Sunday, 21 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Walter Sickert

Walter Sickert, Saint Remy, c1910, Jerwood Gallery
In the early 20th century the fastest route from London to Paris was by train and steamer via Newhaven and Dieppe, and the French port became a popular destination among British artists (as it had been for the early Impressionists). After visiting first with his parents in 1879 Sickert returned often to Dieppe, painting numerous portraits, interior scenes and street views like this one. A careful composition contrasts the ancient stone fa├žade of St Remy with a kiosk, festooned in advertisements, that towers over the people standing nearby.

Walter Sickert is one of a hundred modern British artists to be featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious, Rye Harbour, 1938 (Ingram Collection)

Like many other small ports and seaside towns, Rye Harbour enjoyed a boom in popularity among artists in the 1930s. Alongside the widespread interest in landscape painting was a related vogue for nautical style; both phenomena grew out of a renewed fascination for British places and customs, inspired partly by the new hobby of motor-touring. John Piper was both the author of an influential magazine feature on nautical style and an occasional visitor to Rye Harbour, and he probably suggested Ravilious visit the port.

There he met Edward Le Bas, a wealthy artist (who was elected to the RA in 1954) and collector who had a house nearby. Though much younger than them, he had become a great champion of the Camden Town Group, particularly Harold Gilman and Charles Ginner, and also had a formidable collection featuring Edouard Vuillard, whose paintings his own work emulated.

He bought this painting on the spot, drawn perhaps to the wonderful representation of light on water and the sense of distance melting into nothingness.

This is an excerpt from 'Ravilious' (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2015). 'Rye Harbour' will be featured in 'Century', an exhibition of work by 100 modern British artists that I have selected from the Jerwood Collection and Ingram Collection. It opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

In Mabeltown

Nicolai Fechin, portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1927 (Harwood Museum)
Where to start? I've seen so much art in the past three weeks that it would take me a year to write about all of it. But one highlight was a visit to the Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, where the exhibition 'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' is currently running.

'Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company', Harwood Museum, gallery view

Subtitled 'American Moderns and the West', the exhibition explores the role of the New York socialite in bringing artists and writers to the isolated New Mexican town of Taos. Lying on the edge of a great plain against a backdrop of mountains, a few miles from the ancient and impressive Taos Pueblo, the town was home to a handful of artists when Mabel Dodge arrived in 1918. Almost immediately she fell in love with Tony Lujan, a Taos Pueblo Indian and sent her latest husband (she had already despatched several) back east, prior to marrying Tony.

C19 painted retablo (Harwood Museum)
She then set about turning Taos into a bona fide art colony, building a vast house (today an inn and conference centre) and inviting every one of the numerous artists and writers she knew to visit. The list is impressive, from Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe to DH Lawrence and Willa Cather, who wrote part of 'Death Comes for the Archbishop' at the Luhan house. So successful was the enterprise, in face, that Taos became known as Mabeltown.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, C1850 (Harwood Museum)
There are some wonderful pictures in the exhibition, notably works by John Marin, Andrew Dasburg and Emil Bisttram, but what I really enjoyed was the juxtaposition of Pueblo Indian and Spanish-American artworks and artefacts and the paintings inspired by the people and scene of northern New Mexico. A pair of home-made crosses are presented beside an O'Keeffe painting of a cross (at least one other O'Keeffe was requested for the show but was sent to London instead...), and there are works by Pueblo artists as well as paintings of Pueblo people.

Emil Bisttram, Taos Indian Woman Plasterer, c1930s
The exhibition is lively, adventurous and beautifully curated. After roaming the rooms for a while I set off into the intense dry heat of Taos to visit the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, where her convivial spirit still holds court. I wandered in and was immediately invited to have coffee and make myself at home - a welcome in distinct contrast to the one we received at the O'Keeffe house in Abiquiu the day before. We arrived on the off-chance for a quick look at the place to discover that it was closed. The man who gave us this news then refused our request to take a picture of the view from the carpark, positioning himself like a sentry between us and the view lest we try to steal one.

Storage Jar, San Ildefonso Pueblo
So it was Mabel 1: Georgia 0 in terms of welcome. But then Ms Luhan's great skill (aside from her prolific writing) lay in welcoming people to her house, whereas O'Keeffe's lay in being one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Of which more in due course...

Dorothy Brett, Turtle Dance, c1940s

John Marin, New Mexico nr Taos, 1929 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Laughing Horse magazine, c1920s

Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Under the portale, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Exterior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' runs at the Harwood Museum, Taos, until September, then travels to Albuquerque, NM, and Buffalo, NY.

If you're planning a visit to Taos, you might want to stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. I certainly plan to, one day.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden: Prospectus

Widely admired today as an illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden (1903-89) is hardly a ‘forgotten artist’. Yet one aspect of his career has been neglected until now: his role in the 1930s as a critically-acclaimed modern painter.

The purpose of 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden' is to set the record straight by bringing together the largest collection of the artist’s pre-war watercolours ever assembled. Most were originally exhibited at one or other of Bawden’s major solo shows – at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1933 and the Leicester Galleries five years later – exhibitions that impressed critics and delighted collectors.

It has taken three years to assemble this remarkable collection of pictures, many of which were, as the title of the book suggests, lost. Privately-owned artworks can be hard to find after eighty years, but in this case even paintings in public collections were sometimes hidden thanks to Bawden’s choice of obscure fragments of verse or concise descriptions of time and place as titles for his work. These were often replaced by descriptive names. Thus (for example) ‘My heart untravell’d turns to thee’ became ‘Derelict Cab’, making the researcher’s task rather tricky.

The remarkable quest to find and identify Bawden’s pre-war watercolours is described by publisher Tim Mainstone in an amusing, informative essay, which forms the third part of this richly illustrated volume. The Mainstone Press has once again teamed up with James Russell, author of the popular series ‘Ravilious in Pictures’ (and curator of the 2015 blockbuster ‘Ravilious’), who sets the ball rolling with an introductory essay exploring Bawden’s life and career in the 1930s. Scholarship is leavened with humour here, as it is in the wide-ranging captions accompanying the most important element of the book: the watercolours themselves.

These are grouped by exhibition, with additional sections of works from the mid-30s and from the decade’s end. Having photographed many of the watercolours in high resolution specifically for the book, we have chosen a format that allows us to maximise the size of the images. There’s a good reason for this. As one critic observed in the 1930s, these are paintings that deserve more than to be looked at. They deserve to be looked into.

For full specifications of this limited edition book, please see The Mainstone Press website. An illustrated prospectus is available from the publisher.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Edward Bawden: Larchwood

Edward Bawden, Larchwood, 1933-5, Graves Sheffield (artist copyright)

Looking through his friend’s new work in the early summer of 1935, Ravilious was struck by its freshness, and this may well have been one of the pictures Bawden carefully pinned up for him to enjoy. The motif of the lane disappearing enigmatically into the woods is one that has attracted numerous modern artists of a Romantic disposition, from Paul Nash to David Hockney. Bawden’s treatment of the subject is extraordinary, the palette colourful but crisp and the woodland to the right veiled in diaphanous scratched lines which suggest shadow and mystery without attempting to represent directly the dim space beyond the trees.

As so often with Bawden, the originality of the painting lies in his uncanny ability to communicate graphically both the appearance of a place and his feelings. Across the lane – probably looking south from Beslyns [near Great Bardfield]– the bare trees face one another, hinting in their pallor at the lances borne so decoratively by the knights in Paulo Uccello’s celebrated painting ‘The Battle of San Romano’ (1438–40).

This is an excerpt from 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden', out soon from The Mainstone Press.