What a lovely idea, matching artists’ possessions with their starring roles in paintings and sculpture! That’s what you’ll find at Matisse in the Studio at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Sackler Wing until 12 November 2017.
The three rectangular spaces of the Sackler Wing are divided into six areas covering different periods of Henri Matisse’s life and work. Art works by Matisse – paintings and sculptures and maquettes for his design work – are displayed in close proximity to furniture and domestic objects that feature in them or inspired his approach. You can find out more, and see some photographs of the exhibits, here.
Not only does the exhibition give us “a rare glimpse into the artist’s personal collection, as well as the paintings, sculptures and drawings it inspired” but it also provides a great overview of Matisse and his style as it developed over his lifetime. Especially useful for someone like me to whom Matisse was just a name.
A unifying feature of the exhibition is colour. The wild colour from his earlier works suggested even to me that he was probably one of the “Fauves”, or wild things, of the early twentieth century – that knowledge comes from a novel I read way back when, not from art history where linking Matisse and fauvism is a slam dunk. The colour continues right to the bright contrasting tones of his later cut-outs, a way of creating art when he could no longer paint like he used to. And, in the middle of all of this, sculpture, which I did not know he did and which, truth be told, introduces a solid ballast of black.
The two earliest rooms contain mostly domestic items: chairs, tables, ewers and chocolate pots or chocolatiers. The latter with their bulbous silver bodies and wooden handles seem a comfortably bourgeois object for an artist to use. Seeing two examples of chocolatiers next to paintings containing them delighted me. The way Matisse used them and distorted their shapes slightly and played with the light, was interesting.
There was a Venetian chair with both its back and seat made in the shape of a clam-like shell and arms shaped like fish, or maybe dolphin, heads. It made me smile and then so did seeing the chair represented in the painting.
Odalisque in Yellow Robe from 1937 shows a woman with brown curls and wearing a green skirt and pale green blouse under a long yellow and purple or brown striped robe. She is seated next to an octagonal table decorated in yellow flowers on a blue background and a grey jug filled with flowers and with a curved pattern on its bulbous body. The real life objects sit next to the painting. The table, made by an Algerian craftsman, is more turquoise than in the painting. The ewer from Northern France is made from pewter. Its top section is a straight column but its lower section seems to be made of half tubes of metal their concave side on the outside, which is conveyed by simple curved lines on the painting. They are exquisite pieces.
As you move through the rest of the exhibition, you see examples of more exotic articles: African masks, Islamic art on furniture and drapery. The curators say “seen together, they reveal how Matisse’s masterful vision of rich and masterful energy first stemmed from the collage of patterns and rhythms which he found in the world of objects.” However, even they, in their wall panels qualify that, suggesting that Matisse had a vision and that these articles and the examples of decorative arts from around the world helped him to develop the vision and make it more concrete.
In the sculpture section, The Serpentine, modelled in 1909 and cast in 1948, is shown next to a picture of a plump white-skinned nude as an influence. The Serpentine does stand like the woman in the picture but Matisse has extended the length of the legs, body and pedestal, making the sculpture thin, the torso almost square in cross section. I’d be interested in knowing why he did that. Also, I noticed that many of the sculptures had similar dates, including those of his wife and daughter but no explanation as to why so many modelled early in the century and not cast until its middle. I wonder why.
The relationship between Matisse’s art and items that inspired or influenced it is also demonstrated in an oil on canvass painting, Standing Nude 1906/7. Next to the painting is a much smaller photograph of a young woman in the same pose, although her hair, curls or her hair up looks like artifice in the context of the picture. The painting shows the influence of the African masks and sculptures that Matisse was collecting and studying. The body and the face are much more angular than the in the photograph although strangely in the face it doesn’t seem as different, it just looks like a good way to capture the planes of the human face.
There are a couple of examples of African masks, like the Muyombi Mask from DR Congo. They are impressive objects using beads and shells to suggest beards. They reminded me of the piece by Gilbert and George RA in the Summer Exhibition in the galleries below.
There are several representations of his wife and of his daughter, Marguerite. He strove to create portraits that “suggest the deep gravity that persists in every human being.” Two portraits of Marguerite interested me. In 1906, he created a portrait that is quite bland really – a few brushstrokes make her almost a cartoon. In 1916, again with a black ribbon around her throat, he painted her with more colour, although still quite subdued, and the planes and shadows of her face create a sense of a great deal of character and determination.
In contrast to the 1906 portrait of Marguerite, where a few brushstrokes made the portrait more abstract, there was a painting from 1948 – “Large Mask” – it was about 6 or 7 brush marks of aquatint and it conveyed real character – a little coquetry and a quizzical look.
I did enjoy seeing the Islamic art. There was a screen and a piece of a material called a “haiti” and more furniture – a brazier and its tray in copper, brass and wood and an octagonal chair. The haiti shows an pattern of two arches filled with geometric patterns in soft greens and reds. The screen was brighter but still in the geometric style. They feature in many of his paintings of the period. In some ways it is hard to understand that what Matisse did, learning and drawing inspiration from these pieces was so amazing, because this sort of style is relatively accessible to us. However, he studied their features and took them into his art rather than simply representing them as exotic orientalism so I guess that what he did was different at the time he did it.
The final section demonstrates his “cut out period”. He cut out shapes and stuck them on the walls while he decided the exact composition to make of them. There is a photograph of a place he was staying, a quite ordinary room, where he did just that: the walls covered with sinuous shapes. He must have been a complete nightmare as a guest!
His work became quite abstract, perhaps influenced by Islamic art’s avoidance of depicting people. However, it is an abstraction that is intended to have meaning rather than leaving the meaning to the viewer, I think. There are algae, masks and people in the shapes.
So, that’s the exhibition.
The RA has made a particular point about keeping control of the number of visitors so that even Friends have to get a timed ticket and can’t just wander in as normal. I’m not entirely sure the exhibition space is that much harder to navigate than in any other exhibition. Maybe all exhibitions would benefit from that level of control. However, I’m wondering if I should say that too loudly – I like the freedom just to wander into an exhibition when I like and this experience might encourage them to change the rules for all exhibitions.
Anyway, while you are waiting for your timeslot, pop into the Second Nature: The Art of Charles Tunnicliffe RA in the Tenant Gallery, a small room right by the first floor access to the lift to the Sackler Galleries. This is free with your exhibition ticket. Charles Tunnicliffe was a wildlife illustrator and you’ll see examples of his etchings and engravings. They are truly beautiful – and one for those who are looking for “proper art”. Find out more here.
Quick! Quick! Roll up to Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave at British Museum. Don’t worry, it is open until 13 August 2017 but it is closed from Monday 3 to Thursday 6 July 2017 to swap out some of the more fragile works. So, you will miss some of the works if you don’t go this weekend. I didn’t take a careful note of all the works that are “25 May to 2 July only”. Year-End Accounts, an early highlight, is one, Suspension Bridge on the border between Hazen and Etchū provinces is another, but I’m not sure of the rest. I’m thinking of going back again to see the new set in any case but I realise that might not be possible for everyone.
Katsushika Hokusai was an artist in Japan in the late 18th and early 19th century. This exhibition focuses on the last thirty years of his life, a period that includes one of his best known works, The Great Wave. The exhibition is in Room 35, the Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, the circular exhibition space built over the old reading room in the centre of the Great Court. It costs £12, details on the website here which also shows ten highlights of the exhibition so it is worth looking there before attending.
They have turned room 35 into a long corridor. It’s a slow labyrinth of a gallery as a result but if you follow the line of visitors patiently you will find treasure! This could be somewhat claustrophobic but it is perhaps the only way to allow the number of visitors in to see the works. There is some good context from the wall panels but they are a little small and sometimes on the far side of a work which is hard to get to.
The first section of the exhibition deals with examples of art from Hokusai’s earlier work, paintings and prints, and introduces the idea of his calling himself by different names as he went through his life. This is good background. It also shows how he developed his art. There is an interesting explanation of how he studied and used European techniques, for example, the difference between European perspective with a vanishing point and Japanese perspective where further away things were shown above nearer things and, also, the idea of showing one side of an object in a lighter tone creating the impression of a light source from one side or the other. One example of Hokusai demonstrating his ability to do both is New Year Scene, created in 1824-26 for the Dutch East India company, it shows a Japanese street scene with a man and children ready to fly kites in the foreground and others with kites already aloft and the impression of buildings receding into the background. Light hits them from one side. It is beautiful.
The second section then builds up to the print series, 36 views of Mt Fuji. This is followed by sections on landscapes, flora and fauna, followed by supernatural beings; then a little section about his daughter before final very late artworks.
The 36 Views of Mount Fuji was a piece of work that saved Hokusai’s finances at a difficult time. The views seek to show the growing light from darkness and show landscapes and seascapes from all over Japan but each one featuring Mount Fuji, which plays a significant role in Japanese culture. Sometimes Mount Fuji is a small distinct shape in the background. For example, a barrel-maker carves the inside of a huge barrel, resting on its side, and above his head you can see a tiny triangle. Other times, it dominates the scene. The prints used Prussian blue, newly available in Japan, as well as the more common indigo.
The Great Wave, Under the wave off Kanagawa, to give it its full title, is one of the 36 Views. It shows three open rowing boats in high seas with Mount Fuji in the distance. The shapes of the waves echo the slopes of the mountain and the biggest of the waves rears up almost like a beast waiting to devour the boats. Earlier in the exhibition, you can see Cargo Ship with Wave from 1805 where the wave seems almost wooden and immobile. In the later work, the foam falling from the wave resembles the claws of an animal, still not quite figurative but representing the power of the wave. It is certainly worth seeing in person.
There is a certain stylised quality to all the art work, less noticeable in the images of flora and fauna but certainly there in the landscapes and the depictions of people. I wondered if Japanese people, particularly of the period, interpreted the images as stylised or saw them as accurate depictions of the individuals.
For us now it seems very alien except for an unexpected similarity to the illustrations in the Discworld books, particular the original artwork on the UK editions of the first 26 books. Josh Kirby is the name of this artist. Warrior Hero Tametomo, painted in 1811, is one example where we saw this likeness. You can see this painting here.
I saw this cartoon quality in many of the prints. That is not said to diminish them but to recognise that they have a particular style that is found more in that genre these days. Occasionally it doesn’t work for me. For example, Rainstorm Beneath the Summit has some striking and brightly red jagged lines in its bottom right quadrant. This is meant to show lightning accompanying rain on the slopes below the summit. However, for me it looked like a lava flow, which could have made sense, given the fact that it is a volcano.
Having said that, I liked the examples of the 36 Views that I saw (the exhibition does not show the whole set). The dominant blue colours do suggest early dawn. The varied landscapes of Japan are beautiful. If you want to see them all or to prepare for a visit, have a good look at the Wikipedia page to prepare for the riches. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji
I was intrigued by the prints entitled Clear Day with Southern Breeze. There was a “Pink Fuji” and a “Red Fuji” with that title, each taking its nickname from the colour of Mount Fuji in the print. The interpretations explain that the printing process means that the lighter coloured ink is normally the earlier impression and is understood to be closer to the artist’s intention. It was certainly true that Pink Fuji has a subtlety and details that Red Fuji lacks.
This does suggest a question. For prints, who should get the praise: the original artist or the engraver and printer who renders that onto the page? Is it a combination of the vision of the second and the detailed technical skill of the first? Neither can produce the work without the other. There is a film shown on two TVs about the printer’s craft. Maybe you can decide.
I was particularly fond of the Mishima Pass in Kai Province. A group of travellers is taking a break from the road. Some are hugging a tree to try to gauge its breadth. Another is having a quick smoke and washing his feet. They are charming.
After the 36 Views, the later sections show some wonderful depictions of life, some fantastical, some realistic. I really wished I had a magnifying glass to appreciate the details although I am not sure that would have been popular with my fellow visitors.
The supernatural pieces can be quite grotesque and we miss out on some of the effect if we aren’t familiar with the stories depicted. However, it is the right time of year because, apparently, it is on hot summer nights that Japanese people tell one another ghost stories.
One landscape is called 100 Bridges at a Glance. It is the sort of painting where the more you look, the more you see. However, don’t worry if you start to count: apparently, he painted only 50 bridges not the eponymous 100!
There are quite a few bridges in the exhibition and lots of water and waterfalls. I guess Japan has a lot, given that there are also lots of prints entitled “sudden shower of rain”. Suspension Bridge on the border between Hazen and Etchū provinces is one of the bridges and you can see it only until 1 July. If you miss it, I can tell you it looks quite precarious, a walkway that dips with the weight of the two figures on it and no handrails that I can see!
Hokusai’s waterfalls look very solid. Conveying the impression of water in paintings has long been a topic that has interested painters – David Hockney amongst them. I don’t know that Hokusai succeeds but, on the other hand, waterfalls, at least in spate, can look very solid so maybe he has a point.
The last section has some wonderful, larger format paintings. I particularly liked the Tiger in Rain hissing at the Dragon Tornado to his right. These paintings are companion pieces but are rarely shown together, which is a shame because they look good side by side.
The paintings are presented on scrolls, the painting itself a panel within a highly decorated larger piece of material. I suppose it is like the frames we find on European paintings but these scrolls are very elaborate. I can’t tell if they have been themselves painted or embroidered or woven but they are covered with complex patterns in colours that, at their best, complement the painting. For example, towards the end of the exhibition in the mythological section, the gold, red and blue of the scroll picks out the colours within the painting itself, enhancing them.
The exhibition claims to “lead you on an artistic journey through the last 30 years of Hokusai’s life”. It allows you to “explore Hokusai’s personal beliefs and gain a fascinating insight into the artist’s spiritual and artistic quest”. I’m not convinced I gained such an insight into his quest although I saw the evidence of what he produced during the period. In other words, he painted lots of landscapes and supernatural pictures but just by seeing them I am not any wiser as to his motivation.
Here is the big question that has been bugging me: what are the boundary lines between a museum that, I think, seeks to understand the diversity of the human condition and an art gallery that focuses on the “artistic” response to it? In other words, why is the British Museum hosting an exhibition of art from early 19th Century Japan? Does it cause conflict and angst amongst the different museums and galleries as they jockey for the right to host major exhibitions? Could we perhaps have expected more from the British Museum in demonstrating context, not just putting some of the context into the wall panels and hard-to-read labels?
At the end of the day, I’m not sure that it matters that much to me. I’m just glad that we have the exhibition here in London and I’ve been able to see these lovely pieces. I hope you enjoy them too if you manage to see them.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much like this series by Ann Cleeves. They are gently written even if they are dealing with murder. They pack a lot of information, back story and background, into easy-to-read and elegant sentences. For me, they are a perfect balance of intrigue and daily life, new characters and familiar ones, facts and secrets, red herrings and clues.
This time we meet a group of young professionals who met one another at university in Durham, most of whom are English, and there is a story of a haunting. I didn’t work out the culprit, nor the motive, but somehow I still felt that I could have. It felt fairly written to me.
In the middle of all this, a sense of hope. Oh, and an insight into the Shetland Islands and contemporary life there, this time on Unst, the most Northerly of the Islands and two ferry rides, 57 miles and two and a half hours from Lerwick.
I’d definitely recommend the series but I would suggest starting from the beginning, Raven Black.
I posted this review on GoodReads.com on 1 June 2017.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book came to my attention thanks to Amazon’s Daily Kindle Deals. The blurb sounded intriguing with its global setting and magic and ancient organisations and “(a)t the center (sic) of it all, Seb Varden, a 32-year old musician with a secret in his past, slits his wrists, is shot dead and run over on the freeway. He’s had better days.”
I started reading with a little trepidation, which is the lot of the reader of self-published material. However, I was very happy with the quality of the writing, the grammar, the characters and the story, not just in the opening chapters but also at the end. The story has a proper ending even though Ian Sainsbury plans further books. It truly is stand-alone while leaving mysteries still to solve.
Most reviews on Amazon have been positive. One negative one refers to the violence and I wanted to address that. There is some. However, I thought it was appropriate to the story and it introduced a sufficient amount of jeopardy from start to finish. The violence is not all-encompassing (you may find that to be strange language but it’s spoiler-avoiding!), which is nice. Of course, I’m a person who reads lots of crime and thriller books so maybe my bar is higher than some people’s.
I should also like to put in a good word for meditation. Read the book, you’ll understand!
Sadler’s Wells bill their Gala Flamenca as “one of the highlights of each year’s Flamenco Festival” and they are right. It is a show built around people who have won prizes at the previous year’s competitions and festivals in Spain. This means that you get a bit of everything and you get to see people who are the rising stars, in the view of the aficionados in Spain. That’s why we love it and this year’s was no exception.
In 2017, there were four dancers, the Gypsy dancer Juana Amaya, Olga Pericet, Jesús Carmona and Patricia Guerrero. Then there was a guest appearance from singer, Rocío Márquez who had a bit of the Ellie Gouldings about her. (Or, was it Joss Stone – young, female, long hair and accessible music.) She did her own concert during the Festival as well as appearing with the company. She has an amazing voice and sings very traditionally but also a lot of powerful songs which seem much more accessible. I did feel that I would be able to follow the story she told if only I could understand the Spanish, whereas normally you can’t understand singers of cante.
In addition, there were two excellent guitarists, Daniel Jurado and Victor “El Tomato”, Paco Vega on percussion and Herminia Borja, Miguel Lavi and Jonathan Reyes adding to the singing. Unusually, Paco Vega was presented like a rock drummer, sitting at the back on a raised platform, albeit with a more clearly Flamenco drums and beat boxes. Herminia Borja seemed quite old in this young company but, boy, could she pack a punch, including when she was duetting with Rocío.
The dancers danced together at the start and at the finish, perfectly in synch with the one another and thrilling to watch. They then took turns to do some of the classic Flamenco dances and they were all very good.
Patricia Guerrero is tall and elegant and danced in a white dress with a relatively long tail as well as with a large red shawl so she manipulated both shawl and tail at the same time. This was very impressive, particularly as she made it look so easy. I was intrigued to see that she then bent down and hooked the tail of the dress up, converting it into a dress with a full skirt so she could do another dance in it. Ingenious.
Olga Pericet was very small. She danced in a man’s costume as well as in a red dress with a red and white shawl. She was strong but I think Mercedes Ruíz, earlier in the week, was stronger when dancing the man’s dance.
Juana Amaya had a very different style from the others, seeming less polished and precise, perhaps. I guess that is what they mean by “gypsy”. However, for all that she was strong and exciting and passionate.
Jesus Carmona came on in one of those black hats with a brim but a fairly flat crown (like a squashed top hat). He danced with it for a while and then gave the hat to Rocio Marquez took it off stage in one of her wanderings off and on. He was strong and an exciting dancer but there wasn’t enough of him and of male dancing, given the number of women.
In fact, that would be my only quibble this year. There seemed to be a dearth of traditional male dancers and companies of dancers where their formation dancing is so powerful. I miss that. The women are getting stronger and stronger and I like that too but there is a difference when you have a really strong male dancer. When they dance together, playing off one another, that is great. I wouldn’t like that on its own either – I’d just like some of it.
All being well, the Flamenco Festival will be back in 2018 and with it a Gala Flamenca.
Gallery B is the first new space @NationalGallery in over 25 years. Until 16 July 2017, it houses a free compare-and-contrast exhibition of Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn (yes, the Rembrandt). That is the purpose of the new space, which links Gallery A with the other Ground Floor Galleries: to provide a large space that can be used for special displays and exhibitions.
This current display is of existing work, using the juxtaposition to give us new ways of seeing the paintings and in all honesty using a new gallery and this conceit of compare and contrast to get us into the Gallery to see them at all. To that extent, it is a success and it is a great excuse to have a look at two key Dutch painters.
The biggest problem is finding the galleries, especially if you come in from the Sainsbury Wing. It is on the lower floor, level 0. There are four stairways down, two from the main front entrance, a quite narrow staircase next to room 12 to the left of the Central Hall (if you have your back to the main entrance) behind the shop, and the large modern staircase in the East Wing to the right of the Central Hall. (On a Sunday, there is another route via Gallery A at the Northside of the building but I haven’t used it yet so this is speculative.)
There are lifts at the latter two staircases. From the staircase to the left of Central Hall, turn right at the bottom of this staircase and it takes you directly to the entrance to Gallery F from where you walk to the circular Gallery E, turn right through Gallery C and there you are. From the large staircase to the right of Central Hall, make your way through the doorway at the far side of the Espresso Bar and you will find yourself at the entrance to Gallery F.
Once you get there, you’ll see that Gallery B is the shape of a squared off lozenge creating four bays in which to display the art. Large paintings are hung low so we can see them in the middle of the bays with smaller paintings around them. The walls are pale. The lighting is adequate but creates a bit of glare from some angles.
Rubens is on the near wall as you enter and Rembrandt is on the far. This allows you more easily to compare and contrast the two artists. The main wall panels provide some context. The individual labels focus on describing each painting rather than explaining the contrasts. What follows is my impression of the comparisons and contrasts.
There is more colour on the Rubens side of the room with bigger pieces and a tendency to use biblical and mythological stories as subjects. As is often the case, it can be hard to understand what is going on without knowing the original story.
His portraits are perhaps a little more accessible. It seems to me that Rubens was painting in the period of creating likenesses of the subject’s appearance, not simply flattering. Rubens still uses symbols, for example, surrounding his doctor friend, Ludovicus Nonnius, with books and a bust of the Hippocrates (the Greek founder of medicine) but these are real people staring out of the canvass, or wood in Rubens’s case.
I did think his young woman (Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?)) in the so-called straw hat looked a little sickly, pale skin and big eyes, but that might be more about the standards of beauty at the time. She is certainly looking at us a little coyly in her colourful flounces.
I did like the small landscape, A Shepherd with his Flock in a Woody Landscape, even though there is something about it that is twee and overly sentimental. The larger version of the same scene, (The Watering Place) is in Gallery C just outside so it is interesting to compare and contrast the two of them, too.
I implied that Rembrandt’s side of the room has less colour. This is particularly the case of his portraits. They are generally pared back with very little to see but the subject and maybe a chair. But even when there is something to see, such as the sword and the book on his right of An Elderly Man as Saint Paul, it is very hard to see it. I did notice that if I spent longer and looked and looked, my eyes became accustomed to the dark painting as they do to the dark in a low light environment.
One major exception to the lack of colour is Belshazzar’s Feast where Belshazzar’s wealth, the sumptuous and elaborate 17th century dress and jewels of his courtiers and the splendour of the Temple plate are all conveyed and highlighted with thick brushwork.
Then there is Rembrandt’s famous lighting. This features in many of the works but one particularly caught my attention. The Woman taken in Adultery is glowing in the middle of a group in the dark Temple, all looking insignificant against the splendour of the enthroned High Priest above.
If you come to see the new space for one reason alone make it the Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, Wife of Jacob Trip from Portraits of Jacob Trip and his Wife Margaretha de Geer. There are no accoutrements apart from the sober but rich clothing and the shadow of a substantial chair but the hands and the face with the steady gaze from the eyes are compelling. In fact, in all the portraits it is clear that for Rembrandt the eyes have it!
Of course, it’s no longer just about the display in the Gallery. The National Gallery has extensive resources on line. You can do a virtual tour from the comfort of your computer if you can’t come to London. For Gallery B, perhaps because it is a temporary display, the Gallery hasn’t set up the displays in the same way as for other rooms. So, to find the information about the paintings (as of 11 April 2017 when I accessed it this way), the best way to find them is to go to the page about the special exhibition and its related events, click here, then click through to the page about the display itself, then click on the underlined names of the two artists to go to their pages in the A-Z of Artists where you can track down their pictures.
In addition, there was a Facebook Live event where Head of Education, Gill Hart, and Associate Curator of Paintings 1600-1800, Francesca Whitwell Cooper, gave viewers a tour of the paintings. This was simply an audio-visual event that could be accessed live from the National Gallery Facebook page. It was a really good introduction to the exhibition and, for those of us who are new to art appreciation, it gave lots of pointers to look for. The recording of the event is still available. Even if you don’t have Facebook, you seem to be able to play it but I can’t guarantee that. Give it a go by clicking here.