='data:blog.isMobile ? "width=device-width,initial-scale=1.0,minimum-scale=1.0,maximum-scale=1.0" : "width=1100"' name='viewport'/> The Crawford Arts Review

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Part III: Van Gogh in Britain - until Sunday 11 August


Some six weeks into Van Gogh in Britain at Tate Britain I'd like to discuss an aspect of the artist's work that seems to me to be underappreciated. 
Vincent van Gogh, Fortification of Paris
with Houses
, 1887, Whitworth Art
Collection (University of Manchester)
The painting shown on the left (not in the exhibition since it's from Van Gogh's days in Paris) tells the story. Vincent van Gogh never painted anything  from a roadside ditch to a row of trees  that did not show its foundational roots deep in the earth. Like the Dutch nation before and after he had an appreciation of the dynamics of landscape and the built environment  the result of millennia of endeavour to understand and work with both. Indeed, one saying attempts to sum it all up: 'God built the world but the Dutch built Holland'.

Fortification of Paris with Houses, above, a work from 1887, can be seen in Manchester where it is part of the Whitworth Art Collection.

As the Tate Britain exhibition makes plain, Van Gogh spoke English and admired many British writers and artists. Two painters that caught his eye were John Constable and John Everett Millais, both painters for whom landscape 'lived' and expressed much that man struggled to express in words. 

Tate Britain shows two of these works in a room devoted to the landscapes of Van Gogh himself. John Constable's The Valley Farm, dates from 1835. It shows the cutting in the river Stour that leads to the mill stream at Flatford, a watermill, with Willy Lott's cottage (much reworked) in the background. 

The Millais work is Chill October (1870), a view of part of the river Tay that forms a still backwater with trees and is pure unpeopled landscape. Both works can only have drawn Van Gogh's sympathetic gaze. A reminder of home perhaps. And, to remind for a moment of Van Gogh's many admirers contemporaneously and since, hats off to Jacob Epstein, whose Epping Forest, painted c. 1933, is both rigorous and uplifting. 

Of course, no one reviewer can hope to cover the immense contemporary context that has been assembled around these paintings and writings. But let me conclude here with the celebrated painting by Van Gogh's 17th-century compatriot Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middelharnis (1689). It's an important inclusion  and much as I understand Tate's chronic lack of room in fitting so much work into a confined space, they have hung the painting just a little low to show off its compositional brilliance: that big sky and low vanishing point which allows the viewer to make that great perceptual leap over field and farm and market garden to the horizon

Hobbema's painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1871. It would have been newly hung in the Gallery during Vincent's visit. Contemporary accounts record that he made many trips to see it. No painting in the world I think so expresses the practical nature of the Dutch, building dikes to raise the land above sea level, draining fields via a network of canals and planting and building on the result. Here, Van Gogh, lonely in London, would have felt completely at home. 

Afterword: No great exhibition like this one can reveal all its historical and artistic contexts over a single visit. I firmly advocate Tate membership. After one visit you can return as often as you wish free of charge. Pay online and you will be  added to the database so that you need only show your credit card at the desk.


The EY Exhibition
Van Gogh and Britain

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1
Monday to Sunday 10.00–18.00
Check for late openings

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Van Gogh and Britain

Part II: Van Gogh, an engineer-poet in paint

Tate Britain is currently giving its members a big treat. Every weekend (with the exception of one day, see below) it is opening its Galleries and Members' Room early so that people can enjoy the Van Gogh in Britain exhibition from 8 am to 10 am, a time when the galleries are cool and uncrowded. 

Monday, 15 April 2019

Until Sunday 07 July


Religious experiences, seculo-spiritual experiences, are relatively rare I think. But there I was having one. I was standing in front of a painting in the National Gallery. A Spanish woman was standing next to me, both of us silently suffused by a deep sense of connectedness.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Perhaps one of the most solitary and passionate of men, the work of Vincent van Gogh returns to London

Part I: Van Gogh the natural colourist

If the good curators of Tate Britain had chosen one artist to show what these islands owe to European art and sensibility, they could scarcely have done better than to choose Vincent van Gogh.

Monday, 11 March 2019

A walk through Tate Modern on a weekday afternoon

Arts reviewing can be a bit of a rush. In, out with the pen, and into print. But I like the stuff enough to spend lots of downtime in art galleries too. I've recently been to Tate Modern.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Until Saturday 09 March

Ian Kiaer at Alison Jacques Berners Street




Ian Kiaer, Endnote, ping (part of murmer/black),
2018, courtesy of the artist and gallery 
This is a big show in that it reveals more than is seen on the gallery walls. So big in fact that I imagine a whole art museum given over to art such as this. The shapes on the left, for example (only the left panel is shown here), which appear to be fish, inhabit their own metaphysical world. And it is larger than any ocean.
     Kiaer's work is European in its sensibility: and you are taken aback by it. Each piece perks up your visual sense. You leave the gallery seeing the mundane a little differently. 

I am going to refer you here to the words of The Ruskin School of Art, where Kiaer teaches. The work shown above, consists of acrylic, pencil on paper, and Plexiglas. Another, Endnote, ping (limb), 2019 (not shown), consists of a fan, a very fine gauge plastic tube, and electrical wire. Yet it shows the impossible: the insubstantiality of air. Don't stop to wonder how, just see it.

Alison Jacques Gallery
1618 Berners Street
London W1

Opening times
Tuesday to Saturday 11am–6pm or by appointment.




Monday, 18 February 2019

Understanding Rembrandt 350 years after his death


As fellow art journos take the Eurostar to Amsterdam to stare, no doubt in wonder, at All the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, I feel the pang of not being there, my press pass as yet unused. All the Rembrandts runs until 10 June.

In the meantime, knowing these paintings, if not the drawings and prints, since student days, I have been reading some of the reviews published since the opening. There is, for instance, a particularly jolly and perceptive piece on "The Night Watch" (and incidentally on the Dutch for whom it was painted), by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.


And there's the question "might Rembrandt have been a narcissist" posited by one distinguished critic.  

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait in a cap,
with eyes wide open, 1630












"Who, me?" (Wie, ik?), I can almost hear him respond



Rembrandt created over 80 self-portraits if you count in the drawings and prints. He had a declared purpose. They were studies for many of his later portrait paintings – of individuals, couples and groups. Many of the self-portraits are hardly flattering. The fact is that it's extremely difficult to draw or paint someone with mouth agape, eyes widened or hair standing on end. 
 
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait
in a black cap, 1637
In all of the self-portraits you'll see Rembrandt's masterly grasp of how to handle chiaroscuro, light and shade. Here's a second self-portrait, this time from the Wallace Collection here in London. It is "Self-portrait in a black cap" dating from 1637. The artist here accomplishes that most difficult of tasks – the foreshortening of the head as it tilts back. Only someone with the most superb skills of draughtmanship can do this convincingly. And, of course, as a subtext, in presenting himself in these various poses and guises, the artist is saying: look what I can do with paint.

Then there are comments that the self-portraits may have more than a passing relationship to today's selfies. Well, more a relationship to the brilliance of Dutch marketing skills in bringing the 17th century bang up to date. Amsterdam is also paying its respects to the brilliant Emilie Gordenker, joint director of the Mauritshuis in The Hague, who organized an exhibition of Dutch Self-Portraits in 2015/16 which she called Selfies of the Golden Age.

A final thought here. It might be fun as well as instructive to match the poses of some of these self-portraits to the finished portraits in Rembrandt's other works. 

There are further Rembrandt exhibitions throughout the fair cities of the Netherlands: Rembrandt's family and social network in the house he bought in Amsterdam (now the Rembrandt House Museum), in Leeuwarden where his wife Saskia was born, and in Leiden, his own birthplace, until the end of the year (see link for further details).

Eurostar Direct