Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Test and the Encounter

I spent yesterday in a social whirl worthy (almost) of Jeffrey Archer in the heyday of his legendary blog. First I met Bryan A at Lord's, where we enjoyed 20 minutes of the morning session before the rain swept in. As it looked serious, we repaired to a café to ponder our next move - which was to head for the vicinity of Trafalgar Square. Having lunched at leisure, we strolled along to the National Portrait Gallery and had a look around their current exhibition, The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, of which more below. As we emerged from the gallery, the weather was evidently clearing, so it was back to Lord's, where play had resumed. And so it was that - surrounded by a tiresome (but perfectly pleasant) gang of food-fighting, drink-spilling hoorays - we witnessed cricketing history when Jimmy Anderson clean-bowled the Windies' Kieran Powell to claim his 500th Test wicket. Something to tell the grandchildren - though they will neither care nor understand. Hey ho.
  But to The Encounter. It's a lovely little exhibition, just 48 portrait drawings and studies, ranging in date from the 15th to the 17th century and taking in such big names as Leonardo (a figure drawing), Dürer, Rembrandt (only a sheet of little figure studies, but fascinating to examine) and Hans Holbein the Younger. It's Holbein's portrait of John Godsalve [above] that greets you as you go in, and is arguably the star of the show. An unusually finished drawing in coloured chalks, ink and body colour with white heightening, it's beautifully executed, with all of Holbein's almost uncanny skill on show.
 Godsalve was a minor government official, a protégé of Thomas Cromwell and, some years after this portrait was drawn, Member of Parliament for Norwich. The portrait shows him as he was when Holbein first met him - a young man on the rise, meeting the artist's gaze with a look that is at once diffident and direct, anxious and sly, and surely speaks volumes about the precarious nature of life on the margins of the Tudor court. Holbein so valued this portrait that he kept it in his possession all his life, perhaps using it as an advertisement to show potential patrons what he was capable of. It's a stunning piece of work (on loan, like many others in the exhibition, from the Royal Collection).
  The poster boy for The Encounter is Giulio Pedrizzano, a lutensist, as portrayed by Annibale Carracci in a dashing little pen and ink drawing, fizzing with energy, that perfectly captures the intense, almost ferocious gaze of the sitter. Every bit as arresting and immediate as the Caracci, but much more highly finished, is a coloured drawing titled Middle-Aged Man with Curly Hair, attributed to Nicolas Lagneau, a 17th-century French artist better know for caricatures and grotesques.
His Middle-Aged Man [right] is no caricature, but a minutely detailed, closely observed study of the lived-in face of a man who stares out at the world with a kind of defiant resignation, and absolutely no illusions.
 Another gem attributed to a minor artist is a captivating drawing in black and red chalk, Young Girl Looking to Her Right [below], thought to be by Leendert van der Cooghen, an amateur painter active in Haarlem during the Dutch Golden Age. This drawing is executed with the utmost delicacy, and perfectly captures the youthful beauty - the 'bloom' - and the physical awkwardness of a girl poised between childhood and adulthood.
 The Encounter is on until 22 October, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the art of portrait drawing.


  1. That's a bloody good day out by any standards.

    And thanks for reminding me of the inimitable Archer blog. Didn't virtually every day end with a black tie event at which famous people complimented him on his auctioneering skills?