A Perfect Moment

When I returned to the art world four years ago, I came across a watercolour by Turner that reduced me to tears: 

Today, I flew out to Copenhagen with the express wish to discover more about Vilhelm Hammershoi and headed out to the Davids Samling collection.

I walked into a room full of Hammershois – 11, to be exact, and the emotional reaction to these wonderfully melancholic, tranquil works was heartfelt, to say the least. 

Having been introduced to Hammershoi through the fantastic documentary by Michael Palin, I feel really privileged to have made this journey. 

See what you think! 

Hammershoi at Davids Collection


Those most English of English Painters

Having spent my childhood gazing at Constable’s Flatford Mill on our living room wall, I had an antipathy towards Constable, this most English of English landscape painters. To me, his images were too simple, too real or just too boring. However, this is clearly not the case. With the Academies laying down the rules as to what a painting should consist of, Constable’s decision to paint a rural scene as it looks, was tantamount to sacrilege! However, Constable was keen to portray the world he knew well.

Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River') 1816-7 by John Constable 1776-1837
Constable’s handling of paint was also unusual for the time, the loose paintwork, tiny dots, use of chiaroscuro convey a sense of light and shadow that up to now, had been mainly used in interiors.  When we look at Flatford Mill again, what we can see now is those brooding clouds in the distance, danger on the horizon that could be about to swamp those two boys hard at work.

The use of light connects Constable to my favourite artist of all: JMW Turner. Before modern art, there was Turner. Without him, there would have been no impressionists, pointillists, fauvism, and any other ism that followed. Where Constable never set foot outside of England, Turner could not stop travelling and this gave his paintings the edge over Constable’s. It is all about the light. Turner was fascinated by the way it could be described on canvas and the differing forms it took that he had seen on his travels was his reason d’etre.

Dudley JMWT
In a favourite work, Dudley, Worcester (1832), Turner’s brushstrokes are even looser than Constable’s. His twilight sky conveys a grimness that signals the growing industrialisation of England and put that against the deep red glows In contrast to Constable, Turner was embracing the new technologies and their impact on the landscape.

Both men knew that they were taking painting into another realm, without them, our world would have remained constrained by rules and regulations so between them, they created a new palette for all the artists who followed.

Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market

Yesterday was a new experience – an exhibition at the National Gallery and it was all about the impressionists.  Apart from the iconic pieces, I did not know a great deal about the main artists of the time until I read ‘Claude and Camille’ by Stephanie Cowell:  https://travelswithmyart.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/claude-et-camille/

The exhibition centres on Durand-Ruel’s relationships with the penniless artists of Montmatre from the late 1860s onwards.  Seeing some of the most famous pieces of work from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley et all was impressive and each room took us, chronologically, through the history of Impressionism.

The first room had the two famous Renoirs, Dance in the Country and Dance in the City: dance-in-the-country-1883-1dance_in_the_city

What I hadn’t known is that it is the gentleman in both paintings.  By using the same model, it gave me a sense of a story between these two and by being up-close, you can see how the two women behave quite differently.  The country girl looks out at us and her ruddy cheeks, smile and the way she clings to her partner, give the impression of a young girl at her first dance with the man she loves.  His body language does seem to indicate that the feeling is mutual.

In the city however, there is now a formality that is there on the surface. She is modestly facing away from the viewer and her cheek is firmly pressed to his shoulder.  His arm is keeping her close to him and you can almost sense the disapproval at such closeness being shown.

As you go through the rooms, you are confronted with portraits, landscapes, seascapes, interiors; it was enjoyable and there were some outstanding pieces, but, as always, I was more drawn to the darker, more melancholic subjects and I spent a lot of time with Monet’s Railroad Bridge and Manet’s Moonlight at the Port of Boulogne.  Both of these put me in mind of Turner with his Rain, Steam and Speed  http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/joseph-mallord-william-turner-rain-steam-and-speed-the-great-western-railway and The Sun Rising Through Vapour. http://barber.org.uk/joseph-mallord-william-turner-1775-1851/


Being keen on the industrial past, Monet’s depiction of the heat of the engine, the headlights burning like devil eyes and the dark, clinging smoke was excellent and contrasted with the snow beautifully.  Manet’s moonlight takes a lot from Turner’s painting, as did the huddled women waiting for the spoils of the boat in the foreground.  Despite the room being busy, the works draw you into these scenes and you get a real sense of what the two artists were trying to show.


Lavacourt under Snow

The best painting came towards the end of the exhibition and it was another Monet, Lavacourt under Snow.  This was truly stunning.  The shadows in the foreground give the snow a crispness and creates a cold atmosphere.  However, the pinks and violets of the hillside where the evening sun hits, is so beautiful.  The story behind the painting is that the National Gallery actually refused the gift of this painting from the French Impressionist Fund, who raised the money to buy this painting for the nation.  The one they chose was very dull in comparison and it was only when it was left to the gallery as a bequest, did they finally receive it.

Some time ago, I watched a documentary Tales of Winter which explored the way Winter has been depicted.  I don’t think you can better it with this.





Loving Turner

temple-of-poseidon.jpgThis is Turner’s Temple of Poseidon at Sunium (Cape Colonna) from around 1834. I confess that I was not a huge fan of Turner’s but that probably was more to do with a lack of knowledge more than anything else. He just did landscapes and seascapes, didn’t he?

That changed when I visited the Tate for their exhibtion ‘Ruin Lust’.  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ruin-lust

This was a really interesting exhibition and as I went round I came across this watercolour.  At first, it seemed quite ordinary; fitted in with the theme but as I stood in front of it, I found myself dissolving into tears.  Although the room was busy, I felt completely alone and so desperately wanted to walk into that scene where I could sit on the far edge looking out into that turbulent sea.  The light was incredible and it was hard to see this as a painting any more: it was an escape.

This painting changed everything that I had thought about Turner and about art in general.  Someone told me that I’d fallen in love with a Turner. Is that possible? Can you love a painting?  What I do think is that I had connected with someone who could express on a canvas exactly what I was feeling at that time and who understood how it felt to stand there and gaze upon it. Thanks, Mr Turner!