Saturday, July 02, 2016

Great Britain's Artists at The National Gallery and Red 122

It'd be easy to be overwhelmed
So this week the visit to the National Gallery under Leslie Primo's excellent course leadership felt a good place to be away from all the political craziness.

The session, the sadly penultimate one  reminded me of how we categorize things almost randomly - in terms of outcome, there was a real diversity under a fairly broad heading this week.

And here it is..

William Hogarth (1697 -1764)

There were 6 pictures to look at in the Hogarth series 'Marriage a la mode' - the title was taken from an earlier Dryden play and like the Rake's Progress (which I'm a huge fan of seeing, the whole 'reveal' adding to the sense of occasion - at Soane's Museum).

The series was a critique of society as well as a money making project by Hogarth, the artist sold many prints on the back of the series which satirizes the ambitions and failings of a certain type of person in society.

The picture below (No. 2 The Tete a Tete) shows the married couple, he the son of gentry she a rich merchant's daughter who are leading their own lives after the man has been having a night on the tiles and she has partied at home.

The picture is full of detail and social comment - there's plenty to read into it - even the pictures on the wall have significance - there's a high moral tone but the series is carried out with great humour.

Marriage a la Mode - The Tete a Tete
The Graham Family by Hogarth.
To be fair not all Hogarth's paintings  are worldly and cynical  The Graham Family is far more saccharine!

[But even here there is a sub text - related to an early death amongst the children the clock with Scythe demoting the grim reaper  - infant mortality was a great issue at this time and one of the children shown died early]

I think Charles Dickens and William Hogarth had somewhat similar attitudes towards the sufferings of the working classes and the indulgences of their 'betters'.

Johann Zoffany (1733- 1810)

Mrs Oswald posing

Zoffany was 'crow-barred' into this British category (he wasn't British but German and worked in Britain) we looked at his painting of Mrs Oswald - here the subtext is around subjects wealth, she is shown posing in her land (although the portrait would have been painted in the artist's studio).

Mrs Oswald's wealth was associated with British involvement in the slave trade but this was not unusual at the time - she is also associated with spending on art.

Although the subject does not look particularly cheerful this was generally the accepted pose in these times (and is today if you think about it).

Joshua Reynolds  (1723- 92)

A 'heroic' figure
In was less comfortable with the portrait of Colonel Tarleton that shows him in a heroic pose - in fact the British campaign that the portrait shows was not successful and he is something of a 'hate' figure for some Americans.    As a British portrait this is not what is shown, we have a man of action (hiding his  battle mangled hand) - to me it looks like a composite of two pictures with the horses showing more 'life' than the posed 'warrior'.

Reynolds was a fine artist but an intellectual one who was perhaps overly  conscious of art history.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727- 88)

Beloved daughters
Mr and Mrs Andrews

Gainsborough was an artist who was famous for both portraiture and landscape work (his Mr and Mrs Andrews being a fine example that combines both).

The pictures we looked at by him were two of his paintings of his daughters ( here seen chasing a butterfly perhaps not really finished) and this to me was far less intriguing than the often referenced Mr and Mrs Andrews (which I oddly feel is an inspiration for American Gothic?)

Constable 1776- 1837

The Brilliant Hay Wain (1821)

The artist who is often (to my mind wrongly) associated with a tasteless sentimentality  is Constable - I really enjoyed spending time looking at the superb composition and execution of The Hay Wain (and The Cornfield) - Leslie explained how he had created the scenes and often included a 'proxy' of his younger self, with a red shirt or jacket- much feted in France he was keen that other artists should get out to look at their subjects and not merely copy other artistic works  (although he himself had done this.)

My advice  is if you get a chance do spend some time in front of these pictures - they are fantastic and perhaps undervalued for their artist merit as they are 'just' the English countryside (not Italy!) - he really does  great job on sky and water and his ' emotional feeling' is communicated too.

Red 122

Sometimes irony in advertising can work - I think it does here

Red provides impact here

Post a Comment