Monday 9 February 2009

Pictures from a (very small) Exhibition

I've just paid a quick visit to Tate Britain - not, I need hardly tell you, for the delights of the Altermodern Tate triennial exhibit (shouty Waldemar Januszczak is surely right that the Tate-based 'modern art' racket of today is the equivalent of the Salon in 1860s Paris - over-intellectualised, self-referring, self-serving, inward-looking and irrelevant - and must soon be blown away by a healthy blast of real art). I was there for a mooch, and to have a look at this tiny exhibition - just 35 pictures in one small room. I'm glad I went - there are at least half a dozen works there which are worth the trip. The Francis Towne is of course wonderful, as is a large Constable drawing of fir trees in Hampstead, but there's also a tiny, gemlike Holman Hunt watercolour of Fishing Boats by Moonlight; a fresh-as-a-daisy Eric Ravilious of an observation post in rural Essex in 1939 (he was dead a couple of years later, lost on an RAF air-sea rescue operation); a meticulous watercoloured pen-and-ink by Charles Ginner of A London Back Garden; a gloriously intense watercolour (plus body colour, gum arabic, the works) of The Bellman, an illustration to Il Penseroso, from the last year of Samuel Palmer's life; and a quite beautiful pastel of Women on the Quay at La Rochelle by William Nicholson - as good as a Degas, which is about as good as pastel gets. Then, in a display case in the middle of the room, there's a colour study for a mural of Country Life which Edward Bawden did for the Festival of Britain. The watercolour study is on card, pleated like a screen, immaculately drawn and designed - and, like so much of Bawden's work, it puts a smile on your face. All in all, then, a gem of an exhibition - cheering, rewarding and refreshing rather than (like so many gallery shows) exhausting. It's in Gallery 5, but you'll have to hurry - it ends on Sunday.


  1. Exhibitions like this one, and also the William Nicholson one you mentioned in an earlier post, bring out a side of me which I don't much like. I am overcome with a green-eyed, Gollumesque urge to own these lovely things. I want to prise them off the walls, stuff them up my jumper and make a quick exit. Not that I have ever succumbed, you understand. I get my fix by acquiring things that are actually for sale. But it is a financially debilitating condition and I wish there was some kind of treatment.

  2. Yes, I read the Januszczak piece on Sunday. It reminded me of how difficult it is to talk about art movements while they're actually happening.

    If you get too caught up in the movements then a lot of rubbish is praised when the movement is in, and a lot of good stuff is lost when the movement is out.

    Then again, much of the really instantly likeable contemporary art appears in the National Portrait Gallery rather than the Tate.

  3. You're right there Brit - the NPG is a better bet in all kinds of ways.
    And yes Sophie I know that feeling - I could barely keep my hands off that Nicholson...