Tuesday, 19 February 2013

On Not Knowing Art


Berliner Straße im Sonnenschein (1920s) - Lesser Ury
(image source)

I wish I knew ways to find paintings and artists that I loved - other than looking around the same old art galleries in London.  Some bloggers (notably Mary and Jane) seem often to attend wonderful exhibitions or highlight the work of a great local artist.  I respond to paintings much more emotionally and vividly than I do to music, and yet my knowledge of art is so slight.  And it doesn't help that this strong response is really only for 19th and 20th century art, particularly interwar; I've yet to find anything older that which I really love.

Interior, The Orange Blind (c.1928) - Francis Cadell
(picture source)

I think one of the issues is that my deepest affinities, with paintings as with books, are for the middlebrow - the domestic and the rural.  And, as with literature, these are not fanfared as much as other varieties of art - and it's quite likely that I shall respond most strongly to artists who are not technically the most proficient or most significant.  It really is the same as my love for middlebrow literature - but with novels, I know what I'm doing and I know where to look.  With paintings, I just meander around a Google image search, filled with hope... it's taken me about half an hour to stumble upon these three paintings, all of which I really like.


Korhinta (1931) - Vilmos Aba-Novak
(image source)

So I'd love some suggestions of artists to investigate, galleries to visit, and exhibitions to attend.  I believe in you, my readers!  And let me know what you think of these paintings I've unearthed.  I have literally no idea whether they are world-famous or done in someone's loft.  Perhaps that is a nicely democratic way of enjoying paintings... but I've done it for long enough now.  Help!

44 comments:

  1. I'll leave it to those better informed than I am to offer suggestions on artists and galleries, but I thought I would just mention Robert Hughes' documentary series The Shock of the New in case you are unfamiliar with it. It dates from the late 1960s, and is probably available to view on YouTube, and he goes through the art of the first half of the 20th Century, explaining the motivations and linkages between artists. His later documentary series on the architects Albert Speer, Gaudi and Mies van der Rohe is also worth watching.

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    1. I second these recommendations of the series by Hughes.

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    2. And I third it! Anything by Hughes is informative and opinionated, which is a combination I love!

      Sounds a bit odd, but Tumblr is sometimes a good place - put in a few key words and search and you'll often come up with an amazing set of images.

      Try Googling the Scottish Colourists too - I love some of their stuff.

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    3. Thanks for the three recommendations! This sounds invaluable - although 'The Shock of the New' makes me think it'll be more about the avant-garde artists than the middlebrows?

      And I have never heard of the Scottish Colourists, let alone knowing I'd picked one for my post. Thanks!

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    4. I no longer recall which artists he particularly discusses, but the new he refers to is things unknown before the modern era - speed, the ability to look down from up high (such as from the top of the Eiffel Tower), mechanised warfare, and how such things combined to induce an enthusiasm for progress, and a complete rejection of what had existed before. You can clearly trace such thinking through the literature, art and architecture of the first half of the 20th Century, but I've never seen anyone explain it as well as Robert Hughes.

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  2. Intriguing post, Simon. My aha moment was in the Washington DC Hirshhorn Museum when I saw my first Edward Hopper, First Row Orchestra [1951] I had seen many paintings on this visit to USA before I discovered this one and I have never forgotten its impact. His evocation of figures in urban settings is something to behold. Sorry I can't add a link, too unsophisticated with these things. I know you will be able to call it up in a moment.

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    1. I do like Hopper a lot, so that's a good call, Martina! I've never seen one 'in the flesh', as such. It does make such a difference.

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  3. If you haven't already, it sounds as if you might enjoy a visit to Charleston (Sussex, UK) home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, weekend retreat for the Bloomsury Group and a canvas for all sorts of painting.

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    1. Ahha, I have been! Last year - it was one of the best weekends of my life. Such a wonderful. We went to Woolf's house too - and it was a gloriously sunny day. The only painters I feel I know anything much about are those in the Bloomsbury Group - and Vanessa Bell is one of my favourite painters.

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  4. Lovely painting Simon! I'm very fond of Cadell too. I'd study the paintings that appeal especially on the covers of Virago ppbks and older penguins etc - then look the artists up online and plan trips to see them if possible. Also how about using the search by county on BBC Your Paintings? You can have a look at what appeals locally in Oxford, Somerset - southern England that way. Sometimes small local museums/houses are a much more relaxed way to look at art. There's a Laura Knight exhibition in Penzance over the summer I think you might love (and you could probably include a side trip to the Agatha Christie house?)

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    1. Now I must seek out more Cadell!
      I did have a look through the BBC Your Paintings, but found it rather unhelpful. I couldn't work out any way to search by period - and it seemed odd that anyone would care whether or not a painting featured (say) a piano. Curious selection criteria.

      Thanks for the tip about Laura Knight - I don't know anything about her, but if I'm down in Cornwall at all, I'll certainly combine a visit with Agatha Christie's house!

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  5. http://www.flemingcollection.co.uk/index.php is the website for the Fleming Collection, which is a Gallery in London specialising in art by Scots. Suggesting that as you featured a Cadell in your post, he was one of the 4 Scottish Colourists.


    Geraldine

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    1. Thanks Geraldine! I'll definitely try to track this down next time I'm in London.

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  6. It will not surprise you to know that I have a very wide-ranging appreciation of the arts. Two of my favourite painters are Titian and Lizitsky for example. I certainly commend the Fleming Collection in London and in that part of the world, particularly Cork Street, you will find an amazing range of private galleries covering everything from Victorian animal painting to single modern installation pieces. Your title says "art" but your text suggests "painting". In London you probably already frequent the Tate(s), the National Portait Gallery, National Gallery etc. so there is little point in me reiterating those as sources of inspiration. Perhaps you are less familiar with the Courtauld and indeed Somerset House in general where a wide range of work in many techniques can be regularly seen. I'd also recommend some less well known venues suhc as Burgh House in Hampstead, Camden Arts Centre in NW3 (contemporary), the Estorick in Islington which specialises in Italian art from early C20, the wonderful Wallace collection just off Marylebone High St (C18 and C19 mainly). Very strongly recommended is the recently refurbished Whitechapel Gallery in the East End. Lots more recommendations if you think photography is "art" - not everyone does I think. I'll keep my eyes open and email you further suggestions if you wish.

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    1. This is what I was going to suggest, Simon - just wander round that part of town and see what catches your eye. (The free Galleries listings mag is always a help.) As you like Scottish Colourists, the Fleming Collection is a good place to start. (Unfortunately, you've just missed the Hunter exhibition. Which I completely forgot about until it was too late and I'm kicking myself.) Should you get the chance for an outing to Edinburgh, there is a Peploe exhibition on at the moment which I would dearly love to see; last year's Cadell exhibition there was wonderful and I made the trip specially.
      Don't write off the art of the past ... I think you are a man made for de Hooch! (National Gallery)
      And the BBC site recommended below is a wonderful source for little-known artists tucked away in provincial galleries.

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    2. PS John Piper is coming up soon at Portland Gallery which you might like. As Puss says, the private galleries are an amazing source (and so much easier on the feet! Or paws in his case.) Also, I find that one often falls into interesting conversations there. Don't be intimidated if you have to ring a doorbell to get in ... in my younger days I used to find that slightly daunting, but everybody is welcome.

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    3. Peter - thanks so, so much for this! So many useful ideas - I'll print this off next time I'm going to London. As you guessed, I'm a little sick of the well-worn path through the Tates and the Nationals, which are the only galleries I ever visit in London. These idea will be invaluable - and I'm certainly open to photography too.

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    4. Mary - thank you! I didn't realise there was a galleries listings mag - that will be very handy indeed. I had been hoping to go to Edinburgh this year, but I think it's been supplanted by saving to go to Washington...

      I'll have to investigate de Hooch!

      And I would be absolutely terrified to ring a doorbell to go in, that may have to wait til I am older and more self-confident...

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    5. I googled the John Piper - they are lovely.

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  7. Try browsing http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/

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    1. Thanks! I do wish they had the option of filtering by date, which I couldn't find.

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  8. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery has a good collection of early 20th century works, as does the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. I second the recommendation for the Estorick Collection - it's a great place. The Stanley Spencer gallery in Cookham is definitely worth visiting - Spencer's wife Hilda Carline was also a painter and her work might well appeal.

    Less obviously, The Imperial War Museum (closed at them moment for a refit) often has themed exhibitions from its collection of paintings and you might enjoy the poster collections at the London Transport Museum.

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    1. I do adore Spencer, and went to see an exhibition of his at Compton Verney, so must go to Cookham one day. That might have to wait til I have a car, though...

      I'd never have thought of Imperial War Museum! When it's reopened, I'll have a visit.

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  9. Love all three of "your" paintings, especially the interwar lady having tea. It reminds me of the National Arts Club in Gramercy Square, New York, which is cram-jammed with paintings of that era, whenever you get to New York: http://www.nationalartsclub.org/
    As you will, as a man of the world! In England, I KNEW somebody would beat me to the Charleston suggestion, but I also suggest you go there when there is *not* a literary conference going on, so you can just savor the Bloomsbury circle paintings. Especially the glorious one of the cat (I'll try to send it to you offlist). And don't miss the church, too, with all their paintings. Matter of face, I wouldn't at all mind visiting again when I come to England this summer...(From Diana Birchall, Anonymous, www.lightbrightandsparkling.blogspot.com)

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    1. So glad you like the paintings, Diana! I have already grown to adore them. I love Charleston, as you know, and the cat photos especially!

      I love the idea that a man of the world would have to go to New York. I don't think anyone would describe me as a man of the world, and I have to confess to an absolute lack of inclination to visit New York... I don't like big cities at all.

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  10. I really like your comment about the similarity between your taste in literature and in art. I think that explains why I like so many of the paintings I like. I'm taking note of all the great advice everyone has in the comments.

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    1. It struck me whilst I was writing the post, actually, Elizabeth! I think it does explain a lot.

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  11. I had a super time at Dorich House Museum in Kingston upon Thames last week - if you enjoy sculpture + an interesting story - in this case, the life of Dora Gordine - look out for their open days - about once a month.

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  12. Love your selection of pictures.

    I'm a huge Hopper fan too, but I don't think there are any of his in the UK at the mo. There was a major exhibition a few years ago in London which was marvellous.

    Like you, I know what I like art-wise, but don't know that much about it, but one thing I do is to buy postcards wherever I go of pictures I enjoy. I have files and a huge box full now, plus lots of art books - you could come over for tea one day and browse...

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    1. The more I look at these paintings, especially the second two, the more I like them!

      I also have the postcard habit - but, as I posted recently, I use them as bookmarks! I'd LOVE to come one day and have a browse, that would be such fun :)

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  13. I know nothing about art. Everything I do know is from going to art galleries and liking particular pictures and then googling the artists I like when I go home. Or from reading blogs! I always recommend that people go to the V&A picture galleries - no one knows they're there and they have some really random stuff that's not necessarily only by famous people. A lot of domestic and architectural art and that sort of thing. You'd like it. I'd also recommend going to some of the small house museums like Leighton House and Carlyle House - they often have wonderful paintings originally bought new in the 19th century - some of the artists became household names, others didn't - and that's a great way of discovering people you like who might be a bit off the beaten path. What else...definitely look through the 'Your Paintings' website on the BBC - that's brilliant. Oh and I also agree with the London Transport Museum suggestion - they have a poster exhibition at the moment and many of the artists who designed their posters in the heyday of tube advertising were brilliant painters. Yes and the Imperial War Museum has a lot of paintings by unsung artists - they tended to be big in the mid century but their popularity has waned since so you can feel smug about discovering them. Plus I advocate Donna's method - Virago front covers have introduced me to many a new favourite artist over the years! Have fun exploring - I think art history and analysis of paintings is all a load of intellectual snobbery - art should be allowed to be instinctive and there's no right or wrong involved.

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    1. Thanks so much for this, Rachel - V&A here I come, before too long!

      I never know why "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" should be considered such an abhorrent thing to say. Like literature, there are fine artists and experimenters etc., but the importance of pleasure and enjoyment isn't overridden by those.

      Embarrassingly, I have been to the London Transport Museum, but only in the cafe and gift shop...

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  14. You've got some great suggestions for places to start looking for art here - the your paintings site is excellent. I do want to defend art history though. Just as there are plenty of excellent writers who fall outside of the canon there are a lot of very good artists who do the same. I wouldn't call them second rate - proficiency and recognition don't always go together.

    I suspect you relate most strongly to inter war painting because you love the books from the same period and understand so much of the history; it all ties together with each element increasing your understanding and appreciation of the others.

    Analysing a painting is as valid as analysing a book, and as useful because again the deeper the understanding the deeper the appreciation. Knowing that both Kandinsky and Mondrian (the one who does all the squares) were devoted followers of theosophy changed the way I looked at their work, even more so because similar ideas led them in such different visual directions... What a wonderful excuse you have for buying a few new books.

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    1. No need to defend art history, Hayley! My ignorance of it doesn't mean I disparage it. Although, having said that, I would question 'analysing a painting is as valid as analysing a book'. I think it would be a bizarre coincidence if they were equally analysable forms... and I believe that words offer more scope for analysis than images. But I recognise that that is a very biased viewpoint.

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    2. But Simon, a picture paints a thousand words (or something). I think that fine art and literature are actually very comparable and one book you should look out for is Hall's dictionary of Subjects and symbols. It was a standard text when I was an undergraduate and is very helpful for decoding church iconography - something like the façade of Notre Dame for example is basically a book...

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  15. Very interesting post, Simon. I can’t say much about galleries in the UK, but if you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe and like 20th century art then National Gallery of Art (called Zachęta) in Warsaw is an interesting place to visit. If you prefer 19th century paintings then I recommend Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Personally, it’s my favourite art gallery, but I just love Berlin :)

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    1. I'm not likely to get to those soon, Agnieszka, but thanks for the tip!

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  16. Here's a link to peruse:

    http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/Collections/American/PaintingSculpturePaper/

    I was there last summer, and really enjoyed it. My favorites don't seem to be there, though. Charles Sprague Pearce, Daniel Garber, and Charles Burchfield.

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  17. The daily Persephone post has set me off on the trail of many an artist. This would tie in with much of your reading. I, too, would recommend the BBC site.

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    1. Oh yes, I do often like the art they feature - especially when it's 20th century.

      Everyone seems to have had much better luck with the BBC site than I had!

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  18. Please brave the excellent "Nessums" in Cork Street. I think their collection contains just the type of works that would interest you. Their address is 8 Cork St, London, Greater London W1S 3LJ and they specilaise in British Art from 1750 to the present day. Try the Redfern Gallery too as they often have exhibitions of artists that I also think you might like.

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    1. Grrrr! You'll never find Nessums because I made it up in a fit of idiocy! It is of course Messums! Apologies.

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