Sunday, 15 February 2015

There and Back Again: Part II

There and Back Again: Part II

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

In my last post I wrote about the museums and galleries I visited whilst in Manchester for this entry I’m going to talk about my cultural sightseeing in London on the 7th of December. Up for discussion will be the Display Gallery, National Gallery in London and the Tate.

In this post I'll be discussing the exhibitions: 'Late Turner', 'Peder Balke' and 'Rembrandt: The Late Works'.
In two weeks time in Part III I’ll be discussing Brazil and the Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art), Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and Museus Castro Maya.

Tate Britain
The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free
The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free is the first exhibition devoted to the extraordinary work J.M.W. Turner created between 1835 and his death in 1851. Bringing together spectacular works from the UK and abroad, this exhibition celebrates Turner’s astonishing creative flowering in these later years. It's during this period he produced many of his finest pictures but was also controversial and unjustly misunderstood at the time. In his later work Tuner started to experiment with his technique further stepping away from the established rules of the dominant Romantic and Neoclassical traditions of this era. It’s this style that is said to have become influential to Monet to Matisse, who learned from Turner how colour could be expressive, atmospheric, even abstract. This causes many to argue that Turner is then the father of modern art.

I’ve always loved Turner I think he’s the greatest British artist of his era, if not the greatest British artist ever. So this collection of his later work on display at the Tate - just in time for the new 'Oscar bait' biopic movie was a must see for me.

If anything the exhibition is huge and there's a lot of diversity among Turners later works. This exhibition is notable for even displaying unfinished canvases taken from his studio after his death. It’s left to the viewer to decide whether these painting truly represent Turner. To be honest I think Turner had hits and misses at every period in his career and everything here is on show. But there is enough classic masterpieces on display to keep even the most critical eye at bay –the only big exception being The Slave Ship, originally entitled Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon coming on (1840).

Some of the classics on display are Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) with the Philadelphia Museum’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1834), Burial at Sea (1842) and Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842).

Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)
Burial at Sea (1842)
Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)

Late Turner: Painting Set Free as well as unfinished also exhibits watercolours and sketchbooks. So in short, any painting geek who really wants to get under the skin of JWM Turner has every opportunity in this show.

Peder Balke at the National Gallery

I don’t know why but I’ve always been a sucker for Scandinavian stuff whether it be my love of Tove Jansson’s Moomins and her sparsely written adult fiction, Vikings and Norse mythology, my fascination with Nowlegien Black Metal and the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, the recent RSA travel awards depictions of Antarctica by Frances Walker, the vonlenska folk styled falsettos of Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, to the modern gothic Frankenstein esc classic ghost story set in Svalbard written by Michelle Paver ‘Dark Matter’. Generally culture from that part of the world tends to draw my attention. I don’t know why -maybe it’s my northern roots showing themselves. Either way the Norwegian artist Peder Balke, whom I hadn’t heard of until recently really caught my eye. In defense of my ignorance I don’t think he particularly well known outside his own country. 

North Cape (probably 1840s) by Peder Balke
Peder Balke (1804-1887) is one of the most innovative and original artists at the moment the Romantic era gave way to the Modern. In order to depict the sublime landscapes of his native Norway, he invented a highly experimental technique. For this, he was greatly criticized during his lifetime, and eventually forgotten. In retrospect being shunned by the elite for starting to develop your own experimental style is something of an artistic badge of honor.

The Trolltindene Range (1845) by Peder Balke
By 1832, the 28-year-old Peder Balke was already noted for his indefatigable walking tours of Southern Norway in search of landscape motifs. That year his horizons expanded as a ship carried him due north along the rugged coast high above the Arctic Circle, beyond the North Cape to the border of Russia. It was further than any Norwegian artist before him had traveled for his art. Balke repeatedly returns to a few landscape motifs like the Northern Cape and he usually relies on a surprisingly simple compositional formulae; for the most part, his pictures consist of horizontal strata rising up the picture plane one atop another to represent various combinations of sea, shore, cliff, mountain ranges and sky. In some pictures the horizontal strata are intersected by a single, resonant vertical – a lighthouse or a jagged peak – charged with symbolic import. Depiction of given motif slowly became for Balke a forum for experimentation with colour, light effects and paint-handling techniques.

Balke’s earlier works executed between the 1840’s and 1850’s are very competent Scandinavian landscapes what really got my inner painter excited was his 1860’s onwards work. The depicted landscapes become whiter, starker and more minimalistic with cold seascapes and epic mountain ranges. This bleaker subject matter is also mirrored in his painting style which becomes more impressionist and the canvases less ‘finished’. Paint has often been rubbed back leaving nothing behind but the white ground primer layer and often exposing the texture of the wooden board beneath. It’s a painting technique that seems to become Balke’s signature style.

Mount Stetind in Fog (1864) by Peder Balke
North Cape (1860s) by Peder Balke

One of many 'North Cape's (pictured above) this is representative of his process. Here, thinned washes of paint flow across the ground prime layer until, it seems, they draw fourth the scene inherent in the flow of the medium.
Sun Breaking Through Clouds at Vardøhus by Peder Balke

Some of the bleak expressionism qualities of Balke's work bring to mind The Scream fellow Norwigian artist Edvard Munch. I can't help wondering if there isn't a little influence.

Rembrandt: The Late Works - National Gallery

This exhibition really knocked me of my feet. I know that’s what all these blockbuster style exhibitions promotions promise, but it’s the first time in awhile that one of theses high profile shows has really blown me away! Obviously I’m familiar with Rembrandt and his later works. For the uninitiated basically during his later days Rembrandt’s painting style became more expressive - much to the horror of the established art elite at the time - and his works became much less fancifully, more expressive and more personally introspective. Rembrandt had always been an incredible painter but it this surprise burst of creativity and experimentation so late in his career that’s really cemented his position as one of histories greats. Not unlike Turner (and Balke) its this later more expressive style that present day art historians now recognize as one of Modern Arts early milestones giving birth to Impressionism and the likes.

Self-Portrait (1669) at the Age of 63
Seeing so many Rembrandt’s in one place is truly a humbling experience. To my eye what makes his portraits really stand out is that they seem almost sculpted rather than painted due to his use of tone and Illuminance high-lights, the faces really seem to bulge right out of the canvases. Its worth noting that this exhibition is really well hung the walls are colored a murky dark grey/mauve the ambient room lighting is dim with each individual frame is lit via focused spotlights. This has the over-all effect of really causing the faces to burst out the frames emerging from the dusky shadows. The gallery lighting also really helps the golden jewelry. I’d never quite appreciated how the decorative gold ornaments on Rembrandts sitters really do glisten, and again this effect is aided by the gallery spotlights. The sitters are often dressed up in all the pomp you expect from seventeenth century aristocratic Dutch merchants and if anything Rembrandt proves himself as the painter of gold and light. The ornate jewelry isn’t necessarily painted in fine detail but in thick swabs and chunks of oil paint the overall effect means the glistening highlights almost look like liquid mercury dripping over the sitters –a painting effect aided by the darkened gallery space and powerful lighting arrangements. It’s worth mentioning that a small downside of this hanging arrangement is that it causes some of the higher hung larger paintings to reflect the spotlights off the glossy painting surface making them hard to view from certain angles. Whilst talking about the way Rembrandt thickly applies gold its worth mentioning that he has a tendency of thickly applying paint to the bulbous features of his sitters faces this makes the noses and wrinkles really stand out. It’s these textural details that I think give his portraits their more sculptural qualities. Not to say Rembrandt is all about thick textures, highlights and dark tones. Where it really counts Rembrandt knows how to deftly niggle out fine details around eyes and lips and draw you (the viewer) in. Its a display of pure draftsmanship and its this majesty that really gives Rembrandt’s paintings a dramatic punch.

Some of the works seem to possess an Illuminant golden glow of their own
 in the gallery space.

Thematically the paintings in ‘The Late Works’ are separated through seven rooms and each rooms paintings are hung in series by a theme. For instance Room One ‘Self-Scrutiny; Rembrandt considers the his own ageing features’ contains several different Rembrandt self portraits spanning two decades of the later period, where-as Room Four holds ‘Artistic Conventions; Rembrandt brings new energy to traditional painting formats’ this room contains a series of paintings where Rembrandt pushes the boundaries of traditional approaches to iconography and portraiture with his own vision. For instance in the portrait of Margaretha de Geer wife of Jacob Trip Rembrandt honored the advancing age of the wealthy Dordrecht merchant and his wife by using what resembles a delicate, almost Impressionistic touch to expresses their physical frailty. 

I quite like this thematic hanging arrangement, as apposed to say a chromatic hanging arrangement. This way you get to see how old Rembrandt develops a single theme over the course of several decades this for instance being most obvious in depictions of himself.

I also had a little moment of civic pride seeing a painting normally kept in Glasgow's own Kelvingrove Museum. A Man in Armour (1655) was hung in Room Six 'Contemplation' and really stood out as one of the best paintings in that particular section (see image bellow)!

Harmenszoon van Rijn, A Man in Armour (1655)

Lucretia (1664)

Self Portrait (1658) (Frick Collection)
Seriously though look at the gold, these photo's don't do the paintings justice. Rembrandt’s, like the king of bling! 

The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis' (1661-62) (cut-down)
The exhibition also includes The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis' (1661-62), originally Rembrandt’s largest and most prestigious painting. Owned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, the painting has been at the National museum of Art in Stockholm for more than 150 years, leaving Sweden only twice in that time, in 1925 and 1969. Both of those occasions were for showings at the Rijksmuseum. So, this very famous painting is basically one of the many reasons why this exhibition is very special.

Summing up, this a fantastic exhibition well worth seeing! 


No comments:

Post a Comment