Saturday 31 January 2015

German Expressionism at the Courtauld

German Expressionism at the Courtauld, Somerset House.
Largely inspired by Van Gogh, Munch and the Fauve Matisse, Expressionism took root in Germany. The Expressionists preferred the Gothic to the Classical with its pointed, discontinuous shapes and its emphasis on mystical directness and strong feeling. They wanted direct communication with jolts of colour and shape. They identified personal truth with candour of expression and gradually 'Expressionis't adhered to their work.
Fundamental to Expressionism, the Blue Rider group was founded by Wassily Kandinsky and other painters in 1910. Transcendentalism was their common interest.  They believed in the promotion of modern art; the connection between visual art and music; the spiritual and symbolic associations of colour; and a spontaneous, intuitive approach to painting.

Gabriele Munter, Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat, 1909

This assertively modern and daring portrait conveys the woman's self-confidence, enhanced by her knowing smile and intense gaze. Munter later wrote: 'the painting of portraits is the boldest and the most difficult, the most spiritual, the most extreme task of the artist'.

Munter was part of a radical band of artists working in Munich, including Wasilly Kandinsky, with whom she founded the avant-garde group, Der Blauer Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911.

Alexej Jawlensky, The Dunes of Prerow, 1911

When he was in Murnau with Wassilly Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter, Jawlensky painted a remarkable series of landscapes using non-naturalistic colours. In 1911 in the town of Prerow he took these experiments further. Simplified forms, bold, expressive colours are used in this painting. He considered these his 'best landscapes... the pictures were the product of an overwhelming inner ecstasy'.

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation on Mahogany, 1910
By 1910 Kandinsky had developed his art to the brink of abstraction. He started to group his paintings into three categories: Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions. The associations were intended to be musical, emphasising the sensation of colour, line and form, freed from their descriptive functions. In this painting, isolated details can be identified, but the textured patches of brilliant colour dominate.


Heinrich Campendonk, The Dream, 1913

A dreamlike world in this painting, where a winged animal hovers over a female figure, perhaps suggesting harmony between humankind and the animals.

Alexej Jawlensky, Manola, 1913

The sitter's exaggerated eyes and powerful gaze in this painting engage the viewer directly. The use of vibrantly contrasting colours and bold contours intensify her features.
Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New.

Friday 30 January 2015

From Blenheim to Woodstock

Another visit to Blenheim Palace and this time we decided to walk around the lake

It was a bright, sunny day 

 and we walked along this path

lots of small clusters of trees like this one


as well as some beautifully shaped ones.


The lake shimmered in the sunlight

a cottage, which on closer inspection looked quite run down

a mass of exposed roots

looking closer

as we walked up the hill we had a panoramic view of the lake, the house and the bridge

the bridge was designed by Capability Brown

We then walked into Woodstock village looking for somewhere to have lunch.

It's very picturesque

with its own distinctive architecture

It's a Georgian village and it contains many attractive period buildings 

lots of pubs and places to eat

It was very quiet as it was Sunday. 

 Beautifully proportioned


and the brickwork glowed in the sunlight.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Jack of Diamonds

Jack of Diamonds - Early 20th century Russian Avant-Garde Art at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House.
Jack of Diamonds was an exhibition that opened in Moscow in December 1910. A stated objective was 'to offer young Russian artists who find it extremely difficult to get accepted for exhibitions under the existing indolence and cliquishness of our artistic spheres, the chance to get onto the main road'. Subsequently the title was adopted by a newly formed artistic society in Moscow and soon after the group became the largest and one of the most significant exhibition societies of the early Russian avant-garde. Their activities effected a qualitative shift in Russia of the 1910s: a democratisation of the art society in Russia, amongst other things. The combination of European innovation and Russian national traditions was a distinctive feature of this group.
When the exhibition opened in Moscow the show was considered 'a slap in the face of public taste'. Critics dismissed it as youthful 'hooliganism'. Kazimir Malevich on the other hand compared it to the 'eruption of the biggest volcano'.
Dr Natalia Murray who has curated the exhibition at the Courtauld notes that 'by allowing their brave creative experiments to break into the very essence of artistic life, Russian avant-garde artists changed not only the historic development of Russian art, but the face of European modernism of the early 20th century'.

Mikhail Larionov, Bathers at Sunset, 1909 

A. Lentulov, Flowers, 1913

Mikhail Larionov, Rayist Painting, 1913

Between 1912 and 1914 Larionov and Goncharova experimented in non-representational painting, exploring the optical qualities of refraction and the dynamics of light. They called this technique Rayism. Impressed with scientific discoveries, including x-rays, as well as contemporaries ideas of a Fourth Dimension, Larinov started creating paintings representing networks of interweaving rays.

Natalia Goncharova, Magus (costume design), 1915 
This costume design for the astronomer Magus was created for an unrealised ballet called Liturgie that Goncharova worked on between 1915-17.

Alexandra Extr, Greeks, (Costume Design), 1916

Vivid colours inspired by folk art from the artist's native Ukraine.

Olga Rozanova, Queen of Diamonds, 1915 

Natalia Goncharova, The Little Station, 1912 
Time, space and movement are compressed and flattened to create a moment that encapsulates the sensation of 'passing through'. We are once inside and outside the train: bits of words and numbers flash by. Figures rush along the platform, and faces are reflected in the window of the carriage. A celebration of the dynamic, fragmented experience of the modern world.

Vladimir Burliuk, Landscape, 1913

Influenced by Paul Cezanne and Cubism, Burliuk often fractured his paintings into interlocking irregular segments, as if translating the principles of stained glass into painting.


Wednesday 28 January 2015

Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova


Apelsinia by Natalia Goncharova, at the Courtauld Gallery.

I went to see the Jack of Diamonds exhibition on the strength of this painting as it struck a chord with me the minute I saw it.

Goncharova was a Russian avant-garde artist, painter, costume designer, writer, illustrator and set designer. Her early Impressionist period was succeeded from 1906 by a synthesis of the influence of modern French painters such as Gauguin and Matisse with the indigenous traditions of Russian folk art and Byzantine icons. She also designed sets and costumes for a number of Diaghilev's ballets, and became one of the most celebrated designers for the ballet.

She shocked society with her cross dressing and wrote that 'if I clash with society, this occurs only because the latter fails to understand the bases of art and not because of my individual peculiarities, which nobody is obliged to understand'.

This painting is the most expensive work of art by a female artist in history which sold for £4.9 million at Christies in 2007.  It was originally displayed in Goncharova's solo exhibition in Moscow in 1913 as Apelsinia, a place-name she invented. It echoes Gauguin's Tahiti paintings but it's the colours that are so distinctive and give it its dreamlike atmosphere: delicate, pinkish hues evoking a sunset, the women's costumes suggesting scenes of Ancient Greek mythology. I found it very evocative and was touched by it.


Sunday 25 January 2015

Peder Balke

Peder Balke, at the National Gallery.
Balke was one of the first artists to venture to the vast, untrodden plains of the North Cape, the wall of rock on the edge of Norway, where he was overwhelmed by 'opulent beauties of nature and locations delivered to the eye and the mind'.  
There are hardly any people in these paintings: just mountains, coasts, sky and sea. The grandeur of the landscape, and the artist's subjective, emotional response to it, is the main theme, and in this, they are reminiscent of the work of Caspar David Friedrich as well as Edvard Much's paintings of Norwegian seas and skies. 

The Mountain Range, Trolltindene, about 1845


Seascape, 1860

North Cape, 1860s

North Cape, 1840s

North Cape, 1840s

Landscape from Finland with Sami and Reindeer, about 1850

Moonlight View of Stockholm, 1850.

Across the landing is Maggi Hambling's Walls of Water exhibition which offers parallels to Peder Balke's view of nature and which you can see here .

Friday 23 January 2015

Walls of Water, Maggi Hambling


Walls of Water, Maggi Hambling, at the National Gallery. 
Eight paintings which Hambling began after watching gigantic waves crash on to the sea wall in Southwold, Suffolk, during a storm in 2010. 'It is a very genteel place and then suddenly nature was there like a primeval force... I've never seen waves like it, it was extraordinary. It was very beautiful but terrifying... It was life and death at the same moment I suppose, which I think any art that's worth having a go at is about. I'm trying to paint death with as much life as I can'.


This exhibition offers parallels with a display of works by 19th century Norwegian artist Peder Balke, (post to follow) which is on at the same time.