring to prove that figurative painting could be modern.

Midway through the exhibition, a room is devoted to Picasso’s retrospective held at the Galerie Georges Petit. Apart from a few exceptions, it was rare for living artists to have retrospectives. They tended to be a summary of the life of the artist, therefore, Picasso included a range of his works from different times of his life. In order to obscure his artistic development, Picasso did not hang works in a chronological order, interspersing recent paintings with those produced many years before. Nonetheless, critics could group some together due to the regular appearance of Marie-Thérèse Walter and portraits of his young son were easily dated to when he was a child.

 

The paintings of Picasso’s family: Olga, Paulo and himself, may surprise many viewers on account of their “normality”. Before Picasso developed Cubism and dabbled with Surrealism, he produced many realistic paintings. Although the portraits do not look finished, they show the broad talent of Picasso in terms of painting. Being able to produce realistic likenesses but choosing not to says a lot about what Picasso wanted to achieve through his artwork. He wanted his work to be looked at and thought about, concealing subliminal messages within the twists and turns of the abstract body parts.

“I feel like I am witnessing a retrospective vision of myself ten years after my death.”
Pable Picasso

Despite the lengths Picasso went to facilitate his own retrospective, declining offers of help from prestigious organisations such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Picasso refused to attend the actual show – allegedly, he went to the cinema instead! Nevertheless, he achieved what he set out to do and was satisfied, unlike the gallery, which due to economic and political turmoil, closed its doors for good the following year.

 

Once Picasso’s exhibition was out of the way, the artist felt less pressure to produce masterpieces. His canvases got smaller and the treatment of his paintbrushes more fluid and less careful. One example is Nude Woman in a Red Armchair painted in July 1932, where the model – Marie-Thérèse Walter – is a soft, rotund figure, without the harsh outlines of older paintings. The blues and purples give the woman a dream-like quality, suggesting Picasso had strong feelings of love towards her, which stands in stark contrast to the dark background tones.

Throughout 1932, Picasso also produced a number of charcoal drawings. Although they look like unfinished studies, they are intended to be finished works in their own right. The subject matter, for instance, a sleeping woman, is typical of Picasso, however, he concentrated on line-drawing rather than colour.

These charcoal drawings on canvas, despite being finished pieces, are not dissimilar to what can be found in Picasso’s sketchbooks. Picasso rarely created preparatory studies, however, he liked to practice his drawing skills by making a rapid succession of sketches. These give some indication of the starting points of a painting, how the shapes were built up to resemble people and other elements. For actual artworks, Picasso would draw onto the canvas before filling in the resulting shapes with colour.

 

With the summer over, Picasso’s subject matter changed drastically. Motivated by classical themes, religious and secular, he began to paint different scenes, particularly focusing on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Picasso produced a large number of black and white studies, experimenting with shapes, both two- and three-dimensional, and line work to create a representation of Christ on the Cross. He was particularly inspired by the Isenheim Altarpiece produced in c1521 by Matthias Grünewald. This influence is evident in Picasso’s versions, the figures being situated in the same places, despite the abstract nature of the studies.

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Composition with Butterfly

During these experimental months, Picasso also experimented with forms of collages. These involved the use of found objects, both natural and manmade, which were layered together to create a picture. Composition with Butterfly contains a dried leaf, the remains of a real butterfly, and string, manipulated to produce the shape of a human being.

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The Rescue

 

As 1932 drew to a close, Picasso’s subject matter got significantly darker. The theme of being rescued from death-by-drowning became Picasso’s focus. The Rescue, the final painting of the year, shows a woman being saved either by another woman or by a bird. The meaning is not entirely clear, which leaves viewers guessing and coming up with their own theories.

The colours are not as bright as works from the beginning of the year and the paint is applied in a rushed, distressed manner, which may suggest more about the artist’s frame of mind rather than the intention of the painting. From September onwards, Picasso rapidly changed styles and subject matter, giving the impression he was restless and possibly suffering from some kind of anguish.

As the strapline for the exhibition states, Picasso’s year consisted of three major themes: love, fame and tragedy. The first half of the year, Picasso was enjoying his clandestine affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, which led on to his retrospective exhibition. Achieving fame and recognition, Picasso was at the height of his career, successful and wealthy. Unfortunately, the final quarter of 1932 found Picasso in a different state of mind, although it is impossible without knowing the man to pinpoint the exact reason for this. It did, however, present a forbidding premonition of events to come.

By 1932, Picasso’s marriage to Olga was already under strain, however, the illegitimate birth of his daughter Maya with Marie-Thérèse ended things for good. Olga moved to the south of France, taking son Paulo with her; an event that Picasso described as the worst period of his life.

At the same time, the world was not fairing any better. In January 1933, Hitler became German Chancellor, Italy was under fascist dictatorship and Picasso’s home country Spain was submerged in a civil war. Six years later, the entire world was at war and Picasso’s successful year, his “year of wonders”, was a distant memory.

Picasso 1932 is an exhibition suitable for all. Although the subject matter of many paintings may not seem appropriate for youngsters, the abstract forms hide the sexual meanings from innocent minds. The exhibition is popular with school parties who come to look at the shapes and colours of Picasso’s works, whereas adult visitors can study the paintings in more detail with the aid of an optional audioguide (£4.50) and a pocket-sized booklet.

The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Musée national Picasso-Paris costs £22 entry per person or free for those in possession of a membership card. Under 18s can visit for £5 and younger children under the age of 12 may enter for free. This exhibition will remain open to the public until 9th September 2018. 

Out of Austria

Marking the 80th anniversary of the Anschluss (annexation of Austria) on 12th March 1938
14th March – 29th April 2018

On Saturday 12th March 1938, German troops marched into Austria unopposed; Hitler was now in control. Although many Austrians welcomed the Wehrmacht with cheering, Nazi salutes and waving flags, this invasion made the country a dangerous place for thousands of people, particularly Jews. Between 1933 when Hitler began to gain power and 1945 when the era of National Socialism came to an end, approximately 130,000 Jews escaped from Austria, 30,000 of whom found refuge in Great Britain. Within this grand total, a number of artists crossed The Channel to safety and, in remembrance of the 80th anniversary of the Anschluss Österreichs, the Ben Uri Gallery produced an exhibition of over 40 works by a score of these refugees.

outside-e1471442834671The Ben Uri Gallery, established in 1915 by the Russian émigré artist Lazar Berson, is dedicated to celebrating the work and lives of migrant minorities. Originally an art venue for Jewish immigrant craftsmen, the gallery’s mission is to be known as “The Art Museum for Everyone” with no ethnic, religious or other barriers.

The gallery was named after Bezalel Ben Uri or Bezalel son of Uri from the tribe of Judah who was an immigrant craftsman in the Bible. He was the master artisan in charge of creating the tabernacle for the spirit of the Lord to dwell as well as building the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-covered wooden chest in which to place the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.
– Exodus 31:1-6

As a registered charity and the only specialist art museum in Europe that focuses on the issues of identity and migration through the visual arts, the Ben Uri Gallery takes every opportunity to not only showcase the artworks of migrant minorities but to tell the world their story. Although only a small building, the curators of the exhibition Out of Austria utilised the space to display a variety of different types of art, such as paintings, graphics, sculptures and ceramics. Very few of the Austrian artists are still alive, therefore, the exhibit also served as a museum of the annexation of Austria.

Anschluss was essentially an inevitable event for the idea of grouping all the German-speaking countries together had been a subject of discussion since the ending of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The Austrian people were split between wanting to merge with Germany and staying loyal to the Habsburg Monarchy despite its collapse in 1918. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the government in Austria was targetted with propaganda advocating for an Anschluss to the German Reich, including the constant repetition of the phrase Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer (“One People, One Empire, One Leader”).

Gradually, the Austrian government withdrew, allowing Hitler to make his move to create a union between his birth country Austria and Germany, an “all-German Reich“. This had been his aim since 1925 when he wrote in his autobiography Mein Kampf, “German-Austria must be restored to the great German Motherland … People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.”

Some Austrian-born Jews began seeking refuge as early as 1933, five years before the Anschluss, as a result of Hitler’s anti-Semitic legislation. Others fled after the event in an attempt to find a place of safety, passing through various European countries, finally settling in Britain. With no homeland, livelihood or familiar culture, it was a challenge for all refugees to reestablish their lives and careers, including painters, sculptors and so forth. This exhibition not only showed the works of these artists but examined their struggles and experiences as they began to rebuild their lives.

Out of Austria was divided into sections, grouping artworks by theme rather than by artist. Some of the works express the reality of the internment many Jews faced on reaching British shores. Between 1940 and 1941, many refugees were held as “enemy aliens” in camps such as Huyton in Liverpool and the Hutchinson and Onchan camps on the Isle of Man. Despite the circumstances, the artists displayed in this gallery refused to let it stop them from doing what they do best – creating art. With limited resources, artists used whatever they could get their hands on.

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Portrait of a Man: Wilhelm Hollitscher, Dachinger, 1940

One of the artists caught up in Churchill’s decree to “collar the lot” of Jewish refugees was Hugo Dachinger (1908-95), occasionally known as “Puck” who immigrated to Britain via Denmark in 1938. For the first two years, Dachinger was able to live in relative safety, however, after Churchill’s decision in June 1940 to detain “enemy aliens”, Dachinger was interred in Huyton Camp for five months, followed by a final two months in Mooragh Camp on the Isle of Man. Despite his incarceration, Dachinger continued to paint, eventually holding an exhibition of the works produced during these months entitled Art Behind Barbed Wire.

Dachinger was an Austrian Jew born in Gmunden, Upper Austria who had spent three years of study at the Leipzig School of Arts and Crafts before moving to Vienna to work as a graphic designer. He also patented a system of moveable type and co-founded the successful but short-lived Transposter Advertising Ltd firm.

Whilst in the British camps, Dachinger completed a bountiful portfolio of work, which included landscapes, scenes of the everyday life within the confines of the eight-metre high barbed wire, posters and coloured portraits. The example of Dachinger’s work owned by the Ben Uri gallery was painted during the third month of his internment. Titled Portrait of a Man, it is thought that the elderly sitter was one of the intellectuals, either a writer or an artist named Wilhelm Holitscher, who Dachinger socialised within the camp.

Limited to resources that he could find in the camp, Dachinger used newspaper sheets as his canvas, preferring The Times over others on account of the better quality paper. Unable to purchase paints, Dachinger and other artists had to use whatever equipment they had brought with them or invent their own pigments by melting and combining various ingredients. For example, he made ersatz paint by grounding brick dust or food with the olive oil from sardine tins. On other occasions, Dachinger mixed toothpaste and watercolours, which can be seen in the hair of Portrait of a Man. To produce black charcoal, wood, such as twigs from trees, were burnt to ashes.

 

One of the themes that was explored in the exhibition Out of Austria was the prevailing mother and child trope that has appeared in artworks throughout history. It is usually associated with Catholicism and the representation of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, an unusual choice for Jewish artists to depict, however, perhaps these artists who had fled their homeland were drawn to this subject on account of their separation from their families. Amongst the artworks exhibited in this section were sketches, photographs, ceramics and sculptures.

One of the sculptures, lent from a private collection, was fashioned from bronze by the Austrian-born Georg Ehrlich (1887-1966). A year before the Anschluss, Ehrlich and his wife fled from the Austrian capital to the British capital where he remained for the rest of his life, excluding a brief internment in one of the camps. Although he had trained as a graphic designer at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, Ehrlich had established himself as a sculptor by 1923.

Ehrlich mainly restricted his sculptures to animals and children, however, also produced several war memorials including one for the Garden of Rest at Coventry. It is likely that Ehrlich’s sculptures provided the money he and his wife needed in order to live comfortably in their adopted country. Standing Boy, displayed as part of the exhibition, sold for £200 in 1941, the most expensive of any of the works bought at that time.

Another sculptor who found safety on the British Isles was Wilhelm “Willi” Soukop (1907-95), the son of a Moravian shoemaker, who fled from Vienna as early as 1934. Although he was deported and interred in Canada in 1940, he returned to London nine months later establishing himself as a teacher at various art schools. His post-war sculpture Mother and Child (1947), lent to the gallery for this exhibition, was purchased by the University of Chichester in 1952 where it usually sits above the altar in the University Chapel.

 

Continuing with the theme of mother and child, Bettina (1903-85), the wife of the aforementioned Georg Ehrlich, launched a new career as a children’s author and illustrator as a result of fleeing to London in 1938. By 1940, Bettina had penned and illustrated her first book Poo-Tsee, the Water Tortoise, which was followed by a further 20 books during her lifetime. As well as writing her own stories, Bettina worked as an illustrator for other authors including the American writer Virginia Haviland (1911-88).

A copy of Haviland’s Favorite Fairy Tales Told in England had been lent to the Ben Uri Gallery specifically for the Out of Austria exhibition, which was displayed in a glass case, opened to a page containing two elegant pen and ink illustrations. Included nearby was an initial study for an illustration that was never got used for the story Molly Whuppie in which the small girl, Molly, steals a giant’s purse from under his pillow whilst he sleeps.

Although these books and illustrations were produced after the end of World War Two and have no direct connection to the events of the Anschluss, they go to show the success Bettina achieved as a result of fleeing her home country. Had she remained in Austria, chances are she would have ended up in a Nazi concentration camp and possibly never seen again. By abandoning everything she was familiar with, she and her husband not only survived but created a positive future.

 

The exhibition Out of Austria ended with a selection of post-war artworks produced by Austrian-Jewish refugees. Some of these had returned to Austria or other countries in Europe, whereas, others decided to make Britain their permanent home. Regardless of where they ended up, they continued painting, sculpting and so forth, adopting new methods that evolved as a result of the war. Abstract art emerged as artists began to come to terms with the horrors of war, needing a suitable method of expressing their emotions. Political anxieties were also at the forefront of people’s minds but experiences of Nazi Germany made many wary of speaking or visualising their opinions in clear, obvious manners.

The Ben Uri Gallery selected works that were not predominantly war focused, instead emphasising the determination of the Austrian immigrants to persevere with their artistic careers. From fleeing their homes, facing several months in British camps, scavenging for resources, the determination of these artists to carry on when they could so easily have given up is an inspiration to all craftsmen today.

Despite the exhibition being in honour of the memory of the annexation of Austria, it was interesting to view a range of themes and styles rather than visual representations of war. Out of Austria was a personal insight into individual artists – unique human beings – instead of a formal, grave account of the Anschluss, although accurate facts and figures were also given.

It was refreshing to note a large number of female artists amongst the 20 or so featured in the exhibition. Women have generally been written out of the history of art and are only just beginning to receive the recognition they deserve. Anschluss affected both men and women, everyone was equal in this respect.

Out of Austria finished on 29th April, however, the Ben Uri Gallery hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year that celebrates the lives of various individuals and groups of refugees. Regardless of who the future exhibitions focus on, visitors can expect a well thought out display that truly expresses the personalities and lives of the artists despite events they have been through.

The next exhibition to take place at the Ben Uri Gallery will be Adi Nes: Bible Stories beginning on 22nd May until 10th June 2018.

Victorian Giants

The Birth of Art Photography

The National Portrait Gallery’s latest major exhibition offers something different to the usual portraits visitors expect to see. The concept of “art” is difficult to define and everyone has their own opinion as to what falls into that category. Victorian Giants introduces the idea of art photography by looking back at the four most celebrated figures who changed attitudes and artistic approaches in relation to photography, art and portraiture, which has influenced artists ever since.

Endorsed by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, a patron of the gallery and an aspiring amateur photographer, this exhibition contains a hundred or so images taken during the latter half of the 19th century when a new developing technique was underway. Gone were the days of unwieldy Daguerreotype processes, replaced by wet-plate collodion, allowing photographers to take faster, sharper and more versatile shots.

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Moutain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (Mrs Keene) by Cameron (1866)

A single photograph stands alone at the entrance to the exhibition, enticing visitors in with a suggestion of the portraits to come. Although not much is known about the sitter, Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (1866) reveals the emotional and powerful charge of Julia Margaret Cameron’s (one of the four photographers) style of portraiture.

As the exhibition reveals, the four photographers were often inspired by various literature and attempted to capture fictional scenes or characters in their work. In this instance, the title of the photograph was taken directly from a John Milton poem, L’Allegro (1645). “Come, and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastick toe, / And in thy right hand lead with thee, / The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty.”

 

Of the four photographers, only one was a professional. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (1813-75) was a Swedish émigré who came to England and set up a photographic studio in Wolverhampton in 1856. He later moved to London in 1863 where he learnt the new process of developing photographs, wet-plate collodion. This involved pouring collodion onto a glass plate and exposing it to light, via a camera, to capture the desired image.

Rejlander was known for his expressive portraits, often experimenting in order to perfect his photographs. He became an expert at photomontage in which two or more negatives were combined together to create a completely new image. By this method, people could be added into or removed from photographs as necessary or two very different scenes merged to form an impossible landscape.

The National Portrait Gallery has recently acquired a photo-album of previously unseen portraits, many of which are included in this exhibition. The head of photographs, Dr Phillip Prodger told Art Fund, “The Rejlander album becomes one of the jewels in the crown of our already impressive collection of 19th-century photographs.” It changed the way Victorian photography was perceived, particularly in relation to the extent of experimentation with a comparatively new medium.

Unlike the stiff, wooden portraits associated with the Victorian era, Rejlander’s photographs were life-like and natural. He captured sitters in natural, sensitive poses, such as staring into space deep in thought – a fleeting, almost private moment. It was this evanescent style that inspired the remaining three photographers that make up the Victorian Giants: Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Hawarden, and Lewis Carroll.

 

Lewis Carroll is by far the most famous of the group due to his popular children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Although often working under his pseudonym, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) was a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford University and picked up photography as a hobby in approximately 1856. Preferring to work outdoors, many of his portraits are situated in gardens where natural elements frame the model or sitters.

Carroll specialised in pictures of children, which make up half of all his known photographs. Understanding the complexities of working with youngsters, Carroll ensured a parent or governess was always present at the photoshoot. To entertain the children, he often initiated a game of dress up in which they would pretend to be heroes from works of fiction. An example is Captive Princess where one of his favourite models Alexandra “Xie” Kitchin (1864-1925), a daughter of a work colleague, poses as the princess, complete with crown, from the Golden Legend, awaiting rescue from the heroic St George.

Being a mathematician, Carroll was interested in the preciseness of angles and lighting, lining up additional light sources to achieve a particular size and direction of the shadow. It is clear from the photographs in this exhibition that Carroll put a lot of thought into his portraits in order to produce the best possible outcome.

 

Refreshingly, particularly for the era, the other two photographers are female. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), originally from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) took up photography during her 40s on the Isle of Wight after receiving a camera from her daughter in 1863. As seen in the first photograph of the exhibition, Cameron was particularly interested in Arthurian, legendary or heroic themes and other allegorical subjects.

Cameron usually used family members, friends and the local villagers as her models, however, she also took photographs of well-known people. Her portraits have been described as Rembrandt-like due to the dark, natural backgrounds and the depthless focus on the sitter’s face. Examples of this technique are the portraits of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a distinguished historian, and the astronomer J.F.W. Herschel (1792-1871). Both men have an ethereal appearance, their hair and facial features emerging from the darkness.

 

Last but not least, the fourth photographer is Clementina Maude, Viscountess Hawarden (1822-65) who had a short but prolific stint as a photographer. Picking up the camera just under a decade before she died at 42 from pneumonia, Hawarden produced around 800 photographs, the majority involving her eight children.

Unlike the others, Hawarden photographed full-length figures more often than head and shoulder portraits, creating emotional scenes. Rather than focusing on the faces of her models, Hawarden thought carefully about the overall composition, draping fabrics to create a background, or employing props such as furniture.

A theme that initially tied the photographers together is childhood innocence. Victorians viewed children as pure souls who had not yet been affected by the corrupt realities of life. Their presence in artworks portrays the raw, unsullied youth that eventually gets lost as they approach adulthood, which makes the viewer want to care for and protect them from the rest of the world.

Photographing children was not an easy feat, therefore, these images display the skill and patience each of the four photographers possessed. Although children are still not easy models to work with today due to their inclination to fidget, capturing a child’s portrait in the late 1800s was much more difficult. Early cameras had long exposure times, requiring the sitter to remain completely still for at least 30 seconds. The slightest movement could ruin the picture.

Lewis Carroll had plenty of opportunities to photograph children due to his close friendship with the Liddell family. Henry Liddell (1811-98) was the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Carroll was employed and was a great supporter of his photographic experimentation. The Liddell family consisted of four children, the fourth being Alice (1852-1934) who inspired Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1871).

Although Alice Liddell was a favourite of Carroll, only twelve solo photographs exist, which is a mere handful compared with Xie Kitchin of whom he produced 45 portraits. Carroll also produced several photographs of Alice’s sister Ina and several with more than one Liddell child present. It is unknown why Carroll eventually stopped spending time with the family and only one photograph of Alice is thought to exist from the period after the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Carroll was not the only photographer to use Alice as a model, Julia Margaret Cameron made several portraits a few years later. The example displayed at the National Portrait Gallery is a profile shot of the 21-year-old Alice, which shows the physical changes from a cropped-haired little girl to a young adult with long, flowing locks. This photograph was titled Aletheia (1872), which is Greek for true or faithful.

Although the four photographers never collaborated as a group, they often photographed the same sitters, including a few famous faces. Rejlander, Cameron and Carroll produced photographs of the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) and his sons Hallam and Lionel. The Tennyson family lived near Cameron on the Isle of Wight allowing for plenty of photographic opportunities. Rejlander, when tutoring Cameron, took the opportunity to visit the family, and Carroll came across them whilst on holiday in the Lake District.

Cameron produced the greater amount of photographs of Tennyson and experimented with style, pose and light. The poet was impressed with her skills and used one profile shot, titled The Dirty Monk (1865) as the frontispiece for a publication of his poems, Idylls of the King (1885).

Rejlander and Cameron were also responsible for taking photographs of Charles Darwin. Once again, the connection between Cameron and Darwin was made whilst on the Isle of Wight, however, Darwin preferred the style of Rejlander. Darwin often used photographs for research purposes when writing his books, particularly after discovering the way the camera could capture emotions and expressions. These were a great visual aid for his writing, and Darwin also hired Rejlander to contribute images to illustrate The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

“I am now rich in photographs, for I have found in London Rejlander, who for years has had a passion for photographing all sorts of chance expressions, exhibited on various occassions … instantaneously.” – Darwin, 1871

Portraits of family, friends and famous people allowed the photographers to experiment with the camera, location, light and so forth, however, they took things a step further by controlling the scene they were photographing. It is at this moment the argument that photography is art becomes strongest. In a similar way to painters, photographers have to think about composition, tones and shades and the message behind the overall image.

Occasionally, the four artists dressed their sitters as characters from literature or mythology, for example, Xie Kitchin as the Captive Princess and Tennyson as The Dirty Monk. In other photographs, models were positioned carefully to depict a particular scene, often replicating a well-known painting. A small number of the images displayed as part of Victorian Giants have been based on existing artworks. Some are loosely inspired by them, whereas, others closely resemble the exact portrait.

An example of a photograph based on a painting is Non Angeli sed Angli (1857) taken by Rejlander. It is a pastiche of Raphael’s cherubs in the Sistine Madonna. The two children pose in the exact same position, head on their hands, looking both innocent and mischievous at the same time.

The reason for making pastiches or reinterpretations of historic paintings was to prove to those who considered photography a tool rather than a visual art that photographs could do anything painting could do. Although they could not recreate brushstrokes, the composition, emotion and tone of the image could be produced equally as well with a camera as with a paint brush.

Carroll’s pastiche of Rembrandt’s Andromeda (1630) shows the actress Elizabeth “Kate” Terry chained to the rocks awaiting rescue from the sea monster by her future husband and hero Perseus. In this instance, the photograph is only loosely based on the painting, the position of the model, clothing and backdrop being completely different. Rejlander’s The Virgin in Prayer (1857), however, is a much closer representation of Sassoferrato’s painting of the same name. Rejlander has restaged the painting as closely as possible and, although the camera could not yet capture colour, the photograph is a very close approximation.

Rejlander’s most impressive reinterpretation of an artwork is his partial pastiche of  Guido Reni’s Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist (1638-9). Focusing only on the head on a charger, Rejlander produced a powerful likeness of the Baroque painting. As recorded in the new testament, Salome requested and received the head of St John on a platter. Missing from the photograph is Salome holding her prize, however, Rejlander’s biographer believed he intended to use this image as the centrepiece of a larger picture made up of a variety of photographic elements. Unfortunately, Rejlander never got the opportunity to complete this but there are a couple of examples at the National Portrait Gallery of Rejlander’s combination photographs, including one made up of at least 32 separate negatives.

Victorian Giants is both a demonstration of photography as a visual art and a celebration of the development of the camera. Included in the exhibition is a four-minute film demonstrating the nineteenth-century technique of printing photographs using wet-collodion glass-plate negatives and albumen paper.

Although it is still a matter of opinion, the National Portrait Gallery strongly expresses the view that photography belongs under the category of visual art. None of the photographs exhibited is simply a resource for other outcomes and can exist and be displayed in their own right. Some, particularly the innocent photographs of children, are extremely beautiful and full of emotion. They look equally as good framed on a wall as a hand-painted version would.

Some pictures visitors may not care for as much, but it is interesting to see the innovative methods these four photographers experimented with during a time when new technology was only just developing. Compared with what the camera can do today, these photographs feel much more precious than any modern photographer’s work.

Closing on 20th May 2018, Victorian Giants is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm. Tickets cost £10 or £8.50 for visitors over the age of 60. Members and patrons may visit the exhibition for free and National Art Pass Holders receive a 50% discount.

All Too Human

“Renaissance painters painted men and women making them look like angels. I paint for angels, to show them what men and women really look like.”
– F. N. Souza, 1962

Throughout history, artists have attempted, some more successfully than others, to represent the human figure. For centuries, the Renaissance influenced the angelic, pure forms that many have replicated, giving a false impression of the realities of human appearance. Historical portraits can be likened to the contemporary Photoshop mania where sitters or models dare not resemble anything less than perfect. However, within the last couple of centuries, radical thinkers and artists have challenged the rules with movements such as Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. Although originally sparking outrage or stubbornly ignored due to their supposed “bad taste”, artists have stretched the boundaries to try to capture the life they see around them.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, hosted by Tate Britain, explores the works of 20 artists in Britain from the early 20th-century to the present day. All 20 fall into what the general public would deem “modern art”, however, they use a variety of approaches. Some artists, hence the two mentioned in the exhibition’s strapline, may already be known to some visitors, but many will be new names. Whether abstract, minimalist or conceptual, each artist has moved away from the previously accepted methods of art to create a whole series of figurative paintings.

The exhibition is set out in a loose chronological order beginning with four painters who were working in Britain towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Confusingly, not only paintings of the human body are included in the display, however, they help to emphasise the style of each individual artist. David Bomberg (1890-1957), Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943) and Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) inspired the generation of figurative painters that followed them. Despite all working during the same period, the four artists had different approaches from the way they handled paint to their subject matter. The scenes were influenced by their everyday lives, particularly the people and places that meant something to them. To quote Sickert, each artist was attempting to depict “the sensation of a page torn from the book of life.”

 

 

The second room in the exhibition (there are 11 in total) jumps straight to one of the key artists featured in All Too Human. This is, of course, the Irish-born painter, Francis Bacon (1909-92). Having left Ireland for London at the age of 16 and living through two World Wars, Bacon was a troubled soul who expressed his feelings of isolation and angst in his artwork. Bacon was also dealing with homosexuality in a world where it was not yet accepted.

Bacon’s paintings of the human figure were usually solitary and distressed, perhaps expressing the sense of loss after the devastation of war. As a result of the wars, the philosophical theory of existentialism rose and became associated with artists such as Bacon and Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), whose isolated figure sculpture stands alone in the centre of the room surrounded by Bacon’s paintings.

In essence, existentialism emphasises the importance of the individual and the freedom to develop through acts of their own will. It is perhaps due to this thinking or the increasing difficulty to believe in God or a higher power, that Bacon produced abstract pastiches of other artists’ paintings, particularly those of popes. One example is Study after Velázquez in which Bacon uses Diego Velázquez’s (1599-1660) portrait of Pope Innocent X to create a demonic-like figure screaming in an isolated, cheerless room.

Francis Bacon appears once again in a later room of the exhibition. Here it reveals his interest in portraiture and the lengths he went to collect sources from which to base his paintings. Bacon used a variety of photography and newspaper clippings to inspire him, often commissioning the photographer John Deakin (1912-72) to take specific portraits of people. Bacon’s outcomes never looked like the original photograph, however, they were vital as a starting point. Incidentally, Bacon’s first identified sitter, Study of  Portrait for Lucian Freud (1964), was in fact based on a photograph of Franz Kafka (1883-1924).

 

 

A contemporary of Bacon, the Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002), was also affected by the war and expressed his personal feelings within his artwork. His figurative paintings are simplified bold, swift strokes made with thick oil paints, which give a sense of movement as well as dark and distressing emotions.

Souza’s portraits are of a range of figures, including saints, businessmen and nudes. A few are inspired by biblical passages, for instance, Crucifixion (1959) and Jesus and Pilatus (1955-6). His abstract depiction of the human body removes the masks society hides behind to reveal the raw and complex emotional states underneath. Souza often used these strong emotions to express his feelings about the attitude towards different races: “I painted Negro in Mourning in London when the race riots flared. I personally think it is one of my best works – socialist realism maybe, Expressionism certainly. Moreover, Negro in Mourning is close to the bone of man because it is about the colour of skin.”

As well as portraits, this gallery contains a few cityscapes, which were also a favourite subject of the artist. Souza was a frequent traveller and visited many cities. It is thought that the complex, cubist-like paintings are a composition of memories and images of the places he encountered and his personal experience within these cities.

Other artists of the same period follow in the next few rooms of the exhibition and reveal different approaches to figurative art. William Coldstream (1908-87), for instance, painstakingly attempted to record reality by intensely scrutinising his subjects and measuring the locations of the key features in order to achieve the correct perspectives. Markings on the edges of the canvas can be seen where Coldstream had made his initial measurements.

David Bomberg (1890-1957), on the other hand, had a completely contrasting painting technique. As a tutor at the Borough Polytechnic in south London, he emphasised the importance of capturing the physical experience of the subject matter rather than merely the appearance. For Bomberg, art was about the process of applying paint to canvas, which can be seen in the works of some of his art students displayed here in the exhibition. The amount of paint applied to the canvases borders on excessive and creates a tactile as well as a visual outcome. This technique is a literal take on one of Francis Bacon’s insights into art: “the image is the paint and the paint is the image.”

 

 

As already mentioned, All Too Human is not an exhibition solely focused on the human body. Many of the paintings can explore what it is like to be human without needing to include a detailed portrait. Frank Auerbach (b.1931) and Leon Kossoff (b.1926) are two examples of artists whose approach to art focuses on alternative ways of engaging with reality. Although their style of painting differs, Auerbach and Kossoff both lived and worked in London and explore what it is like to be human in a modern and industrial society.

Both artist’s paintings are dynamic, play with light conditions, and reflect the mood of the setting or scene. The sharp, geometric lines that shape Auerbach’s Chimney in Mornington Crescent – Winter Morning (1991) imply a bleak, cluttered city life, which is a stark contrast to Leon Kossoff’s Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon (1971). The latter’s carefree brushstrokes, implying natural movement, convey a more pleasant experience.

 

 

Eventually, the exhibition reaches the second of the named artists in the title’s strapline, the grandson of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Lucian (1922-2011). Considering the size of the room Freud’s work is displayed in, he is perhaps the most celebrated of the 20 artists featured in this exhibition. A couple of his early works were shown in previous rooms in which he had laboriously approached with small brushes to achieve a smooth finish. The features on the faces of his models were usually abnormally large, particularly the eyes, however, by the 1960s, Freud’s method of painting changed completely.

From the 1960s until his death in 2011, Freud swapped his small brushes for thicker, bristly ones and applied paint to the canvas in a method more characteristic of a palette knife. Although Freud was less precise with his paint brushes, the final outcomes are far more realistic than his previous method.

The first painting visitors come across in Freud’s new style is a self-portrait. At the time it was painted, Freud was in his 40s and made no effort to romanticise his appearance. He focused heavily on his flesh and the contours of his face, which he positioned in an ungainly angle emphasised by his fist. This heavily textured style was employed in all his portraits regardless of who they were, their age and so forth.

Freud also began to paint full figures, particularly of naked men and women, in immodest positions. These are not the easiest of paintings to look at and may evoke disgust or embarrassment in many visitors. Yet, all Freud was attempting to do was confront reality, show the body simply as flesh and reveal the animalistic nature of the human body. As T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) stated in his poetry collection Four Quartets, “human kind/Cannot bear very much reality.”

Taking Freud’s portrait of Leigh Bowery (1991) as a less indecent nude painting, it is easier to understand his objective. Leigh Bowery (1961-94) was an unconventional gay performer in nightclubs and was usually recognised by his flamboyant dress sense, yet, this small portrait strips that all away. Bowery is painted asleep with his bald head resting on his left shoulder, evoking a feeling of vulnerability – a complete contrast to his public persona. Freud has uncovered the true human form beneath his everyday identity.

Freud predominantly uses the same setting for his portraitures – his sparsely-furnished studio – making each figure almost feel like an intrusion into his private space. On the other hand, this helps draw the eye to the model, whether naked or clothed and contrasts the complexities of human life with the simplicity of inanimate objects. These carefully constructed compositions are similar to the approaches of other artists, for example, David Hockney (b.1937) who, not only painted people in his studio, always used the same chair.

Interestingly, one painting within this display of Freud’s artwork is completely different and unexpected. Titled Two Plants (1977-80), this botanical painting contains no evidence of human life. The two plants, Licorice and Aspidistra, are painted in perfectionistic detail and look almost photographic. Its inclusion in this exhibition is entirely metaphorical; the plants are in various stages of growth and death, which can be used as an analogy for the human life cycle. “I wanted it to have a really biological feeling of things growing and fading and leaves coming up and others dying.”

 

Whilst Freud was looking at the realities of the human flesh, other artists were interested in the development of social relationships. Two examples are Michael Andrews (1928-95) and Ronald Brooks Kitaj (1932-2007) who, whilst approaching painting in vastly different ways, were both followers of Francis Bacon.

Kitaj’s works are often crowded and combine several scenes together. In his busy painting The Wedding (1989-93), Kitaj has amalgamated everything he witnessed during his marriage ceremony onto one canvas, conveying the hectic day and the heightened emotions experienced. Similarly, in Cecil Court, London WC2 (The Refugees) (1983-4), Kitaj also merges several incidents. In the foreground, Kitaj has painted himself reclining on a chair in front of the London alleyway while various people and shop fronts with a personal association to the artist fill the background.

Michael Andrews, on the other hand, painted less busy scenarios, however, still manages to convey people’s behaviour and relationships with each other. Like Kitaj, Andrews has also produced paintings of friends, family or acquaintances, although, his depictions look far more realistic. One particularly striking canvas Melanie and Me Swimming, which Andrews finished in 1979, is based on a photograph of himself on holiday in Perthshire with his six-year-old daughter. Rather than including the rocks and details of the water, Andrews focused mostly on his body supporting Melanie as she learnt to swim, evoking a sense of fatherly love and protection.

 

Although women (mostly naked) have been the subject of many paintings in this exhibition, the actual lives of the female sex have been widely overlooked. The art world was historically a male-dominated profession and it is only in recent years that women have been able to challenge the preconceived ideas of womanhood. Paula Rego (b.1935) is one such artist who places women at the centre of her work. Whether a portrait or busy scene, women are presented in various moods and activities, proving that they are each their own individual person.

Whereas in the past women were depicted as pure, angelic-like creatures, Rego occasionally goes to the other extreme, illustrating women as animalistic, powerful individuals. In Bride (1994), the woman, complete with wedding gown, lies in an animal-like position, almost like a dog lying on its back. Although dogs are animals that can be trained into submission, Rego is making the point that women, like dogs, are also powerful beasts. To be human is to be a physical creature and not something to be worshipped or controlled by men.

Covering one wall of the gallery is Rego’s triptych in response to William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) Marriage a la Mode (1743-5). Hogarth’s series tells the story of an arranged marriage between an ill-matched pair whose lives come to an end prematurely as a result. In The Betrothal, Lessons and The Shipwreck (1999), Rego brings Hogarth’s scenario into the 20th century but reverses the roles of the parents so that it is the mothers arranging the doomed union. Rego expresses her feminist views by recreating the story to focus on female suffering and strength.

Although Paula Rego was the only key 20th-century female artist in the exhibition, the final room introduces four contemporary female painters who are continuing along the same lines as their predecessors to produce works that concentrate on identity and what it means to be human. Each artist has their own unique approach, however, the human figure is their main focus. Celia Paul (b.1959), Cecily Brown (b.1969), Jenny Saville (b.1970) and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b.1977) experiment with various processes of mark-making, colour palette and layout in their artworks. Brown, for example, prefers to be fluid in her application of paint, whereas the others are more precise and detailed.

Yiadom-Boakye of Ghanian descent concentrates on cultural identity but leaves the final outcomes with some ambiguity as to their purpose and meaning. With obscure titles, such as Coterie of Questions (2015), the artist invites the viewer to imagine the story behind the name and image. This brings in to question and challenges stereotypical views on race and identity.

Saville, on the other hand, is more like some of the older artists in the previous rooms, particularly Lucian Freud. She concentrates on the appearance of the flesh, refusing to shy away from the unsightly truths of the human body. The painting Tate Britain displays is a self-portrait, which is less shocking than some of her other works. Saville is particularly interested in painting wounded bodies and collects imagery of bruised skin and lacerations as inspiration. Reverse (2002-3) is a realistic representation of the human face, however, it is marred by the split lip and blood surrounding the mouth. Although a beaten up face may not be the average person’s prefered subject, Saville is successfully conveying the human body, emphasising our fragility and physical appearance.

With these four artists concluding the exhibition, All Too Human is a journey through a century of figurative painting. From its origins in the early 20th-century to the present day, the Tate Britain triumphantly reveals the determination artists have had to show humanity in its true form.

“Here are works of art that truly matter, in their humanity, courage, feeling, truth. Whatever it is that makes art profound, Kossoff and Auerbach, Rego and Andrews, Bacon and Freud have it. They are the true heroes of modern British art.”

– Jonathan Jones

Some artworks may be difficult to look at, some may disgust visitors, some may raise questions, some may inspire, but most importantly, they capture real life, real emotions and humanity at its most vulnerable. With a range of different styles, there are many interesting, beautiful and complex paintings to study that can either be taken at face value or considered more philosophically. All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life is not only an art exhibition, it is a visual conversation about what makes us human.

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life will remain open to the public until 27th August 2018. Entry is £19.50 per person but under 12s may visit for free, however, be aware that some paintings may not be suitable for children. Tickets may be purchased on arrival at the gallery or can be bought in advance online.