tom thomson and the group of seven at dulwich

7 January 2012 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I was in Toronto (I think – or was it Montreal?) and exploring the city’s fine art gallery stumbled across Tom Thomson and ‘The Group of Seven‘. It was hardly ground-breaking stuff – largely comprising impressionistic landscapes of wild Canadian landscapes – but they had a vibrancy of colour and originality of style that made them stand out. I even bought the book (Tom Thomson & the Group of Seven by David Silcox). In Canada these works are national treasures and the artists revered as the country’s finest.

So why have we never heard of them in the UK? I guess that they have long been rather unfashionable. After all, over in Europe in the first half of the 20th century it was the flowering of the avant-garde – more new ‘-isms’ than you could shake a stick at and certainly more that you could keep track of and understand. Meanwhile over in Canada a bunch of, largely, European exiles were seemingly style-wise stuck at the *rse end of the previous century. They painted in plein air using a style that combined various aspects of the impressionists and post impressionists –  a bit of Seurat here, Cezanne there and Monet over here. 

They did however also bring something more – from the symbolists, Northern Europeans like Munch and others like Hodler. More awe of nature, respect for the sublime and a touch of religion no doubt. Painting from the early 1910’s and inspired by Thomson, a loosely connected group formed in 1920, and although they drifted apart in the early 1930’s they had by then between them created a distinguishable ‘Canadian’ style which undeniably reflects the wildernes and open space of the country. The gallery promotes this exhibition as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see these works in the UK. It may well be. 

The exhibition closes this weekend on the 8th of January (don’t complain – I did warn you it was on its was some 6 months ago) and, unless you are a City or United fan watching the Manchester derby, I cannot think of many better things to do than pop down to the Dulwich picture gallery to pass a dull and grey winter day.

Read a more comprehensive history and review from the Standard’s Brian Sewell here.

The Dulwich Picture gallery until 8 January 2012.


twombly and poussin: arcadian painters at dulwich picture gallery

4 August 2011 § Leave a comment

As I speculated a few months back when this exhibition was announced, this did not look promising – a car crash waiting to happen. An opportunistic exhibition seizing on the fact that Cy Twombly was heavily influenced by Nicolas Poussin (he once said that he‘would have liked to have been Poussin’)  and that he, like Poussin, moved to Rome to paint his versions of the ancient myths.

From the moment that you step in to the first room you realise that this exhibition is indeed is a mistake. Twombly’s big energetic works require space and demand to be experienced – they shout at you. Poussin’s work needs quiet contemplation – perhaps they whisper. Bringing together two artists should create new understandings and add to the works on show. This one detracted – I longed to see Twombly by himself and Poussin was made to look dull. You might as well have Clarkson drag-racing a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari – there simply is no point, each is great on its own.

There were nevertheless some good points. It was good to see a number of Cy Twombly works together – especially the four seasons – hung on three sides of a room with no Poussin to distract – whilst across the corridor the same applied to a room of Poussin. A delicate Tacita Dean film portrait of Twombly at the end of the exhibition was a nice addition and last but not least a cappuchino in the gallery’s cafe facing the gardens is always enjoyable.

This was not a match made in heaven – or Arcadia. One of course suspects that the gallery knew this too but they also realise they there is limited scope for interaction for their collection and the crowd-pleasing world of modern and contemporary art. The result is hardly perfect but it is probably worth going for a  look at the wreckage!

 On until 25 September 2011 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

norman rockwell at dulwich – correction

22 January 2011 § Leave a comment

My sincere apologies to Norman (god bless his soul) who I inadvertantly renamed Normal Rockwell in a recent post entitled ‘Normal Rockwell at the Dulwich Picture Gallery’. I suspect that I subconsciously revealed my thoughts on the exhibition before I had even started writing! Perhaps the title was in that way somehow very appropriate after all?

The Daily Telegraph for example broadly agrees with my blog but adds some interesting comments at the end emphasising the exhibitions value as an indicator of social history:

But go to these Saturday Evening Post covers and what you find beneath the broad humour and occasional sentimentality is his heartfelt love for what he sees as the American virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Rockwell’s limitations are the limitations of commercial illustration. He never criticised either his country or a political party for the simple reason that the purpose of his Post covers was to sell magazines, and you don’t do that by antagonising any one sector of society. Even so, Rockwell’s own politics (he was a broadly liberal New Englander) are worth bearing in mind, because references to the social divisions that exist in US society are there if you look for them .

The show at Dulwich is worth seeing for many reasons, but I left it feeling unhappy, but not quite able to put my finger on why. Later, it came to me: whatever their political views, in the country I grew up in everyone thought of themselves as American. Today the US is polarised in a way that was once unimaginable. It’s not nostalgia his illustrations made me feel, it’s loss.

twombly and poussin: arcadian painters

13 January 2011 § 1 Comment

Whilst viewing the Norman Rockwell (reviewed in a recent post) at the lovely Dulwich Picture Gallery I took a look through their upcoming programme. The most intriguing of combinations arrives on the 29 June 2011. The American post-war artist Cy Twombly is paired with Poussin,  the 17th Century painter of neo-classical landscapes.

The exhibition seems to have been founded on a Twombly quote; “I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time.”  

The Gallery states that ‘Separated by three centuries the two artists nonetheless share remarkable similarities. The connections are highlighted through the key themes of Arcadia and the pastoral, passion and love, violence and war and mythological figures that are central to both artists’ work.’

On the face of it these are two artists linked by the thinnest of threads. One cannot accuse the gallery of being unadventurous and this will be a tough exhibition to pull off successfully. Despite reservations I do however look forward to seeing them try!

london public art galleries – top ten

13 September 2010 § 2 Comments

It is a cliché I know. Nowadays one can hardly open a newspaper or switch on the TV without being assaulted with yet another ‘best/worst of’ listing. As soon as something enters the public realm it is instantly categorised, tabulated and graded – from Rooney’s indiscretions to ways of cooking artichoke,  nothing is allowed to escape the ratings police. 

My excuse is a visiting friend from San Francisco, interested in modern & contemporary art, has asked me to send him a list of those galleries that he should definitely take time out to visit. Any guilt in populist list-making thereby assuaged by the potential education of an American philistine. Here then are my very personal top ten public galleries (private galleries listed tomorrow) – starting at ten and working up to the (overly long and unnecessary pause to build up an unconvincing and unjustified tension that was previously totally lacking) ‘winner’; 

10. Zabludowicz Collection. A messy collection of future ’emerging’ artists, most of whom never quite fully ’emerged’. Put together by a curator employed by a multi-millionaires wife. Anita Zabludowicz seems to have no knowledge of art (is she more interested in social status?) but she has found a handful of good works, put them in a converted church and created a very interesting place to visit. 

9. Dulwich Picture Gallery. A lovely gallery with a fine permanant collection (pre-twentieth century). Temporary exhibitions hit and miss. Recent Paul Nash was a cracker. Current Wyeth so-so. After the long hike out to Dulwich you will be glad to find an exceptionally nice restaurant and terrace. 

8. National Portrait Gallery. It is always a pleasure to wander around their peaceful galleries finding a new gem. Some interesting temporary exhibitions (currently there is the annual BP Portrait Award and Camille Silvy, 19th century documentary photographer) and a local secret – a wonderful top-floor bar with views of Trafalgar Square. 

7. Saatchi Collection. The exhibitions here always seem to be frustrating and fascinating in equal measure. The work is of uneven quality, but is nevertheless always worth visiting and is shown in an excellent space. Enjoy a break at the cafe/restaurant on the pretty square afterwards or stroll down Kings Road. 

6. Tate Modern. Of course it has to be there. Sometimes frustrates with messy curation, has some big chunks missing from its collection and thinks that teaching children about art involves playing facile games that fill galleries with noisy groups. Membership benefits include a cramped lounge busier and less pleasant than the public facilities. Visit weekdays outside school holidays. 

5. Camden Arts Centre. Has a knack of putting on exhibitions of artists that have been overlooked, misunderstood or simply long overdue. A must-visit gallery if you want to keep one step ahead. This autumn Rene Daniels on the 23 September is followed by Simon Starling on the 16 December 2010. 

Richard Hamilton

4. Whitechapel Gallery. This is a gallery that is always worth a visit. The home of always excellent, often ground-breaking, exhibitions. This is Tomorrow in 1956 was so iconic and memorable that a current small show looks at some plans, letters and posters -quite interestsing. It has the best gallery restaurant in London – alternatively pop around the corner for a Brick Lane curry. 

Nouvel Pavilion

3. Serpentine Gallery. Take a relaxing stroll through Hyde Park (ie: don’t take a taxi!) to reach one of my favourites. The exhibitions, usually monographic, are invariably interesting and well-curated. An excellent Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition is on until the 19th September 2010. And then there is the pavilion to enjoy – this year Jean Nouvel’s red construction makes an uneasy contrast to the green of the park! 

2. Courtauld Gallery. Step a few yards off the hustle and bustle of the Strand in to an oasis of calm. A must-visit gallery that is often overlooked. Go to see the amazing Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works as well as their Fauvist, Bloomsbury and German Expressionist collections – and much much more. And dont forget the cafe. 

Boccioni - Modern Idol

1.Estorick Collection. A delight. A north london townhouse in a peaceful back street holds a fine collection of Italian 2oth century art. The futurist works are especially good and there is always an interesting temporary exhibition. Coming up is Against Mussolini on the 22 September 2010. I hardly need to add that they do a great cappuccino. 

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