Sat, 30 Jan 2016
Light, time, legacy

Above: Inside the Colosseum, 1780.
Watercolour with pen and ink

The British Museum have a free exhibition just now called Light, time, legacy. Running in Room 90, part of the prints and drawing collection, it displays the watercolours Francis Towne painted in Rome and Italy during his tour in 1780 and 1781.

It is always quite surprising to see how empty and overgrown Rome was in the 18th and 19th Centuries : a lot of the monumental stone work was ruined, a lot of the city abandoned by people. Possibly quite a romantic atmosphere for those of a certain temperament however, and Towne's art is extremely good. There are a lot of pictures here as well, and I'll have to visit again.

The Guardian also has a glowing review. It would be a shame not finding a way to permanently show off Towne's beautiful work.

Above: ‘Light and shadow passing like ghosts through the landscape’: At Tivoli, above the Falls, 1781

Above: The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills, 1799

Here are the 113 results of a search for Francis Towne at the British Museum site. Lots of wonderful watercolours to admire.

Mon, 25 Jan 2016
European Stories

One of the books I got at Christmas was Europe: A History by Norman Davies. This is a big history book, over 1300 pages. I recently read Davies' Vanished Kingdoms and thought it was extremely good.

One of the things I like about him as a historian, apart from being an interesting and knowledgeable writer, is that he gives proper coverage to the entirety of Europe, that is: East, Central and Northern Europe, as well as the usual Western part. To understand and appreciate the history, one needs to know the background to Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Moravia, Ukraine, Hungary and all the other neglected parts of the continent. He wants a less parochial history of Europe.

I would like to post the odd snippet from the book as I find them.

On some of the legacy of the post-Roman world and the great migrations in the centuries after:

Greek persisted in the Eastern Empire, both as the official language and in many places, especially in Asia Minor, as the vernacular. But several areas, including the Peloponnese, were for a period wholly or partly slavicized. One should be wary of oversimplification. But the thesis advanced by the Bavarian scholar, Jakub Fallmerayer (1790-1861), in Ueber die Entstehung der Neugriechen (1835), merits attention. Fallmerayer's work, which caused deep trauma amidst the Greeks of his day, argued that the Greek nation of modern times was largely descended from hellenized Albanians and Slavs, "with hardly a drop of true Greek blood in their veins". This may have been an exaggeration; but it is less absurd than the notion that every modern Greek is a direct ethnic descendant of the inhabitants of ancient Greece. No modern European nation can lay reasonable claim to undiluted "ethnic purity".

Sat, 09 Jan 2016

At the National Gallery and paying some attention to 17th Century Spanish paintings, I came across a Velázquez, Philip IV hunting Wild Boar (La Tela Real) :

Diego Velázquez, Philip IV hunting Wild Boar (La Tela Real). Probably 1632-7.
Oil on Canvas. Dimensions 182 x 302 cm

It is quite a large picture (182 x 302 cm) and a very good piece of work, but not one that grabs you like one of his portraits or religious paintings. There's a lot going on and what is particularly well done is his attention to the figures. He captures each one with a few strokes of the brush, no extra fine detailed work but enough to capture the whole. All the (many) figures look good. This ability to do so much with so little effort is why Velázquez is a great artist.

Wed, 06 Jan 2016
Common Tree

This is "A Common Tree", a painting from a photograph I took of a tree on Clapham Common a year ago. It was a cold late November day, mid-afternoon but the sun was starting to set and the shadows lengthening. Painted almost a year later, November 2015.

This is my first painting done using oils, a medium I liked but one that will take some getting used to. The slow drying is both a blessing and a curse. But overall, I really enjoyed painting this, even though I had trouble in some places. I like the end result.

Once again, the photograph of the painting leaves a bit to be desired compared to the painting itself though.