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Posts Tagged ‘painting’

As a great admirer of Wyndham Lewis’s art, I was delighted to see his portrait of TS Eliot at the Royal Academy of Arts, on loan all the way from Durban, South Africa.

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It is part of the 250th anniversary of the Academy’s Summer Exhibition, a retrospective being held concurrently with this year’s show: The Great Spectacle.

This painting caused great controversy when the Academy rejected it for the 1938 Summer Exhibition. Many of Lewis’s peers were incensed, including Augustus John, who resigned his membership of the R.A. over the issue. His resignation letter is also on display.
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Eliot liked the portrait, but a possible reason the work was rejected was that both artist and sitter had a somewhat jaundiced view of the Academy. There are some choice quotes here.

I’ve only mentioned Wyndham Lewis once before on this blog and then only in passing in a piece about David Bowie’s personal collection. Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882 – 1957) was a Canadian-born artist and intellectual, active in the first half of the 20th Century. He served with distinction in WW1 as an artillery officer. Before the conflict he had been a member of the Camden Town Group and was active in the Vorticist movement (who expounded a sort of hybrid of Cubist and Futurist styles), being a contributor to its magazine, BLAST. Lewis was a combative critic of the intellectual Left in the 20s and 30s. In the early 1930s, like many at the time, he became admirer of Hitler, a position which had completely reversed by 1936. For the last years of his life from the early 1950s he was completely blind.

But back to the show. The Great Spectacle is indeed great and an most certainly an excellent spectacle. In the spirit of the Wyndam Lewis controversy, there is an amusing picture by Alfred Munnings (1878 – 1959, surely the best painter of horses ever) which takes the piss out of admirers of modern art.

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The inclusion of this picture is significant in that Munnings, as outgoing President of the Academy, in 1949 famously made a drunken speech attacking modern art and its practitioners. Fortunately for us, it was recorded, but the Academy must have been rightly horrified.

So two of our best painters of the 20th Century attacking the Academy from opposite directions. They couldn’t win, really. But all credit to them for showing us their story, warts and all, through this superbly curated show, necessarily chronological, but paying close attention to genre. All the British greats are there, famous and obscure, men and women: some of your favourites are bound to be there.


The Summer Exhibition 2018 itself is a joy. I hadn’t been for over 25 years, but from my dim recollection of the previous occasion compared with 2018, I’m sure that this year’s show is superior in every way. Brighter, more variety, more imagination, talent. Many pieces are political, many quirky, lots are funny and indeed, some are all three. I particularly enjoyed the humorous homages of Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl, but there is so much more to savour.

A big anniversary year for the Royal Academy, and they’ve played a blinder.

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The most famous of London’s many bridges celebrates its 120th birthday this year. Horace Jones’s masterwork was opened by the Prince of Wales on 30 June 1894, nine years after the Act of Parliament was passed to bring it into being.

To mark the occasion, the Guildhall Art Gallery has just launched an exhibition of representations of Tower Bridge down the years. Like Sir Charles Barry and others before him, Jones didn’t live to see the completion of his most prestigious project. He is remembered here at the entrance to the show with his most famous portrait along with that of his engineer, John Wolf Barry, son of Sir Charles himself.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Charles Pears (1873-1958), Blitz. Our London Docks, 1940, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

After this, the bridge itself is the only star. There are many dozens of depictions spanning over a century. They include water colours, oils, pencil drawings, and photographs. Most notable of the latter are an amazing survival from the early 1890s of the bridge being built and we are reminded that for all appearances, this is a steel bridge with cladding. There are also fine engineering plans of the towers, along with ephemera relating Tower Bridge’s earliest days: invitations and programmes for the opening and even for the laying of the foundation stone. Incredibly elaborate items where Union flags abound. This was, after all, to be the new front door of  the capital of the world’s greatest power at its mightiest.

But by far the biggest element of the show are the paintings. They are in a multitude of media, taken from every viewpoint: the pool of London; Wapping; Rotherhithe; and at least one from the bridge itself. The London skyline, an evocative addition to any landscape features varyingly. But there is another star of the show: it is, of course, the Thames. And with the Thames come boats and boatmen. All subject matter that is a gift to the painter: if you think about it, nothing possibly can go wrong for any artist. There was only one picture I thought was not particularly good, but even it looked delightful thanks to a quite nice tugboat centre stage: it was very much the exception.

So an exhibition featuring images of the most photogenic (and yes, there are old photos too) bridge in the world is hardly going to struggle. But they still have to be sourced, chosen and displayed in a coherent way, and variety here is key. Moody here, frivolous there; the highly detailed rubs shoulders with the broad brush approach. The arranging is broadly chronological without being slavishly so.  The gallery and curator have got this all completely right and the result is delightful. You’d be mad not to go: entrance is free.

120 Years of Tower Bridge (1894-2014) runs from 31 May – 30 June, so not particularly long.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), The Opening Ceremony of the Tower Bridge, 1894-5, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge. Guildhall Art Gallery.

Frank William Brangwyn ARA (1867ÔÇô1956), The Tower Bridge, about 1905, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

James Page-Roberts (b. 1925), Self-Portrait with Tower Bridge, 1965, oil on canvas. Copyright The Artist.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Judith Evans and Arthur Watson (b. 1949, b. 1946), The Spirit of London, 1981, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Mentor Chico (b. 1963), Forever Imagical Tower Bridge 2014, 2014, oil on canvas, copyright The Artist

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the laughing cavalier by frans halsThe other Sunday we drove into town and visited the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square; parked right outside for free, perfect. The gallery is free entry, more perfect still. This is under the terms laid down by the French woman who bequeathed the collection to the nation: Lady Wallace, née Amélie-Julie Castelnau, widow of Sir Richard Wallace.  Another key stipulation was that no item from the collection may be lent, ever. Hence, if you wish to see possibly its most famous object – The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals – you can only see it here. More significantly, perhaps, is that thanks to her, the institution is known as the Wallace Collection, in honour of her late husband, and not the Hertford Collection, the aristocratic family into which he was illegitimately born in 1818. But probably most importantly of all, Lady Wallace ensured that the overwhelming bulk of the Hertford treasure ended up in London rather than Paris. We owe her much. 

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Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection

Sir Richard Wallace and his father, the 4th Marquis of Hertford, were both connoisseurs, collectors and devoted Francophiles, spending most of their time in France, mainly Paris. Lord Hertford died rather inconveniently during the Franco Prussian war of 1870 at a time when Richard mucked in as a generous benefactor of war relief for Parisians and the French soldiery, making a name for himself on both sides of the Channel. Richard inherited most of the estate, which included the massive collection and properties in Paris, London and Ireland.

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Sir Richard Wallace, Bt. (1818 – 1890). What a jacket.

The Wallace Collection – assembled mainly by the 4th Dukes of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace – is extremely eclectic. It comprises paintings, furniture, glassware, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics, china, clocks, medallions, illuminated manuscripts and a massive dollop of medieval and Eastern armour. There is very little English to speak of. Its overall flavour, I think, is represented by extremely luxurious 18C French objects. Rich gold, pinks, blues, aquamarines abound: you could contract diabetes looking at this stuff for too long. I remember when first I visited Hertford House – it must have been 25 years ago – finding it all rather overwhelming. In fact, I didn’t care for it much. But subsequent visits, informed by things one has picked up over the years, has made me appreciate this institution so much more. So definitely an acquired taste and while I may never fully fall in love with the Wallace Collection, I will always derive much pleasure from visiting, and I think you will too.

Here are a few randomly selected images from our visit. All pics by Fiona Pretorius.

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chinese_girlApart from a successful exhibition at Harrods in 1961, Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913 – 2006) has little to do with London or its history. But this Russian painter did produce what has become possibly the best-selling poster of all time, The Chinese Girl (1952), aka the “Blue Lady”. The original painting of it can be seen in the foyer of Bonhams auctioneers right now. It will be auctioned in March.

Tretchikoff is known mainly for his cheesy paintings, very much looked down on by the art establishment and Western intelligentsia, though he is enjoying a sort of ironical cult status of late. I remember my parents’ friends having prints of his Dying Swan or the cut rose and water droplets on the stair. Reproductions like these sold in their tens of millions during the 20th Century, particularly in the Far East – and Tretchikoff cried all the way to the bank.

I made a special detour last week to Bonhams to see the Chinese Girl in the flesh. I don’t know where original Tretchikoffs lurk, but it felt good to see one. The estimate is £300,000 – 500,000. I bet it goes for more.

25 January: Ah, the Beeb have caught up.

Update: The painting fetched £982,050, the winning bid coming from a businessman based in South Africa, meaning that the painting will in a sense be returning home.

Update II: There’s a lovely postscript to this story about the model, who still lives in Cape Town, here.

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Or Victorian. He straddled the border. A few months ago when rooting about for a suitable image to put on our members’ cards, after a few false starts, I came across just the thing. A view of the Thames and Somerset House from the west by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1792 – 1864). Because it featured lots of sky, it enabled me to incorporate London Historians logo without interfering with the image unduly. The picture is listed on the Internet as having been painted in 1817, and you’ll notice the Thames is not yet embanked, something Joseph Bazalgette famously undertook some 50 years later. I think you’ll agree, it’s a fine picture.

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Somerset House by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1817

So who was Thomas Hosmer Shepherd? As you can see, his Wikipedia entry is not much more than a stub. Using my new DNB subscription, I turned there, only to find him mentioned just the once and in passing, with relation to his brother, who was seemingly more Important.

And yet there are quite a few examples of his work knocking around the web. I like them very much, both aesthetically and as great references of London’s buildings and streets during the Victorian period. What I have been able to find out is that Shepherd was mainly a watercolourist and that rather than being an exhibiting or commercial painter, he appears to have been commissioned as an architectural illustrator, many of his paintings being turned into engravings for reference books of pretty buildings. You can buy these on places like abebooks.com for up to £1,500 for first editions, or very cheaply for reissues that were printed in the 1970s. So we know that someone was on the Thomas Holmer Shepherd case relatively recently.

So like Erasmus Bond, whom I wrote about recently, Shepherd is undeservedly obscure, in my view. But I suspect we may find out more about him more easily than the mysterious Mr Bond. If you know anything, please do get in touch. Meantime, here are a few more of Shepherd’s lovely pictures.

st james's palace by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

St James's Palace

westminster abbey

Westminster Abbey

marlborough house by thomas hosmer shepherd

Marlborough House

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Inside the National Portrait Gallery

Image via Wikipedia

This week only. I’ll definitely go and check this out. The National Portrait Gallery are exhibiting two contemporary portraits of Elizabeth I, one of which from the Tate, the other normally lives in the Walker Gallery.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11277451
Presume this is a last-minute addition to this:
http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/concealed-and-revealed-the-changing-faces-of-elizabeth-i.php

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