Wednesday 13 February 2013

Low Church

 They say that having a baby around turns the adult brain to yoghurt. It's certainly true of one's own babies, and it seems also to apply to Frankly Adorable Sam, the baby grandson who is staying with us for a few precious weeks. Yesterday, while he and his mother went out visiting, I headed straight for Cork Street and for Browse & Darby to see the Patrick George exhibition. It was only on arriving at the door that I realised I hadn't checked the start date - it opens today. Not yesterday, today.
Smiting my forehead and very probably uttering a 'D'oh!' I rapidly rethought my itinerary. First to the Royal Academy to look at the queues outside the Manet exhibition; they were impressive in scale and in their dogged, cold-defying fortitude. I did not join them. Having used the facilities and visited the shop, I yielded to the gravitational pull of the National Gallery. Despite the yoghurty brain, I managed to make my way there on foot - and, once there, I found that Room 1 was again hosting one of those mini-exhibitions I like so much. This was (and is) Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch - a selection (as the title suggests) of landscape oil sketches by Frederic Church. This leading light of the Hudson River school I knew only for his vast canvases of Nature at its grandest and most sublime. There is one of these - a grand-scale Niagara painting - in the exhibition, but otherwise it is all oil sketches of landscape scenes from his native land and farther afield: Jamaica, Austria, the Middle East. This, you might say, is Low Church rather than High Church.
The sketches are wonderfully deft work, for the most part sufficiently finished to make perfectly satisfactory paintings - you'd sooner have one of these in your house than a full-scale Church any day.  There are beautiful sunrises and sunsets, mountain scenes, cloud studies, and a fine suite of iceberg sketches. All of them show Church's skilled brushwork and draughtsmanship, close observation and great gift for painting effects of light, both subtle and blatant - and, of course, his eye for a picture. It's an enjoyable and rewarding exhibition, well worth a visit.
As for Patrick George, I plan to try again - on a day when the gallery's actually open.

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