Surreal Encounters at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Spent a day at the two parts of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.  Gallery Two wasn’t to my liking but the permanent collection over in Gallery One is superb and I’m bound to have a post about that soon.  However, this trip had been made to go and see this exhibition which was all about the collecting of surrealist art by three influential individuals: Roland Penrose, Gabrielle Keiller and Edward James.

The reason I think I like the surrealists is because of the silliness!  Monty Python from an early age certainly warped/encouraged my taste for the absurd.  I’ve picked out six works from the exhibition that did have an impact.

One room was just Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico and there were three works that had me spinning round the room, trying to decide which I liked the most – which one would I have on the wall?

Having been to Peggy Guggenheim’s gaff in Venice (namedropping!) I am just a little bit in love with Max Ernst (join the queue) and I love the premise of this painting.  Ernst is held by his father, who was a painter himself, but in the more traditional style which Ernst rejected, in the traditional pose of Christ with his mother. The Bowler-hatted figure is very traditional in contrast to the loose, colourful clothing of the ‘Christ-figure.’ The Guardian published a very interesting analysis of this painting which explores the psychoanalytical nature of this work: Pieta, or Revolution by Night

The central image I really liked – Giorgio de Chirico’s The Two Sisters from 1915 – my favourite year!!  de Chirico’s early work was ‘pittura metafisica’, Metaphysical painting, and his works were of desolate landscapes, classical buildings, random objects linked to the philosophers of Ancient Greece and to the moden world, along with manniquins and statues.  This cropped canvas was intense; the colour of the foregrounded sister as vibrant as the day it was painted and the simple act of placing a barrier between the two figures gives this a sense of foreboding.  This work isn’t for the faint-hearted.  Although not wanting to align himself with a particular movement, de Chirico was a huge influence of the artists who followed.

However, I said that the main reason for liking the surrealists is for the humour and the Magritte has to be my favourite out of the three.  Magritte is showing little difference between the live and the inanimate, real women and manniquins. The figures are painted flat and lifeless so that the way Magritte then emphasises detail, such as the netting enclosing the woman, the wood graining of the floor and the intricate pattern of the hair, draws you in. It reminded me of the magician’s tube trick where they would put the empty tube down and objects would appear over and over.  What a strange thought that you could possibly produce people in such a way.


Two works by Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington were also standout pieces for me.  Not unsurprisingly, both women were involved with Max Ernst – told you there was a queue!  Tanning’s work is definitely the stuff of nightmares – bizarre and random seem to be the object here.  Carrington is one of my favourite female artists: Let’s hear it for the girls 2: Leonora Carrington, Leonora Carrington amongst the surrealists

This work – tempera on canvas was really fascinating to get up close to, and to see how she scraped away at the canvas.  Figures that I recognised from other paintings seem to appear here and the whole effect was staggering – good thing there was a bench opposite!


Magritte La Reproduction Interdite

While there is a lot of humour in surrealist art, there was one painting that did bring an air of melancholy with it. This work, commissioned by the collector, Edward James, of Magritte and entitled, Not to be Reproduced was stunning. The simplicity of this and the jolt you get when the face is not the reflection you are expecting is amazing.



Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Rather than do the traditional sightseeing in Venice, I made a beeline for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and how happy I am with that decision.
Here are some of my favourite pieces:

Max Ernst

Picasso – On the Beach


Giacometti -Piazza and Woman Walking




Let’s hear it for the girls 2: Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington is a fascinating creature in so many ways – when reading her story, she is a woman out of time.  Not willing to conform, Leonora’s early life was beset with problems but through it all, her art was the one constant that drove her to break free from the shackles that society was determined to place on her.

Tate Liverpool have curated a tranquil exhibition spread over two rooms.  Many of her famous pieces are there, including The Giantess and Pomps of the Subsoil.

There were two in particular that were striking and of which I scribbled away in my notebook:

Evening Conference and The House Opposite.

Evening Conference

I loved this straight away as it just brought Alice in Wonderland to mind.  Whether it was the colour palette (white and red) or the shapes of the figures – neither human or animal, but I kept thinking of these lines: “I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

The central, black figure, with its piercing eyes draws you in to this scene. He (for some reason, I can’t help setting the gender to male) dominates the seance and you cannot help but feel chilled by his presence in this room that is not a room.

The House Opposite

The House Opposite

This wonderful multichambered work tells a story which I imagine will be different every time.  It appears to tell the story of a dream within a dream and the different chambers link together in a variety of ways. This definitely has multiple narratives attached to it and although we have figures falling, witch-like women concocting their unholy brew which are interesting in their own right, I was struck by the green panel in the centre:

The House Opposite - central panel

This is filled with unbelievable sadness. The girl appears desolate, with her head bowed.  A closer look reveals that she is sitting within a circle – is she trapped here?  The white rocking horse, reminiscent of the one in Leonora’s self portrait, The Dawn of the New Inn, could symbolise the opportunity of freedom that can never occur.  The fact that this scene sits below the waking girl seems to indicate that this is the nightmare of the waking girl and the figure that crosses the two worlds has the ability to free or to trap her.  Absolutely loved this and would definitely have it on my wall!

The links below are a good place to start with learning more about this fascinating woman.