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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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art

Portraits: Diana Low & William Nicholson

… two portraits of an affair …

diana British artist

Diana Low, a student painter, was heavily influenced by William Nicholson. They had a short affair as recalled later by her brother in law.  Continue reading “Portraits: Diana Low & William Nicholson”

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Three Favourites from the Frick

Which three works would I take home with me?

new york art frick holbein

It is so hard to choose only three from this extraordinary assembly of paintings but then this game is ruthless: which ones would I want to live with? It hones discrimination down to a very personal choice based on emotion rather than the calibre of each painting.

If it were quality I was after, it would be nigh on impossible to choose given the excellence of this collection. And, after all, it’s the personal connection which makes the interaction with a painting so special.

Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap c.1510 Titian (c.1488–1576)

Prog Rock Giorgione Pitti Palace

 

Ah! The soulful painterly lyricism of the Venetian painters which historians have put down to the light upon the water gets very close … whisper it low .. to a sort of Renaissance ProgRock pin up. The almost moustache echoed (mocked?) by the luxurious fur. The brilliant white shirt reflecting the light across his muscular neck. Ahhh.  This unknown star of the Living Hall in the Frick was once thought to be by Giorgione but is now judged to be one of Titian’s earlier works painted when he was in his early Twenties.

The Lake 1861 Corot (1796–1875)

landscape exhibition French cow tree

 

In my Twenties, I would have passed this painting without a second glance but now, perhaps I am getting more soulful? Corot exhibited the large, nearly monochromatic picture at the Salon of 1861. Critical reactions to it varied. Castagnary said: “The Lake is a ravishing landscape, simple in composition and full of grandeur. . . ” But another reviewer, Thoré, was less sympathetic: “Mist covers the earth. One is not sure where one is and one has no idea where one is going.” This would be my terse appraisal in my youth … but now I would love to live with this dreamy tour-de-force.

Self Portrait 1658 Rembrandt (1606–1669)

 

1658 dutch portrait rembrandt

Tired, weary eyes peering out, watching us – and watching himself; his ageing face and small frame set in a weird fantasy costume, Rembrandt was only fifty-two in 1658 when created this portrait. Is he mocking his status as a painter with an artist’s beret for a crown, a painter’s stick for a sceptre and his gigantic craftsman’s hands looming towards us? Or just using what was to hand?

Rembrandt created almost a hundred self portraits including over 40 paintings over his career; an enormously high number for any artist up to that point. While the popular interpretation is that these represent a personal and introspective journey for Rembrandt, they were probably painted to satisfy a strong market for self portraits by leading artists. This makes this image all the more poignant. Is he a tired old horse trotting out for display? Or is he a defiant master at the height of his expressive powers? Or both? I could spend a lifetime debating this painting.

So, do you ever play this game of Take Home Three and which are your favourites from the Frick?

If you’ve never been to the Frick, I urge you to go next time you are in New York. So many people have never even heard of this gorgeous place. It is the sparkling gem of Museum Row overshadowed by the behemoth of the Met. The collection is set in Frick’s private mansion just by Central Park. Built to house his art- and his family – the museum is more like a National Trust property with rooms laid out exactly as they would have been.  It’s a delightfully relaxed and intimate experience to wander around the billionaire’s front rooms to find – good gracious! – those Holbiens. Click here to be directed to their website  where they have a Virtual Walk Through for those not planning a physical visit. (Unfortunately due to the nature of the lay out, children under ten are not allowed nor can bulky luggage be accommodated in their cloakroom.)

 

 

Breezy Day, Ridley, Kent : Thomas Hennell

… a moment of vision …

watercolour British countryside war artist

“We look, in landscape painting, not primarily for a rationalised statement, nor for a description of fact but for the moment of vision,” wrote Thomas Hennell.
Sometimes referred as an English Van Gogh, Thomas Hennell was deeply religious and suffered a breakdown which put him in a mental institution for a couple of years. Writing and watercolours helped him recover. His work records rural scenes, often populated with craftsmen and Thomas eventually became an Official War Artist in World War II. Whilst in Indonesia in 1945, he was captured by nationalist fighters in and presumably killed.
He was lionised by contemporaries: “We [Bawden and Ravilious] regarded him as a man
of genius.”

This scene is probably at Ridley in Kent, close to Orchard Cottage, where Hennell lived between 1935-43. Knowing his story, it is impossible to un-know it and this wonderfully delicate sketch of the British Countryside takes on a fragile and elegiac intensity.

Most of the information in this post has been gleaned from the lovely little tribute website created by art dealer, Michael Sims, thomashennell.com

Breezy Day, Ridley, Kent, c.1941, by Thomas Hennell, (1903-45) (Whereabouts unknown; image from Michael Sims simfineart.com)

Ravilious & Co : Compton Verney

… a fascinating exhibition …

horse design westbury england

This marvellous show traces the story of a dynamic group of British artist/designers from the first half of the 20th century. Taking a collective approach, the two major gallery spaces of Compton Verney are absolutely crammed full of paintings and woodcuts, fabric prints, book covers, ceramics and wallpapers, Continue reading “Ravilious & Co : Compton Verney”

Madame Trudaine : Jacques-Louis David

… against a bloody background …

french revolution portrait

I always think of Jacques-Louis David as a history painter and so the delicacy of his portraits take me by surprise.

Painted in 1791-2, this striking young woman is most likely Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton (1769-1802), the wife of Charles-Louis Trudaine, who was a friend of the artist. The Trudaine family belonged to the liberal “haute bourgeoisie” and they were  initially favourable to the Revolution. Marie-Louise is wearing simple clothes suitable for someone of her political leanings; and her blue sash, white shirt and the red background makeup the new Tricolour flag of France. The portrait was never finished as the Trudaines quarrelled with David over his support for the increasingly violent Terror.

David‘s characteristic “scumbling” of the red background – a technique he used for these portraits – adds a clamour of hysteria to this already nervous, defiant young woman, with her arms folded awkwardly across her body and her half turn towards the viewer. The Trudaine brothers went to the scaffold soon after this. Marie-Louise died ten years later when she was 33 years old. Alas, I can’t find anymore details about her but it can’t have been a very happy life.

David was an ardent supporter the Terror. He organized revolutionary fetes and ceremonials to replace the Catholic festivals and painted many key images of the period such as the pietà of the Revolution, The Death of Marat. David was a member of the Assembly, however, he too was eventually imprisoned. When the artist was released, a couple of years later, David stayed away from direct politics but did become a favourite painter of Napolean.

Portrait of Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton1891-2, (Louvre) by Jacques-Louis David  (1748 – 1825).

The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens

… a fascinating book to curl up with … 

ghost supernatural spooks halloween

The Ghost is a thoroughly fascinating book which traces the development of ghosts from warnings from the afterlife, through escapees from purgatory and then the devil’s playthings and finally to delicious, terrifying entertainment purely from the imagination. Continue reading “The Ghost A Cultural History : Susan Owens”

The Lost Velazquez: Charles I, King & Collector.

… lost portrait of a king …

One of the most alluring images in the Charles I, King & Collector exhibition is the informal portrait of Philip IV by Velasquez. Charles never owned the picture – so why did the curators include it?

Dallas Philip IV

In 1623, when Prince Charles was 22, he was betrothed to the King of Spain’s sister. Negotiations over this alliance had begun to drag so Charles seized the initiative and travelled to Spain to win the Infanta over. The whole mission was a bit of an embarrassing disaster because diplomacy is never that simple but his informal embassy was the springboard for Charles’ passion for art collecting.

It was a court of young men. In 1623 King Philip IV was 18 and had already been king for two years. He entertains the older Charles for months in Madrid and even gives him a Titian to take home (Charles V with a Dog, 1533). In this same year, Velazquez who was only 24, is ordered to the city to try out as the new Court Painter. It is probable that he painted this quick and informal portrait of Philip to secure his position – and a close, successful relationship began between monarch and painter which lasted until Velazquez‘s death.

Intriguingly Velazquez also painted a portrait of Charles during this year. The closest image we have to what it may have looked like is this portrait from the studio of the Dutch painter, Daniel Mytens.  A fine work – but no Velazquez.

King Charles Prince Charles

Daniel Mytens was the principle painter at the Stuart court from the early 1620s to the mid 1630s. This portrait is a contemporary replica, probably painted in Mytens’ studio, as it was one of his most important early commissions.  It shows Charles I before he became King in 1625.*

How exciting would it be if the original Velazquez was discovered! A young man – on the brink of kingship – by one of the finest painters of the 17th century. In the 19th century, one man became obsessed with the idea that he had found it. His fascinating story is told by Laura Cumming in The Vanishing Man: In pursuit of Velazquez It wasn’t. Here’s a link to her article about it.

Charles I, King and Collector at The Royal Academy, London runs until 15 April 2018. With all exhibitions of this size and popularity, it is worth getting the catalogue first to scope out what you want to see before plunging in. It’s a wonderful book with over 200 colour illustrations, essays to put the exhibition in context, and detailed notes on provenance. Softback £28. Hardback £40.  A link to the Royal Academy bookshop is here.

Philip IV c.1623-24 (Meadows Museum, Dallas) Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)

Charles I (when Prince of Wales) 1620s (Unknown) Contemporary copy after Daniel Mytens (c.1590–1647/48)

* Details from Philip Mould Fine Paintings.

 

 

 

Neither Virgin nor Venus. Five Outstanding Women from Charles I, King & Collector.

… neither Virgin nor Venus …

Among all the Royal portraits and big dramatic pieces in this outstanding exhibition, there are some extremely fine images of women. The Academy rooms are teeming with spectators and the show has 140 works of art on view, so it pays to have an idea of what you are looking for. Here are five I wouldn’t want anyone to miss …

My advice would be to ignore the crowded first couple of rooms and make straight for Gallery VIII which holds pictures from “The Queen’s House” and take a look at this Head of a Woman (c.1630-35) by Orazio Gentileschi. It’s such an arresting work combining beauty and determination in a very penetrating stare – as her former owner said: “She’s no extra!” The painting sold to a private buyer in January 2018 for $1.8 million and there’s a brief Sotheby’s video about her here.

gentileschi royal collection

Then turn around and, diagonally opposite in the same room, is a painting by Orazio‘s daughter’s Artemisia Gentileschi called Allegory of Painting (c.1638-39). Artemisia joined her father and her brothers in London in 1638. Charles and Henrietta already owned at least three of Artemisia‘s paintings by then and she found steady employment here. Some suggest this is a self portrait though it is not listed as such in Court inventories and is perhaps instead a younger, more idealised version of her 46 year old self.  It is probably more a declaration of her remarkable status: as a practising and successful female artist at this time – an image of a working painter not a fanciful allegory.

allegory artist

Travelling back a hundred years to the court of Henry VIII, the next picture is a portrait of Anne Cresacre ( c.1526-27) by Hans Holbein. This piece of fragile wonderfulness can be found in the next room along, Gallery IX, “The Whitehall Cabinet.” Charles’ Cabinet in Whitehall Palace was a private space decorated with more personal items from his collection; the core of which he inherited from his older brother, Henry, including these a set of drawings by Holbein. These sketches were made for a large group portrait of Thomas More‘s family – since lost. Anne was a ward of More’s and became his daughter-in-law around this time. The exquisite delicacy of this chalk drawing is truly arresting. It might just be me … but there’s a resemblance to the actor Louise Brealey who played Molly Hooper in Sherlock in the slight frown about her lips.

429px-Anne_Cresacre_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

The next work executed about the same time but leagues apart in tone and handling. If there’s a Bronzino in a gallery I’m in front of it. The work is in “The Italian Renaissance” Gallery V and its understated elegance could be overlooked as there are Titians in the same room. There is some debate over whether Portrait of a Women in Green (c.1530-32) is actually a Bronzino or possibly a del Piombo or a Sarto. I have my doubts too – it’s not quite good enough but …. it could be a youthful work. Her direct gaze is typical of Bronzino’s portraits and she is an arresting example of a confident and self assured Renaissance woman.

57dd7149f6dd4a588560d207b212e009

The final painting in my selection is the Rembrandt. Again in any other exhibition, a work of this quality would be centre stage but again she is in a corner of Gallery IV, “The Northern Renaissance” and could easily be over looked. This Portrait of an Old Woman (c. 1627-29) is also called The Artist’s Mother as Rembrandt often used his mother, Neeltgen Willensdr, as a model at the beginning of his career. The painting is not a portrait but a tronie (a generic term for ‘face’). Such tronies move beyond imitation and become imaginative exercises using carefully chosen costume and dramatic illumination – a cross between a portrait and a historical painting. I was fascinated by the interplay between the lines on her face with the gorgeous lace and fabric detail, both picked out with a warm Northern European light. It is an amazing painting.

rembrandt portrait royal collection

So there you are: my top five paintings of women from Charles I, King and Collector. Which paintings caught your eye?

Charles I, King and Collector at The Royal Academy, London runs until 15 April 2018.

With all exhibitions of this size and popularity, it is worth getting the catalogue first to scope out what you want to see before plunging in. It’s a wonderful book with over 200 colour illustrations, essays to put the exhibition in context, and detailed notes on provenance. Softback £28. Hardback £40.  A link to the Royal Academy bookshop is here.

Head of a Woman c.1630-35 (Private Collection)  Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)

Allegory of Painting c.1638-39 (Royal Collection) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3)

Anne Cresacre c.1526-27 (Royal Collection) Hans Holbein the Younger (c.1497-1543)

Portrait of a Women in Green c.1530-32 (Royal Collection) Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72)

Portrait of an Old Woman c. 1627-29 (Royal Collection) Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69)

Captain Gilbert Heathcote : William Owen

… brushstroke bravado …

Heathcliff Royal Navy Nelson

Why the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum doesn’t make more of this lush portrait, goodness only knows.

This is one of William Owen‘s finest portraits. He painted Captain Gilbert sometime between 1801-05 whilst he was in his mid-twenties and a dashing Naval officer in the Napoleonic Wars. The face is finely worked whilst the rest of the picture is a virtuoso demonstration of impressionistic paint handling. The loose brushwork of his gold braiding, epaulettes and buttons add a very glamorous swagger to the Captain.

heathcotesleeve

Born in Shropshire, William Owen was apprenticed to a coach painter and then sent to the Royal Academy School in 1791 when he was 22. Owen was a success and in 1810 he was appointed portrait painter to the Prince of Wales, later George IV;  however the prince never gave Owen a sitting and in 1813, when Owen was offered a knighthood, he declined. Whether out of exasperation or disappointment, I cannot find out.

In 1825 Owen died of accidental poisoning by an overdose of ‘Barclay’s Drops’, a heady mixture of aniseed, camphor and opium, after a chemist had mislabelled his bottles.

Portrait of Captain Gilbert Heathcote1802-5, (Birmingham Art Gallery & Museum) by William Owen (1769 – 1825).

 

 

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