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Business, but not as Usual

Coronavirus has hit the art trade, valued at over $64 billion globally last year, even harder than we thought possible. An article in the weekend FT states that confidence is at even lower levels than during the 2009 financial crisis. Quoting a survey by the consultancy ArtTactic, it suggests the combined turnover of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips had fallen to about one eighth of their 2019 volumes for the equivalent period from the beginning of the year until 19th May. $528 million (including online sales of $174 million) this year as opposed to $4.2 billion in 2019. Figures from dealers are harder to obtain but most have been hit very hard indeed. Some, if not many, may well disappear.

This sector has always had to innovate to survive, but the crisis has dramatically accelerated a change already under way where purchasers’ initial interest was frequently kindled by online showcasing of objects. In a world where physical closeness may become a rare luxury, the transition to greater virtual contact is likely to proceed without brakes!

Christie’s for example plan a streamed relay-style rolling auction on July 10th, moving from Hong Kong to Paris, London and New York, possibly with some element of the activity in physical salerooms. The two top lots, a Picasso and a Roy Lichtenstein, are both estimated to over $25 million, so this is a pretty massive step up, even if there are guarantees in place, from the current online record of (I think) $1.3 million hammer price for a Giorgio Morandi still life. So very interesting to see how it will go.

Obviously transactions that take place entirely online will require an even higher degree of trust between the parties involved in a largely unregulated and sometimes opaque market with huge sums of money at stake and where misrepresentation, fraud and forgery are by no means absolutely unknown. Dealers’ reputation and long term client confidence and relationships will be, more than ever, absolutely crucial. Totally reliable auctioneers’ condition reports, cataloguing and images of the back as well as the front of paintings, will be essential to ensure good demand, competition and prices for high quality works of art.

One gallery that has made a long term investment in scholarship and its online presence is Robilant and Voena.  This very grand, but actually very friendly, dealer in predominantly Italian art is renowned for its strength in Italian Baroque, and especially Caravaggesque, art. Its high quality online offerings have occasioned  very favourable comments in the FT and Country Life. Its regular emails to clients, and anyone who wants to sign up, have included a series called Looking Closely. The first was appropriately entitled Painting in the Shadow of the Plague (their image of painting of a physician by Fede Galizia circa 1600-1605  is reproduced below right) and all offer very wide ranging, well written scholarship and insight into Italian art and culture across the centuries. Have a look at (https://www.robilantvoena.com/catalogues/).

Art and antiques fairs used to be crowded to a level we won’t see again until a reliable vaccine has been rolled out. Currently most are either cancelled or have moved online. The TEFAF Fair at Maastricht ran for four days in March, albeit with fewer visitors before being closed abruptly when at least one dealer tested positive for coronavirus. Many dealers put their remaining stock online and apparently did so quite successfully. The London Original Print Fair, LOPF, has been running online only (www.londonoriginalprintfair.com) this month and continues, using a very well and carefully constructed site, until 6.00 next Sunday 31st May. Each exhibitor has a viewing room for their stock.Two who deserve particular mention are Andrew Edmunds and Lizzie Collins’ Zuleika Gallery.

Andrew Edmunds (http://www.andrewedmundsprints.com/) has built up such a superb reputation amongst his many loyal existing customers for top quality prints and caricatures from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century that he should do well at LOPF.  He offers a particularly fine Gillray, The Monstrous Craw for £12,000 and an exceptional set of Hogarths’s Harlot’s Progress, exhibited at the Soane Museum last year, for £24,000.

Zuleika Gallery has carefully curated offerings at the Fair including a series of prints by Nicola Green entitled In Seven Days, based on the time she spent with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2007. Lizzie states This unique body of work is seen together for the very first time, following artist Nicola Green’s first-hand witness of Barack Obama’s meteoric ascent to power as the first African-American President of the United States. Two-colour silkscreen images, 35 x 33 cm, from a series of 20 cost £600 plus VAT; and there are several unique large originals at £12,000 plus VAT. Of these, Struggle,Glory, 2009 is reproduced below and is executed in two-colour silkscreen with gold leaf. The big ones really should end up in a public collection, although whether any institution has the budget at the moment is an open question. A significant milestone in history painting I think. On the LOPF site you can find a video of an interview with the artist in which she discusses the circumstances of her original trip and the subsequent long drawn out creation of her images.

Finally, good materials suppliers such as Jacksons  have provided a constant feed of posts on subjects such as interviews with artists as well as help  with practical matters such as materials and techniques, and I’ll turn to this and the many online life drawing sites in the final post next week.

Chris

The Virtual Museum

If we have to suffer this pandemic, we are lucky to do so with the internet and social media to lessen the inevitable limitations of distance and time under lockdown. However, the enjoyment is bitter-sweet in this new waste land of physical absence. April was indeed the cruellest month for all of us who had been prevented from attending the new crop of high quality exhibitions in London and indeed throughout Europe, for the online content was of such quality as to make us thoroughly jealous.

I missed Titian and Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery, Warhol at Tate, Van Eyck In Ghent and Cecil Beaton’s work at the NPG.

All were all showcased to very high standards on the institutions’ web pages, in You Tube videos, on Instagram and many more channels. A You Tube snippet by the Beaton exhibition’s curator, Robin Muir, is fascinating about the artist’s  early years. I had also intended to return to the Royal Academy’s Picasso and Paper so the online video  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOOY6GbV9K) remains a great treat. 

Obviously all museums and not-for-profit organisations are facing huge challenges when deprived of their flow of visitors and funds. The major national museums and art galleries have a tremendous amount to lose from the cancellation of their vastly expensive block-buster exhibitions filled with internationally loaned exhibits, but their scale and resources are such that their survival at least seems guaranteed. Most had already developed their highly sophisticated online activity as part of their marketing and educational roles, and now that is really paying off. The British Museum, for example, offers digital tours of the building. You can go from room by room of the entire building as if an estate agent were showcasing the best features of the collection. There is also detailed access to over 2 million digitised items in the collection. Most of the major public galleries upload new images most days on Instagram with expandable content and links to take you further into the subject if you want. The NPG is, amongst others, very good.

Of course it doesn’t entirely make up for not being there. Obviously we lack the sense of occasion, snacks, cappuccinos, cakes and lovely outings in company! There’s little sense of texture or feel or of sensations such as scent. We are deprived of the complexities of binocular vision that make appreciating any object, and especially a three dimensional one, a much more satisfactory and complete experience. Nor can one easily gain any sense of scale. Those curious striped and banded rulers seen in early photographs of archaeological excavations were there for a purpose. But just imagine how little we would have had to make us jealous even twenty years ago! 

For smaller museums and galleries the current lack of public access might be overwhelming without the support of their friends and patrons. They have responded to engage with them in every way they can. Pallant House Museum (https://pallant.org.uk/) in Chichester, with its focus on twentieth-century British art in general and neo-romanticism in particular, offers an excellent series of online articles, sound-casts, talks and and lectures to its largely regional but very loyal members. Compton Verney, a major but insufficiently visited  museum and art gallery situated in a fine Georgian house and Capability Brown grounds near Stratford-upon-Avon, offers very good compensatory online presentations of its two currently closed exhibitions. These are Lucas Cranach the Elder ( to be found at https://www.comptonverney.org.uk/cranach-artist-innovator/) and Fabric – Touch and Identity accessible through the same site.

So much of this site is based on gardening and so many of our followers are keen gardeners it’s worth a quick look at what’s on offer in this field. It’s a bit early to see  how the idea of NGS garden owners’ videos for virtual visits works in practice but it’s a good idea anyway. Having garden centres and nurseries open again is lovely but doesn’t compensate for losing access to the big shows. Virtual Chelsea on the television is a fascinating use of archive footage but no substitute. However it would have been so much worse not to have tried at all. 

The Garden Museum, without the benefit of any public funding, is in a potentially serious financial condition.   It’s had to postpone its exhibitions  but has kept its members updated with a constant feed of images, catalogues and films available through email letters and its website. Content ranges from the useful, through the informative to the positively surreal. Consider for example: Object of the Week: News from the Cornish Jungle (1953). This promotional booklet was published by The British Bamboo Cane Co., a 40 acre bamboo producers near Bodmin in Cornwall. One of their marketing ploys in the booklet was “Every garden should have a clump of canes”. To add to the sense of improbability the inside front cover contains an image of the then President of the Board of Trade, and subsequently UK Prime Minister, Harold Wilson with his wife Mary. Echos of Private Eye and Inspector Trimfrittering perhaps?

Chris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Under Lockdown

Nothing can take away from the horrors of the Coronavirus outbreak and its terrible impact on so many lives. However, for those of us so very lucky enough not to have been directly affected by it and to live in the country with a bit of space there have also been some consolations.

Of course there are many things things one misses. They include meeting friends and extended family, my regular life drawing classes both locally and in London, increasingly a haircut (I’m either not brave enough or too sensible to try myself), getting a watch battery fitted, and visiting museums and galleries.

The compensations have included fresher air, lots of peace and quiet and getting on with some proper vegetable gardening. The old orchard sports several rows of potatoes: after the effort of double digging through years of nettles and brambles they really had to be Pink Fir Apple!

A kind neighbour has loaned us their otherwise unused greenhouse and apart from hundreds of my wife’s Zinnia and Cosmos seedlings, I am growing tomatoes there and have germinated yellow courgettes, Painted Lady runner beans and Cosse Violette climbing french ones. Abandoned nine foot hazel rods discovered off a nearby footpath have been reclaimed (“foraged” perhaps) from the weeds that had started to engulf them and are perfect for a bean frame that really must be constructed in the next fortnight.

To my surprise, many of the unexpected pleasures have been driven by technology and social media. In the past, although I was never Luddite about these matters and was happy enough in Excel if the occasion demanded, I really thought of them as sophisticated screwdrivers. Of course we’ve been posting here on WordPress for years but since we both write books and both garden, including on occasion for other people, that has always seemed a logical choice.

From my pre-virus viewpoint I saw Zoom as an insecure contender to Skype, You Tube a means of curing a foolishly turned on child lock on the hotplate, while Instagram was for posers who wanted to show  off expensive jewellery by the pool side of an AirBandB Caribbean villa. Now these same apps have expanded my world and given me considerable pleasure. 

Instagram drove the first breach in my defences. Our new dog, Polly the wire haired fox terrier, provided the perfect justification for starting her page in lock down (pollyterrier just in case you were wondering, and she does like to be followed and liked!).

Over the coming few days I intend to put up a series of posts about those areas of social media that may also be of interest to other people. The problem in each case, when so much is available, is not what to include but what to leave out. Broadly the first will cover museums and public galleries including exhibitions. The next will deal with commercial art galleries and auctioneers. The last post will cover some of the online resources available to those of us who draw, paint or make things. 

Chris

Each Month From my Window: February

Most of the time when I look out of the window everything seems as it did in January: rain-battered, wind-swept and hunkered down. But there are little changes; the blue and gold irises (Iris reticulata ‘Fabiola’) have flowered, providing tiny pinpoints of colour in the front garden, the little Tete a tete daffs are in full bloom and the larger Trumpet daffs are starting to open. Kerria has taken over from winter jasmine as the yellow against my walls and the witch hazel (‘Rubin’) is now ablaze with flowers. It isn’t particularly scented but that doesn’t matter; it’s role in life is to brighten the view from my kitchen window, which it does to perfection, every spring and autumn. Photographs, at least mine, cannot do the witch hazel justice. I see it every morning from my kitchen and, even on the dullest winter day its deep red flowers shine against the dark green ivy. Photos show the slightly grubby white brick wall below and the houses beyond the back wall but my mind can block these out; all I see is a flame of brilliant colour against mysterious and magical rich green holly leaves. It is a good way to start each day.

Many years ago (well, sixteen) I read this article which argued, very convincingly as far as I was concerned, that 29th February should be regarded as an ‘extra’ day; one on which we could do whatever we liked. I have no idea who wrote it but whoever it was suggested one should ‘cut a caper, paint picture, stare into the distance or sing sea-shanties.’ They even suggested that ‘Politicians could tell the truth; journalists could choose to look on the bright side’. This 29th fell on a Saturday so I spent it working at Hatchards Bookshop; even so, it felt like a slightly special day. In London it started wet and miserable but by the end of the day the sky was clear and blue. It was as if the year knew it should shift towards spring.

Finally, an extract from a poem called Winter’s Turning by Amy Lowell:

Let us throw up our hats,
For we are past the age of balls
And have none handy.
Let us take hold of hands,
And race along the sidewalks,
And dodge the traffic in crowded streets.
Let us whir with the golden spoke-wheels
Of the sun.
For to-morrow Winter drops into the waste-basket,
And the calendar calls it March.

Jane

Tullio Crali at the Estorick

I wrote about the Estorick Collection at the tail end of last year and had firmly intended to attend the opening party for the Tullio Crali show “A Futurist Life” in mid-January. Storm Duncan, however, thwarted this, doing in the trains from our part of the country that evening, but I got there a few days later.  Well worth it and see https://www.estorickcollection.com/exhibitions 

Crali was born in 1910 and died in 2000, after a long, adventurous, difficult and sometimes controversial life. From the age of fifteen he became a convert to Futurism and by the mid 1930’s he was a major player in the movement and had become increasingly close to its leader, Marinetti. He had taught himself to paint, albeit with initially disastrous results; the home mixed oils just slid off the surfaces to which he tried to apply them. Things got better quickly and his output in the fields of fashion, theatre, architecture and graphic design was impressive. However, had he not taken to aeropainting, he would be little more than an interesting footnote in the history of twentieth century art.

Futurism as a movement was obsessed with speed, change and the means (both technological and political) by which this could be felt and experienced.  As early as 1909 Marinetti had written  We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes… is more beautiful that the Victory of Samothrace. In 1930 Crali, who had been experimenting with images of flight for a few years, produced a semi abstract oil painting entitled Le forze della curvaThe Forces of the Bend.  Its subject is a racing car taking a corner on a banked track. Its limited palette, wilful distortions of perspective and the use of striking circular and elliptical forms in its composition all combine to give a huge sense of energy and of change thrusting forwards into the future, albeit against the resistance of the curve. Not only does it admirably convey sensation but also references time, mass and by implication the political manifesto of the Futurists.

The same year came another oil painting, Tramonte di luci a Ostia : Lights of Sunset at Ostia,  a highly personal interpretation  characterised by overlapping arcs of light and shadow produced by the setting sun and a strong sense of a sky that goes on and on almost forever. He has by now gained a masterly control of colour, tone and composition and this is one of the paintings I would really like to take home. No such possibility, since they have all been kindly lent from a private collection.

Only two years later in 1932,  came Ali tricolori – Tricolour Wings, another oil showing an aeroplane of the Italian national aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori, the then equivalent of our Red Arrows, performing a stunt so that successive painted superimpositions of the plane suggest its spiralling motion, against an almost lyrical, but greatly simplified background of land and sky. Crali loved to fly and had close links to the pilots of the Italian Air Force, feeling and expressing great affinity and admiration for them.

He also seems, although apolitical and cynical about politics in person, to have been curiously naive in his support for Futurism, whose political components and some of whose membership, came dangerously close to Fascism and all its consequences before and during the Second World War. This got him into big trouble. He was locked up by the Nazis for promoting avant-garde events in Gorizia, nearly deported to Germany to a fate best imagined and then again imprisoned by Tito’s partisans, before the Americans liberated him.

After the war ended he became disillusioned with his fellow Futurists, although he preserved total loyalty to the movement to which he was designated heir by Marinetti. He took teaching jobs in art schools in Paris and in Cairo and continued to paint and to be fascinated by technology. His experimentations are interesting, depicting subjects ranging from the port structures of Nantes, to cosmic images with a strong metaphysical content and creating Sassisenti, assembled collections of stones and marine fragments found on the Brittany coastline. He also continued to fly and work with Italian Air Force pilots and produced a number of very satisfying post war aeropaintings.

While this later output adds to the exhibition, it lacks the intimate engagement with the Zeitgeist of inter-war Italy and the emergence of radical technologies that made his work so special. Like de Chirico, he peaked relatively early and while remaining totally competent and a very good painter, never again quite produced stuff to match that remarkable ascent.

The exhibition continues until 11th April. See it if you can.

Chris

 

Worth the Detour : Two Exhibitions At The Estorick Collection

Yesterday I had a really pleasant surprise. Taking the Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington and walking for a few minutes to Canonbury Square, brought me to the Estorick Collection (https://www.estorickcollection.com) which occupies a fine Georgian house at number 39a. This is one of those galleries everyone has heard of and no-one visits, which is a shame and a mistake. It’s definitely worth the detour. If you are interested in the Italian Futurists, or more generally 20th Century Italian art, then you really ought, indeed probably need, to go.

The key plus points are the excellent permanent collection and thoroughly good and unusual exhibitions. The incidental plus points include a lovely setting, a warm welcome and the probably unfortunate fact it’s very quiet and there is nobody breathing over your shoulder or getting between you and the art.  There is also a very good and reasonably priced cafe serving Italian food that transcends the normal expectations of gallery catering. I ate home-made penne con tonno and drank a good glass of Chianti  for a little over £12.

The foundation was set up by the late Eric Estorick, who possessed a remarkable eye and assembled the permanent collection while making a profitable success of his lifelong devotion to the art of this period at the Grosvenor Gallery. There are works by virtually every significant Italian  artist from the 1890s to the 1950s. Lottery funding played a significant role in the renovation of the building.

Of the two exhibitions currently running, the first, Lithographs from Leningrad, is a remarkable selection of high quality images, many printed in colours and just not what one would have expected from a supposedly tightly controlled Soviet art establishment! However, the other, and probably more important, is Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the Lost Sculptures.

The gallery website states of the lithographs: During the early 1960s, when Eric Estorick (1913-1993) was running London’s Grosvenor Gallery, he developed a strong interest in Soviet art alongside his passion for modern Italian painting. In 1961 he mounted a landmark exhibition of Soviet prints – the inspiration for this special display – which features graphic works by 15 of the artists from the original show: Brodsky, Ermolaev, Izrailevich, Kaplan, Kuks, Lanin, Latash, Maslennikova, Matyukh, Nemenova, Skulyari, Steinberg, Vasnetsov, Vedernikov and Yakobson. This is the first time since 1961 that these artists have been exhibited together in the United Kingdom. Estorick had visited Leningrad’s Experimental Graphics Laboratory in 1960, and was so impressed that he bought several hundred works on the spot. For a number of years his gallery hosted a stream of exhibitions featuring work by artists from the Soviet Union and, for the first time since the Russian Revolution, Westerners were able to see and acquire contemporary art from the USSR.

Of the many ground-breaking sculptures the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) created between c.1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today. A number of his most important plaster and mixed-media sculptures were destroyed in 1927 and this constituted a very significant loss for avant-garde art. Using a combination of vintage photographic material and 3D printing techniques, the digital artists Matt Smith and Anders Rådén have recreated four of Boccioni’s destroyed works: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. As the gallery states This ground-breaking display enables modern audiences to ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time. The exhibition contains a detailed technical exposition of the methodology involved and you can see the 3D printer in action, which is both fascinating and fun.

Both exhibitions close on 22nd December so not much time remains. Next year there will be four new exhibitions, of which the first is Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life, running from 15 January – 11 April 2020.

Chris

 

 

Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour at Pallant House

The most comprehensive and critically important show of Ivon Hitchen’s work for some thirty years runs until 13th October at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. He was painting from the time of the First World War until close to his death in 1979 and over seventy works covering the whole of his career are shown on a chronological basis, supported by an extensive analytical and critical approach to a very well loved artist so often seen primarily as a “semi-abstract”nature or flower painter. Although not actually untrue this view considerably diminishes Hitchens, an outstanding artist  who continued to develop and innovate throughout his long life.

The son of a painter and trained at the Royal Academy Schools after his education at Bedales, Hitchens was very much part of the London art scene in the twenties and thirties, being for example a member of the Seven and Five Group along with Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson. During this formative inter-war period he was exposed to, and gradually assimilated, influences from the major artists of his time. His retreat to the Sussex countryside only took place after his house was destroyed by bombing at the start of the Second World War.

Cezanne and Braque played a vital part in his development of form while his use of pigment was hugely influenced by Matisse, who once stated “with colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft”. Hitchens used abbreviated fields of colour in place of of precise images, often accompanied by the use of a panoramic depictions, often adopting a wide horizontal format from the later 1930s onward.

The exhibition focuses on his use of colour to create space and depth. Of course anyone who has ever been told to paint a landscape knows how distant hills are both bluer and paler than nearby details, and how reds tend to jump out at you from the canvas; but this is something way beyond such elementary concepts. Hitchens’ colour suggests space and articulates his painting within the imagined volumes of the picture plane. The relationships between different areas, shapes and intensities of colour suggest musical or harmonic relationships between the different pigments. Thus, and by the composition of his images, he transcends realism. Nonetheless he almost always began with a particular location, whether clearly recognisable or simply alluded to in the final work.

The show can be bench-marked around three paintings: the “Curved Barn” of 1922, the long horizontal format “Winter Stage” of 1936 and, as an example of his late style, his “Sussex Canal” of 1972.

The “Curved Barn”, above, shows the literary influence of Roger Fry and Clive Bell and the then new concept of “significant form”. Barn, tree and landscape alike are carved into a series of undulating and twisting form while the colours used support these distortions of form and help create an almost theatrical sense of movement. The planes of the painting appear to sometimes fight and sometimes agree with each other, even giving the impression that the obviously static barn would like to spring into action and start moving through its woodland setting.

Winter Stage 1936 Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979 Tate

By 1936 Hitchens had not only absorbed the influence of Braque, Picasso and Matisse but also begun to develop a style and a format that helped him to express a sense of place and develop the “musical” inter-relationships within his painting. “Winter Stage”, painted that year when he was staying at the home of his patrons Mr and Mrs Cecil Harris, represents a view of the grounds from the loggia of their house. Hitchens uses an extended landscape format to connect five different but linked scenes. The painting is best read from left to right. In his Notes on Painting of 1940 Hitchens explained his methods “Using as instruments in one’s orchestra, each to be heard separately yet all in unity, line, form, plane, shape, tone, notan [a Japanese principle of laying light against dark], colour; warm, cool, recession, progression, softness, sharpness, crowdedness, emptiness, up and down, side to side, curves and straights, and any other pairs of opposites, ordering these in transition, opposition, repetition, symmetry and balance’  The painting was recognised as highly significant at the time and purchased by the Contemporary Art Society who presented it to the Tate.

By the 1970’s Hitchens’ work was more abstract, although still grounded in the natural world and continuing  his characteristic long format. In his “Sussex Canal” of 1972, above, his colours are brighter and more primary. Connected planes of colour suggest recession and movement within the natural world despite increasing abstraction.  

This show is an overdue and an excellent exploration of Hitchens’ life and work. It’s well worth spending a couple of hours there if you are within driving distance of Chichester. (https://pallant.org.uk › whats-on › ivon-hitchens-space-through-colour).

Chris

 

 

 

 

Age is Just a Number, at Zuleika Gallery

The current summer exhibition at Zuleika Gallery in Masons Yard (info@zuleikagallery.com) features the work of four (co-incidentally all female) artists, of whom the oldest (Katherine Hyndman) is 91 and the youngest (Alyssa Dabbs) is 21.  Three out of four of the artists were present at the opening party when I took the opportunity to talk to them. Their work is very different in style but is of uniformly high quality: red dots began to appear as the evening went on.

Frances Aviva Blane produces work (top image) in the abstract expressionist tradition and its subjects tend to be based on the disintegration of paint and personality, causing one to question exactly what the marks may mean or more pertinently cause one to feel. She’s in distinguished mid career, won the Jerwood Prize for Drawing in 1999 and been widely exhibited in several countries including Germany and Belgium. In 2014 her work was shown alongside alongside exhibitions of Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois, at Deconstruct in Belgium.

Katherine Hyndman (central image) produces largely geometric work based on arithmetical proportions and sequences, distributing motifs, shapes and colours in harmonious arrays. She has exhibited widely and internationally. Although there is some superficial resemblance to the work of Bridget Riley I suspect her work is more concerned with achieving harmony and less with challenging the viewers’ perceptions.

Alysssa Dabbs, still in college but well advanced in her craft, produces abstract work on a large scale,with an impressive use of colour and mark making, the latter often achieved by unconventional methods such as working with her own brushes, blindfolded, and with her non dominant hand. Interestingly she quotes Adolph Gottleib as stating, in 1947 that ‘so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time’. She continues “My paintings are a reflection on now, documenting the unconscious, capturing emotions and feelings through choice of colour and expressive mark making. I am continually inspired by the scale of other artists work such as Julie Mehretu and Cy Twombly.” All that said, I was impressed by the use of colour to not only evoke memory and sensation but also, no doubt unconsciously, to create space within the picture plane. For some reason it put me in mind of Ivon Hitchins now showing at Pallant House in Chichester.

The bottom image shows the ceramicist Nadine Bell standing in front of Alyssa’s “Goldfish Bowl” with one of her beautifully formed porcelain vessels. Incredibly light and tactile, their second firing after the biscuit stage often involves the addition of various organic materials and even copper wire to the kiln to produce effects that may best be described as “neither accidental nor controlled”. They are very keenly priced in the mid hundreds of pounds and just about within the indulgent present price bracket.

The exhibition runs until 9th August and is well worth a visit.

Chris

 

 

 

Masterpiece 2019.

Masterpiece, which closed yesterday, is probably one of the great shopping fairs in the UK. Over 150 exhibitors, from all sorts of disciplines and covering any period from prehistory to the current era, are gathered together in a huge and very upmarket tent in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. There are two ways of looking at it.

The first, which the organisers naturally wish to promote, is that it is “the unmissable art fair at which visitors can view and buy the finest works of art, design, furniture and jewellery – from antiquity to the present day.”

The other is that this is what you get in a world of negative real interest rates, a lack of transparency in ownership and regulation in this asset class, largely unrestricted global capital flows and an excess of disposable capital and income amongst the international very rich. Both views are true.

Certainly the event doesn’t lack bling! There are champagne bars (£19 for a glass of Laurent-Perrier), restaurants, private rooms for select clients and a general focus on display and spending. Even with the sponsorship of the Royal Bank of Canada, it must be very expensive to exhibit. Indeed if you don’t get free tickets from a friendly exhibitor (I was lucky and thank you David Franses: have a look at our LAW post yesterday for a review of their discoveries) it’s £38 a head to get in.

For some of the smaller and newer exhibitors attendance must be quite a gamble and many looked very tired and slightly concerned by Monday. Some certainly did well and the general quality of the exhibits was very high. That said, there was a slightly Gatsbyesque air to the whole thing and it might well not survive a global downturn or anything like a Corbyn government that might not be totally sympathetic to such rather conspicuous displays of luxury.

No-one however could doubt the quality of the best exhibits. I have chosen to illustrate two I particularly liked. The first, with Ronald Phillips, was an early 18th century lacquer bureau bookcase: everything on this firm’s stand is superb and much really aspires to the condition of sculpture. The second, with Stair Sainty, was a little and very covetable oil sketch of a lion with a goat by Delacroix showing a remarkably free handling of paint, a beautiful sense of light and energy, and great control of tone and colour.

There were many, many other things of equal quality. I’m not absolutely sure that I would have called Masterpiece totally enjoyable; and certainly my preference was for London Art Week. It’s very tiring and ever so slightly over the top, but if it didn’t exist you would have to invent it.

Chris

 

London Art Week Summer 2019.

The current London Art Week (LONDONARTWEEK.CO.UK), which takes place on the premises of 48 dealers, auction houses and galleries in St James and the West End and finishes on Friday, was particularly enjoyable. It runs concurrently with Masterpiece, of which more tomorrow, which takes place in an absolutely enormous tent in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. LAW tends to focus more on connoisseurship, talks, special exhibitions and longer term client relationships. Three objects, one talk and one meeting stand out for me, even above the very high general standard, so I have concentrated on these for the rest of this post.

Firstly, S Franses at 80 Jermyn Street are the preeminent textile dealers in London and even very likely in the world. David Franses, who took over the company in 1955, is now ninety three but VERY on the ball, and he was courteous enough to sit and talk to me for well over an hour out of no motives beyond kindness and the wish to share his passion for antique textiles. It was the most fascinating time and I learnt infinitely more than I ever could from books. He was also very funny and told me a wonderful story about the time, egged on by his then small son, he was persuaded to buy a Rolls-Royce. In his pride and joy he set out to visit an established client, the late Sir Simon Sainsbury at Woolbeding House. On arrival Sir Simon noted that he had a new car, saying”Ah yes, I see you’ve got a Rolls-Royce. Quite a lot of people I know have one of those.” But on seeing David was ever so slightly crestfallen by this, immediately remarked “But only you, David, deserve one!”

The firm has extensive conservation workshops and a wonderful archive, containing nearly quarter of a million records, which Tom Campbell headed up for seven years before he joined the Met, where he subsequently did so much to restore and highlight the role of tapestries and textiles as the dominant Renaissance courtly art form.

For London Art Week the firm is showing three seriously important Mortlake tapestries commissioned for the court of Charles 1st. They include a “Vulcan Cast Down” and an “Aeneas Before Dido”. The latter, illustrated below, is based on Book 1 of Virgil’s epic, and was woven during the early 1640s  in coloured wools and silks after designs by Perino del Vaga and Francis Cleyn.  The colours are extraordinarily fresh and the piece, which is newly discovered, is in remarkable condition. A real treat. At Masterpiece the firm are also showing a very fine Axminster carpet, woven by Thomas Whitty, together with related 18th century furniture, both made for the Earls of Shaftsbury at St Giles House at Wimborne.

I arrived at 16 Savile Row just as Charles Beddington was beginning a talk on 18th Century Venetian landscape painting. I hadn’t booked – you’re meant to and it was very full – but they kindly let me in. Again this was a complete treat. Charles is probably the world’s leading expert on his subject, a very good talker who wears his learning lightly. By listening to him, you discover things you would otherwise would probably never know. His talk was based around ten very fine Venetian paintings and drawings hanging on the gallery walls, mostly by Canaletto and Bellotto and was followed by a discussion that ranged over subjects such as the artists’ speed of execution, their style and manner of painting and the use of different supports. For example Canaletto’s “Old Somerset House from the River Thames” was painted on a very expensive chamfered mahogany panel, almost certainly procured from the time Canaletto was lodging with the cabinet maker Richard Wiggans in Silver (now Beak) Street. We discussed patronage, and the antics of Canaletto’s agent in Venice, Consul Smith, who appears to have continued to take orders for the artist’s work when he was staying in London and then on at least one occasion found a copyist who could produce them as autograph. We even talked about the general use of optical devices such the camera obscura and camera lucida, which were far more common in the period than is often realised, albeit often cunningly disguised by blending different images and viewpoints thus obtained to disguise their use. My absolute favourite of the ten paintings, the one I covet,  was an early Canaletto from the 1720’s of “The Grand Canal Looking Towards the Salute”, reproduced below. It has an extraordinarily loose handling of paint, best seen in the moody, atmospheric and overcast sky, alongside great precision of detail in some of the figure painting especially the little group on the quay to the right of centre.

Finally, Trinity Fine Art at 15 Old Bond Street, are showing a magnificent small Renaissance casket from Newbattle Abbey, made in 1565 by  the Nuremberg Master of Perspective, featuring complicated marquetry designs of polyhedral solids and engraved plaques; its materials include various woods, engraved bone, mother of pearl, alabaster, etched and fire-gilt iron. Real kunstkammer stuff of the highest order. The casket sits on a stand designed and made for it in the early eighteenth century by the renowned cabinet maker James Moore.  It descends from the Marquesses of Lothian into whose possession it had then come through dynastic connections with the Schomberg family. The picture below gives you some idea of its quality: Trinity’s directors were using all their considerable language skills to point out its merits to a number of very interested European collectors.

Chris