Saturday 23 November 2019

More Tate

A picture that caught my eye at the Tate, and seemed new to me (though I'm not certain it was), was a self-portrait by William Dobson, painted around 1640. This dramatically conceived and lushly painted work is high-impact stuff and hard to miss. At a glance, you could almost mistake it for a Velzaquez. It is very clearly the work of an accomplished and more than confident portraitist – as is proven by the other Dobsons hanging nearby: a tender but sharply observed portrait of, probably, his wife, and a much grander bravura portrait of the gorgeously named Royalist Endymion Porter in all his glory, looking like a man whose veins flow with good claret.
  John Aubrey rated Dobson 'the most excellent painter that England has yet bred', and the art historian Ellis Waterhouse labelled him 'the most distinguished purely British painter before Hogarth'. Today his number one fan is the redoubtable Waldemar Januszcsak, who has called Dobson 'the first British born genius, the first truly dazzling English painter'. He surely deserves to be better known, to emerge from under the gigantic shadow of Van Dyck. Maybe there were other English painters of the period who deserve to be better known? Perhaps, under Charles I, there was a golden age of English painting running in parallel with the golden age of English church monuments (as celebrated in this book)?
  Be that as it may, several other Tate paintings caught my eye, including another from the 17th century (later, though) – a Portrait of a Young Girl by Mary Beale, a very successful portraitist. This intimate informal study is unfinished, but none the worse – and perhaps rather the better – for that.

  A painting I felt sure I'd never seen before was The Room in Which Shakespeare Was Born by Henry Wallis, he of The Death of Chatterton fame. The minute detail, fresh colour, sharp light and closeness of observation in this little picture is quite astonishing.

 And then there were two, very different examples of a sub-genre for which I'm always a sucker – Dieppe pictures: a view of the CafĂ© des Tribunaux by Sickert, one of his best in that line

and Ben Nicholson's Auberge de la Sole Dieppoise, a semi-abstract piece featuring Barbara Hepworth's face reflected in the window of a Dieppe eaterie –

(And here, not from the Tate's collection, is an image of the Auberge de la Sole Dieppoise in its heyday. The building now houses an estate agent's offices.)

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