Fri, 21 Apr 2017
Copying Lady Agnew

John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is a very famous and accomplished painting, now hanging in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. In this YouTube video, American artist John Howard Sanden paints a copy of it over the course of about three hours (split over two videos) :

It is fascinating watching him do this, also a little hypnotic seeing the painting come together. He explains his thought process and what he thought Sargent did at the time he painted the original in 1892. There are many art tutorial channels and videos on YouTube and this is one of the best I've seen. As Sanden says, all the great art masters copied the great works of past masters, including Sargent. I think the final result is extremely good.

The video itself seems to be from an old tape video from the The Portrait Institute in New York. Unfortunately, it might well be an illegal upload because it starts with a warning about "duplication". So the YouTube video might disappear. In some ways this would be a shame: I had never heard of Sanden, or the Institute, but now I know what a good painter and teacher he is.

Edit: Fixed spelling on Sargent's lastname.


Sat, 08 Apr 2017
Sebastiano (and Michelangelo)

You can't really argue with Michelangelo (not even Pope's do that successfully), which meant a second visit to the National Gallery for the Michelangelo & Sebastiano show.

Part of the interest here is learning more about some of the daily routine, rough competitiveness and petty jealousies of these top artists. Michelangelo was a notoriously prickly person but warmed to Sebastiano, helping him with his composition and anatomy. This seems to have been driven by his hatred of his younger rival for work, Raphael, who many considered the better overall painter. Michelangelo worked with Sebastiano as a way to win commissions from Raphael, and a form of one-upmanship. No friendly rivalry here.

There are some amazing pieces of work in the show of course, including a cast of Michelangelo's masterpiece Pieta, his Taddeo Tondo and Sebastiano's Raising of Lazarus. One of my favourites is Sebastiano's Judith (below), a smaller painting but with a real character, and beautifully painted.

Below: Judith, Sebastiano del Piombo, Oil on wood, 1510

Below: The Raising of Lazarus, Sebastiano del Piombo, Oil on Canvas, 1517-19

There's a good overview of the show and the two artists by the curator, Matthias Wivel, on YouTube. The National Gallery has a channel of its own as well, and is well worth a browse. Some great talks in front of various works.

As I stood in front of The Raising of Lazarus, I thought to myself: that's quite an amazing frame! The painting itself is very large, almost 4m high and almost 3m wide, and the frame is impressively large and solid as well :

Looking for some information on the frame,I discovered a very interesting blog all about frames by Lynn Roberts, a picture frame expert. The blog is called The Frame Blog and has a recent post about the Lazarus frame itself, covering the paintings reframing in great detail. It really is a fascinating post, accompanied by a video :

The inventory number of the Raising of Lazarus is NG1 and so was in the original core set of paintings that started the National Gallery in 1824. This was the Angerstein Collection.

I'll almost certainly return again I think.


Sat, 01 Apr 2017
W's Painting

George W Bush, ex-President of the United States never got much good press, and even this New Yorker article on him and his new paintings has a grudging and slightly mean-spirited tone. Leaving politics, economics and war aside though, the author really likes the paintings :

The quality of the art is astonishingly high for someone who—because he “felt antsy” in retirement, he writes, after “I had been an art-agnostic all my life”—took up painting from a standing stop, four years ago, at the age of sixty-six.

I think they're pretty good as well. Paintings of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan :


Sat, 25 Mar 2017
Setting Sun

Garden in Snow, Setting Sun, Judith Gardner RBA NEAC, Oil.

As seen at the Royal Society of British Artists Exhibition 2017.


Tue, 21 Mar 2017
GVIDVS CAGNACCIVS INVENTOR

At the National Gallery for the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition (which I liked), I also took some time to pop into Room 1 and see Guido Cagnacci's Repentent Magdalene, a painting that used to live in the UK but now resides in California at the Norton Simon Art Foundation.

What a beautiful painting: bright, lively and colourful. Mary Magdalene is caught at her "conversion" as her sister Martha points out the fight between an angel and a devil in the background. Martha's suggesting she ought to hear what a Rabbi she knows is saying. This is quite an unusual representation of the biblical tale (one can question its accuracy).

Below: Guido Cagnacci, The Repentant Magdalene, after 1660 (229.2 x 266.1 cm)


Below: Detail

The title of this post GVIDVS CAGNACCIVS INVENTOR is how Cagnacci signed the painting. Am unusual signature because he knew the work was outstanding. See the painting until May 21st 2017.


Thu, 09 Mar 2017
Big Colour

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972

I went to the Tate Britain Hockney show, a retrospective of his work from his early art school days to his recent works on tablet. From its first announcement last year, this was going to be a very popular show.

As I've mentioned before, I've come to like his work a lot, his newer works in particular. These are often very large, very colourful paintings, sometimes made up of multiple canvases placed side by side. I think his Yorkshire woods and hills are wonderful, and his big Grand Canyon pictures amazing. He's getting on now (almost 80) but showing no signs of slowing down. Extremely prolific, he can knock them out: and long may he do so.

Back in 2014, I suggested this might be his golden age. Looking back now, I think I was right. I also think he's still at a peak.

Below: The Road Across the Wolds, 1997, Oil.

Below:May Blossom on the Roman Road, 2009, Oil.

Below:9 Studies for the Grand Canyon, 1998, Oil.

A recent BBC documentary (BBC iPlayer) has one of his artist friends mention that Hockney was playing with the colour knob of his recently bought colour TV and cranking it right up: You can have it Fauvist if you want, he said.

It's ironic that, having spoken about his bright colours and these being such a big part of the impact many of his works have, I found that some smaller, black and white drawings he made are so powerful. These Arrival of Spring drawings are arranged in rows on the wall and I found them to be a highlight of the exhibition.

Below:Drawings of the Arrival of Spring

Below:The Arrival of Spring, Charcoal, 2013.

Below:The Arrival of Spring, Charcoal, 2013.

One could go on about him a bit now because he really has become a bit of an icon, a "national treasure" even and a lot of people love what he does. He is as articulate in words as he is in paint, and perhaps the greatest living artist. I hope he keeps going as long as he can.


Sun, 05 Mar 2017
After the Fall

A classic painting and one I've always liked, although it has been mercilessly satirised over the years (Muppet version from the RA site itself). It is easy to lampoon: prim, proper, protestant.

Right: Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, Oil.

American Gothic is the poster-image of the Royal Academy's America after the fall exhibition. Grant Wood painted this in 1930 and he has a number of other works on display: before now, I hadn't heard of him.

Wood is the artist who most stood out for me here, with paintings like Death on the Ridge Road, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and Young Corn.

Right: Grant Wood, Young Corn, 1931

Edward Hopper is a more familiar artist. He has also produced some iconic American pictures and is famous for depictions of truck stops, or diners at night; his work often has an otherworldly quality, an eerieness and, I always thought, a hint of loneliness.

Below: New York Movie, Edward Hopper, 1939

There are a number of other great pictures in this exhibition and it is another very well put together show at the RA. With Revolution on at the same time, Burlington House is well worth an extended visit just now.


Mon, 27 Feb 2017
What Goes Around

Slow to write this down, but I think it is worth a short report.

The Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 show at the Royal Academy is very well put together and includes ceramics, print, film, photography and textiles as well as painting. It covers the style of art that first started to appear during the turmoil of the Bolshevik coup, and the early years of the revolution. Much propaganda of course, but also some real, "pure" art that passed by the watchful government eye unmolested. At least for a time.

A lot of artists here were new to me. The most famous one I knew being Kazimir Malevich, an abstract artist well known for his stark, geometric and flat coloured objects. Other unfamiliar artists I liked included Isaak Brodsky, a much more traditional painter, and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Petrov-Vodkin had a whole room devoted to his work, the first time so much has been seen outside Russia. He started off painting religious icons and there is a vague hint of this in later work: a brightness of colour, and magical undertone. Very interesting artist.


Kasimir Malevich - Black Square and Red Square, 1915.


Isaak Brodsky – V. I. Lenin in Smolny, 1930


Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin - Petrograd Madonna, 1920

There were lots of bad times over the course of the years here: war, famine and genocide. At the end of the show is a small memorial film of some of the victims of the terror: mugshots taken before their murder or deportation to the gulag. Like everyone else, artists were not free to express themselves in the Soviet Union and the initial flowering of creativity eventually dried up, like much else.

The RA have put on an excellent exhibition however.


Sun, 12 Feb 2017
Art and Aeons

If you like geology and also a bit of art, you'll like Jill McManners watercolours at the Mall Galleries. McManners is fascinated by the wild rock formations making up some parts of the Scottish Hebrides, here the Galta islands and the Shiants; wild and primeval landscapes in the Atlantic Ocean. Her own web site is good at showing off her work.

Jill McManners: Sea of Crises


Tue, 07 Feb 2017
Picasso

The name "Picasso" is synonymous with Modern Art. Everyone know's his name, although perhaps few will be able to name anything he did now. My younger self was a little dismissive of some "modern" art, including Picasso I'm sad to say, but now I'm older, I see things a bit differently (and now dismiss a whole new class of modern art).

I went to the National Portrait Gallery's Picasso Portraits on Saturday morning, for the second time. Although there are still many works of his I don't like, what I see now is also one of the greatest artists we've seen. Picasso was so prolific, always trying something new and always interesting.

This show displays portraiture work from his very earliest days, with his father's realist (genre) style (see above), all the way to his last works, covering abstract and cubist, naive and realistic.

To the right and below: what would people have made of these last century? Both portraits, both shockingly new and different.

Below: Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 1910, Oil.

Above: Woman with hat (Olga), 1935, Oil.

A lot of these works are portraits of his wives, muses, children and friends. But a few are self-portraits, the last being poignant, as he faces his mortality. A great artist.

Another great, and very prolific artist, is having his place in the sun again. David Hockney at The Tate is bound to be busy. I'm looking forward to the visit.


Tue, 24 Jan 2017
East of The Shard

Not far from Tower Hill, and East of The Shard, lies the Wapping waterfront. An interesting area with a bit of history and character attached: and increasingly expensive like a lot of London. Having said that, when you are priced out of central London, expense is relative.

My workplace is now on the river front amongst the wharves and warehouses of the 19th Century city.

A lot quieter than Soho, it will take a bit of getting used to but it has its advantages. After the hustle and bustle of the West End, a quieter environment might even be one of them. Home on the bike via London Bridge and Elephant and Castle is a bit of a rat race though. Cycle routes to and from Wapping is a work in progress! A lot of regeneration has been going on down by the river for quite a while.


Tue, 10 Jan 2017
Injection Moulding

Until fairly recently, I'd never been all the way to the top floor of the V&A, where the furniture and ceramics are displayed. The top floor is much quieter than a lot of the rest of the museum but has a fascinating mix of art, craft and education.

I watched a few short videos on some new (20th Century) manufacturing techniques using PVC, Acrylic and other plastics, incuding injection moulding the Panton Chair (pictured below). An iconic design made out of molten plastic all in a single moulded piece.

The actual video is available on Vimeo.

In addition to the industrial manufacturing processes, there are many educational videos on a lot of other things e.g. the dove-tail wood joint, another short video I watched and enjoyed. The classic production and decorative processes are well represented.

The V&A has a YouTube channel with lots of great videos that seem to cover almost everything : here.


Fri, 06 Jan 2017
Location Location Location

A post on Thrillist (as linked on Ann Althouse's blog) is about a bubble in the US restaurant market that might be about to pop. It mentions some problems of running a business and made me think of many bits of London, and in particular Soho.

There's a Massive Restaurant Industry Bubble, and It's About to Burst

In the restaurant world, rent always sucks. Unless you manage to play it perfectly, as a restaurant owner you're either moving into a sketchy or "emerging" neighborhood where the rent is cheap but few want to go there, or you're overpaying for an established 'hood and need to be a runaway success from day one. And even if you do manage to make it in the former type of neighborhood, your success often ends up pricing you out of the 'hood you helped revitalize.

In Miami, Michelle Bernstein's Cena by Michy helped rebirth the MiMo historic district but was forced to close this year, after the landlord attempted to triple the rent. And even Danny Meyer had to close and move Union Square Cafe in New York, which, since 1985, had served as one of America's culinary landmarks, when he couldn't rationalize paying the huge rent hike the landlord proposed.

Rent (and rates) is just one of the problems but it's a big one, and affecting a lot of people in London as well. This seems to be especially true around an area like Soho, which has been "improving" for years now, cleaned up and much shinier than it used to be. A glut of new restaurants, food and coffee places come and go regularly, and I often wonder when "peak" food will hit. The rent has exploded as well and forced a lot of closure, or relocation. There is still so much new building and renovation going on and coming online; who is affording all this?


Sun, 01 Jan 2017
Making a New World

Well, happy new year everyone.

The above painting is We Are Making a New World by Paul Nash, painted in 1918. Nash would go on to do some great paintings during the Second War as well (see Totes Meer below). A new world was surely made.

These pictures are part of the Nash exhibition at Tate Britain, a big retrospective of his work. I don't bother with staying up celebrating the new year anymore and for the past few years I've made it a habit of visiting the Tate every January 1st and seeing the current show, having lunch in the cafe and turning my thoughts to the coming year. Nash reminds me of another English artist, Eric Ravilious, someone I wrote about in 2015. Their styles have some similarity and their working lives overlapped; to me, both impart a pre and post-war nostalgia of a lost era. A bit elegiac actually.

Nash's war paintings made his name, but he went on to do much more, including some surrealism (and was influenced by Giorgio de Chirico). I liked the exhibition, and you can see more at the Tate site.

Below: Totes Meer (Dead Sea), 1940-41. Oil.


Sun, 25 Dec 2016
How to make a wood engraving

This is a short (6 minute) video from the Royal Academy with artist Anne Desmet showing us how she makes an engraving in wood. Using a sketch she made of a town in Italy as a starting point, it is fascinating to see the work involved and the final result is lovely.

Her web site is here, with a gallery of work, some of it award winning.


Thu, 22 Dec 2016
Adorable?

The Victoria and Albert Museum is always worth a visit, and at Christmas they usually have some good decorations up as well. It's a very large stone building, with lots of space, so it can be a bit chilly in winter however.

On the left is a detail of a wooden carving of Jesus, Mary and Adoring Kings of about 1510 from an Austrian church. Unfortunately, as well as missing a hand, the infant Jesus has a decidedly demonic appearance now. The wooden work has not aged well (one assumes the child was more angelic originally, one would hope).

The nearby Jesus, Mary and Family (below), also Austrian from about the year 1510, has a much more presentable Jesus :

If you like the Christmas story, a visit an art gallery or museum is a good way to see it pictured. The National Gallery in London has an exhibition of two massive nativity paintings by an almost unknown (outside Spain) Spanish artist called Fray Juan Bautista Maíno. His paintings here are very beautiful and extremely impressive, not least the size. The paintings are on loan from the Prado in Madrid until the end of January: the link is to the museum's page on the Adoration of the Shepherds and lets you zoom in. In life, the paintings are over 3 metres high!


Sat, 10 Dec 2016
Olwyn Bowey at the RA

Olwyn Bowey is an artist I hadn't heard of or seen until I saw a few of her paintings in the last couple of summer shows at the Royal Academy. I liked them so keep my eyes open. She has a small exhibition on at the RA just now: not in a gallery but in the Keepers House. Actually in the Belle Shenkman Room, part of the café.

Below: Tortoise with Alliums, 2016, Oil on board. 69 x 66cm

Below: Cape Primroses, 2015, Oil on board. 72.5 x 77cm

Normally, you need to be an RA "friend" (member) to use the restaurant or café (some of it is swanky), but entrance to see the pictures is free. So it was good to see the inside of the RA member facilities. It was also very quiet first thing, so a perfect time to visit. See it here.


Fri, 09 Dec 2016
Oil Painters

On Saturday I went to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters 2016 exhibition. Amazing show, lots of different artists and lots of great works.

Getting there on a cold morning, and there must have been about thirty artists arriving to take part in the annual show competition: do a plein-air oil painting within half a mile of the gallery and win a prize. Although cold, it was a good day for it, with the sun out and a crisp, winter light.

It is impossible to pick a favourite, or even a reasonable number! One I liked was the large and imposing : On Time by Richard Combes ROI, Oil, 125 x 150 cm. Stunning realism and beautifully executed.

And for something quite different : Cats and Friends by Susan Bower RBA ROI, Oil, 47 x 53cm. She does these quirky paintings, usually people, often with animals, funny. They seem to sell well. I'm not a big fan but I quite like them and they usually bring a smile to your face.

For a good selection of the work, see the Mall Galleries site.


Sat, 19 Nov 2016
Arrival

Arrival is a new film by director Denis Villeneuve, based on a short story by Ted Chiang called The Story of your Life. I read this last year.

This is a "first contact" with aliens film, where the aliens are very alien, but not obviously threatening, and we are struggling to communicate with them. The "threat" is human competition, fear and misunderstanding. Amy Adams plays a civilian linguist employed by the army to help try and talk to them, alongside physicist Jeremy Renner.

The film was very good, and a refreshing change from a lot of "speculative" (I hesitate to use the description "science-fiction") films made today. Chiang's story is about language and how much language might define us and the way we see (and are capable of seeing) the world. The story and the film are thought provoking, with the film deepening the very moving back-story (or is it?) of Adams' daughter. I have to admit that I haven't really figured it all out but that's part of the fun of an intelligent piece work sometimes. I would definitely watch it again.


Sun, 13 Nov 2016
Darkness and Light

Above: Detail from Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, 1602

When I first discovered renaissance and post-renaissance Italian art, Caravaggio immediately stood out; he became one of my favourite artists. The sharpness of detail in his paintings, striking use of shadow and light and the realism, almost photographic, all contributed to my admiration. Compared to his contemporaries, the people he painted were much less idealised, much more like the people you would meet in daily life on the street. Many actually were.

The current National Gallery show Beyond Caravaggio is therefore a must see, and I went for the second time this Saturday morning. A very wet day indeed, and I got thoroughly soaked on the bike, but worth it.

Only a few by the famous man himself, the show rather concentrated on the artists he influenced. A couple of my favourite paintings are below. The exhibition is a collaboration between the national galleries of London, Scotland and Ireland.

Right: Christ before the High Priest, Gerrit van Honthorst, about 1617

I find this a very powerful and emotional picture, with Jesus standing before the high priest being interrogated. Christ looks completely worn out, tired and all too human as he faces the questioning. He will soon be taken out, beaten and crucified, and he knows it. The single candle is the only light source, and it casts the Caravaggio-like darks and lights. The candle and the pointing finger. A beautiful and affecting work.

Details at the National Gallery site.

Right: A Man Singing by Candlelight, Adam de Coster, about 1625-1635

Candle light figures prominently in the exhibition, as artists use the light cast to generate the deep shadow and bright light that is often so indicative of the style of Caravaggio.

De Coster is an unfamiliar artist but this painting is masterfully done. The only picture I could find of it is not the best reproduction (too dark) but gives an idea. In life, he uses the strong contrast beautifully, including the detail in the clothes of the singer. A very good painting.