I’m a big fan of reading the notes in galleries. It may make me an annoying person to follow around an exhibition (I’m also an irritatingly slow reader, sorry everyone), but I think the best art exhibitions are the ones where you not only enjoy the work, but find out something you didn’t know about the artist’s life and personality too. Because believe it or not, artists can be a pretty interesting bunch.
So the Laura Knight exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was a total treat. I knew of some of her more famous work; oil portraits such as Rose and Gold (below) in rich, jewel-like colours but I’d never realised how many different themes she covered. One thing that’s great about Knight’s work is that she delves into such a range of different cultures and ways of life, and although she doesn’t shy away from the less salubrious ones either. Her subjects range from stately old women and doe-eyed prima ballerinas to maudlin circus clowns and gypsies.
Don’t be mean to the Tate Modern, or it’ll go and sulk in this puddle again (Rev Stan on Flickr)
Pretty big, pretty new and pretty popular, the Tate Modern is often derided by actual-art-fans as somewhere which is too well-known, too much of a tourist attraction, too full of schoolkids thundering around and raucously lol-ing at all the pieces with bums and boobs. Too accessible to the everyday oik who finds themselves on the South bank with half an hour to spare. If private galleries are an exclusive, prosecco-free soiree in the Kensington Roof Gardens (YES, THIS IS THE POSHEST PLACE I KNOW), then the Tate Modern is a can of K Cider in the overgrown, woodsy bit at the back of Hyde Park.
But guys, this is ok! Sometimes stuff that loads of people like is – believe it or not – GOOD! I went there last weekend, for the first time since I was a country-bumph 19-year-old up in London on a kid’s day travelcard and thinking that this was the height of capital city cool. It wasn’t, and still isn’t (the postcode doesn’t begin with the letters EC, go figure), but here are some reasons why it is a nice place to hang about for a bit. You know, even if it’s NOT raining.
Earlier this week, I rolled on down to the private view of Frank Laws’ show, ‘London Bits’, at the Orange Dot gallery in Bloomsbury. As this is a pretty cosy (to use estate agent speak) space, there were only a handful of pieces on display – but what was there was honestly some of the best contemporary painting I’ve seen in quite a while. Go.
Based on the run down red brick council estates of East London, the subject matter is distinctly unlovely. But Laws, whose day job is surprisingly as an in-house artist for Louis Vuitton, manages to eke out the romance in these everyday urban dwellings through his moody oil colours and sinister, dusky settings. In a time of rapid regeneration and gentrification in what used to be the capital’s poorest areas, perhaps these high-rises – with their union-flag-draped windows, makeshift washing lines and white plastic chairs – will become artefacts; preserving a small piece of the city’s social and architectural past.
So it isn’t quite Sunday any more, but it’s worth the agonising wait because I actually think this is a good one.
Sir Hubert Von Herkomer’s Portrait of Lady Tate (c.1899) is…RUTH JONES
I don’t have much to say about the actual painting, but if you find yourself awestruck by this relative unknown the Tate Britain blurb on Von Herkomer’s work can be read here. Lady Tate was the second wife of big-time art benefactor Henry, whose collection would form the basis of the galleries we all know and love.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I have done nothing but force crude, dubiously accurate similarities upon you for several weeks. Never fear, however, I will be back with some incisive criticism on the hottest (read: cheapest) art tickets in town before the week is out. Brace yourselves.
Famous Welsh person Ruth Jones / Frill enthusiast Lady Tate
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Monna Vanna (1866) is…FLORENCE WELCH
Ok, so maybe it’s just because they’re both redheads and I’m tired. But it’s also an excuse to elbow in this painting, which is one of my favourites. Monna Vanna translates as ‘Vain Woman’, and this is pretty fitting because she is effectively an early example of the wonders of photoshop: Rossetti went back to the painting a couple of years after it was finished to tone down her hair and alter her rings because some 19th-century arseholes got all whiny about the clashing colours. For someone who’s so tired, I’m pretty full of facts. Love Google.
The artist declared this painting ‘probably the most effective as a room decoration that I have ever painted’, which must have made the model, Alexa Wilding, feel pretty good about herself. Chicks love being likened to really nice wallpaper, right?
Rossetti was a fan of the ginge, another example being Blue Bower. This is in the Barber Institute in Birmingham, which is located on my old university campus and which I used to routinely skulk around in pursuit of my younger self’s two primary goals; hiding from my dissertation under the shambolic guise of other vaguely educational activities and trying in vain to source cultured young men. If you also like these things, or if you actually appreciate fine art, you should definitely make a visit.
Monna Vanna hangs out in the permanent collection of Tate Britain with another of my all-time favourite paintings, Millais’ Ophelia, if you’re interested.
Generically kooky songstress Florence Welch / Rossetti babe Monna Vanna