In Bath, so off to the Holburne Museum to see their exhibition of paintings by artists associated, by marriage or birth, with Pieter Bruegel. I have seen several Bruegel’s in galleries in different cities over the years but it was a treat to see these paintings collected together. The connections between father, sons and others were well made.
The museum is rightly proud of its collection of works by Pieter Breughel the younger. ‘Wedding Dance in the Open Air’ has been restored and now firmly attributed to the artist. The work that captured my eye the most was ‘The Procession to Calvary’. This was a painting to spend time in front of… lots of time to take in the detail and wonder at the way
‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’ has long been one of my all time favourite paintings and this work is similar in the way the import of one event is shown in contrast to the fact that most people are oblivious or disinterested in it. Two paintings: one by the father and one by the son. They both resonate.
In Bath, so off to the Victoria Art Gallery to see their latest exhibition ‘History Through the Lens’, a display of press photographs from the Twentieth and early Twenty- first centuries, some of them very well known images.
It was fascinating to see these images together, even if the cumulative effect is to show that we rarely learn from our mistakes; the number of conflicts represented here is depressing!
The exhibition was mounted by the Incite Project. The central purpose is to recognise that press photography can be an art form and, while they were taken to record the news as it happened, the finished photos have merit as works of art. I remember many of the events from the final third of the last century but many of the images from before that appeared in my school history books!
I was most struck by Stuart Franklin’s image of the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square and the 2010 image of America’s President Obama by Mark Seliger. I had not previously seen the 1969 image by Horst Faas of a Vietnamese wife discovery the body of her dead husband but it was heartbreaking. The other image that meant the most to me was of civil rights protesters being water hosed by an Alabama Fire department- an image by Charles Moore from 1963 that I had not seen before.
CHINA. Beijing. Tien An Men Square. 1989.
In London, so off to Tate Britain to see the exhibition ‘Queer British Art: 1867- 1967’, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of legislation to partially decriminalise homosexuality. The gallery was heaving with visitors heading for the major David Hockney show; somewhat telling that a gay artist drew bigger crowds than this attempt to show how being gay influenced the art.
I had a few problems with this exhibition, the largest being that not all the artists featured were known to be gay. The suggestion that he or she might have been is just a posh version of what the awful tabloid newspapers do when they want to ‘suggest’ a person’s sexuality.
Having grown up in the 70s when being thought to be gay by others was enough to bring around the abuse, it was a bit disappointing to see the same (but more refined) approach being used on people who are long dead and cannot speak for themselves. Lord Leighton’s work is here which seems to be enough to decide he must have been gay. I take the point, made by the curator, that many paintings were coded to convey messages that would have been picked up by gay people but that does not mean that all the Victorian artists here were gay themselves.
The two paintings I loved rose above the rest, with only the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Prison of equal poignancy. Lord Leighton’s ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ and Henry Scott Tuke’s ‘The Critics’ were stunning.
In London, so off to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington to see the Lockwood Kipling exhibition. I was particularly keen to see this as it celebrates a man who could easily be forgotten, or overshadowed in his case. His son’s fame as a poet and author has endured while his work as a champion of India’s artistic heritage has been largely forgotten. ‘Kim’ by Rudyard Kipling is a favourite book from my youth. I reread it as an adult, and had conflicting thoughts about the place of the British Empire’s role in history, but the edition I read had illustrations by Lockwood Kipling.
The story is a fascinating one. He attended the Great Exhibition in 1851 and was inspired by what he saw in the Indian galleries. He was a teenager but this was the start of a love affair with the arts and crafts of India. This alone makes me warm towards him; people who are inspired at an early age and go on to dedicate their careers in pursuit of their interests are always fascinating to me.
Lockwood Kipling is also connected with the Victoria and Albert Museum itself, although in its previous carnation as the South Kensington Museum. It is fitting, then, that it is here that his work and influence is celebrated. There are artefacts and images of India with an emphasis on the decorative arts that influenced him so much. There are pictures of the Great Exhibition as well as an evocation of the cities of Mumbai and Lahore, both of which were important in Kipling’s life. As the fame of his son spread, so Lockwood Kipling became involved in book illustration. In the exhibition are samples of his work. At the end was a ‘room’ with artefacts from Osborne House where he worked with Bai Ram Singh on the Durbar Room. My favourite item was a painting called ‘A Peep at the Train’ by Rudolf Swoboda.
I went to London to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize exhibition. This is now something of an annual pilgrimage for me. I always make an effort to get to the National Portrait Gallery to see the photographs on display. Each year I select my personal favourite before looking to see which works were awarded prizes by the judges and, for the first time, my choice coincided with the winner of the first prize. Obviously, my choice was based on the fact that I liked it. The judges would have used many more criteria, including technical ones.
‘Thembinkosi Fanwell Ngwenya’ by Claudio Rasano took the honours. Once again, a photograph I admired, like so many in the exhibition, came from a series. In this case from a body of work with the title ‘Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare’. Once again, I would have liked to have seen the others.
I went to the National Gallery in London to see the exhibition ‘Beyond Caravaggio’. I have tracked down many ‘Caravaggios’ over the years in various places around the world and I recently heard Andrew Graham Dixon give a lecture on the artist so I was keen to see this exhibition which examined his influences on other artists.
The great thing about the major exhibitions that London both generates and attracts is that paintings from global collections all arrive in one location; there is the treat of seeing Caravaggio’s ‘John the Baptist’ from a museum in Kansas City alongside works in the ownership of the Queen.
I knew little of the other artists collected here but Cecco del Caravaggio is reputed to be lover model and student of the famous artist. Then we have the aspiring painters who travelled to Rome to study their hero and those who hated him but were influenced by his style, in particular his use of light and reflection. Matthias Strom was a name new to me but two of his paintings stood out for me. His ‘Old Woman and a Boy by Candlelight’ was particularly striking.
This was an exhibition worth seeing but it will still be worth visiting the great cities of the world to search out individual works by Caravaggio. His paintings are in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This radio programme from the BBC is one I make a point of listening to, regardless of what else I need to do. The format is simple but highly effective. Three guests are invited to suggest an exhibit for inclusion in the virtual museum. John Lloyd presides with a different comedian per series at his side acting as the curator.
The mix of guests makes a difference. As with all BBC panel shows, there is the usual line up of comedians who have made an appearance. Of more interest, though, are the scientists, authors, historians and other academics who also appear.
There standard format is comforting. Each programme is divided into two parts: in the first John Lloyd interviews the guests and draws out interesting information about their careers; part two is when the guests make their donation and explain why they are presenting it for inclusion in the museum. Unlike other panel games, all donations are accepted so the guest does not have to convince the curator. The energy comes from the interaction between all three guests, everyone has something to say about the other contributions.
Of most interest to me are the exhibits which could not possible be placed in a physical museum: the singer Suggs donated The Great Exhibition; Richard Herring suggested Rasputin; Sandy Toksvig donated the alphabet; and Jo Brand put in childhood.
‘The Museum of Curiosity’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?