|Ship's Screw on a Railway Truck, 1940 (Ashmolean)|
I still can't quite believe people have been queuing up for Rav, but perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way round. Perhaps we should be marveling that it has taken so long for such a wonderful artist to achieve deserved public recognition - not that it's particularly unusual for an artist to achieve renown long after their death. To take one example, Vermeer was just one 17th century Dutch artist among many until his cause was taken up two hundred years later.
I was surprised by the enthusiastic response shown by critics to the exhibition, which I think bodes well for the continuing reassessment of 20th century British art, particularly figurative painting of the 1920s and 1930s. I'm looking forward to the David Jones exhibition coming up at Pallant House in October, which promises to be filled with rarely-seen wonders.
The beautiful new book on his work as a watercolourist and printmaker, by Ariane Bankes and Paul Hills, makes for interesting comparison with the Ravilious catalogue, especially as Rav was a big fan of Jones and visited his London shows in the late 1920s.
It seems a long time since I walked into the exhibition rooms at Dulwich to see the paintings all lined up against the walls, still in their crates and boxes. For the previous eighteen months I had been moving thumbnail images of the pictures around a scale plan of the gallery, which was stuck with blutac all over the landing walls. Every now and again a picture would fall off, to be transported on the sole of someone's foot around the house, so that tiny planes and greenhouses would turn up in the most unlikely places. To see the pictures as large as life and all together was very moving.
I imagined that the hang would bring some kind of closure, but the opposite was true. Being able to look at so many watercolours up close I saw so much that I had missed; I wanted to rewrite the catalogue there and then, but I don't think the publishers would have let me. Then there were all the observations made by critics and visitors, which in many cases made me look at a picture afresh. More than ever I appreciate that anyone with an intelligent gaze can add to our understanding of an artist or their work.
Finally, it has been extraordinary to meet so many people through the exhibition: lenders, fellow writers, artists, enthusiasts. On one memorable occasion I stood in front of a painting with the son of a naval officer portrayed in the picture. More recently I had a letter from a woman whose mother is, in all likelihood, one of the staff shown in the underground control rooms - of which more anon...
** According to Dulwich Picture Gallery, over 85,000 people visited the Ravilious show, their highest every turn-out!