Not Quite a Fleeting Glimpse….

…is what one gets at the Dennis Severs House, or 18, Folgate Street, Spitalields, E1.  Not quite a fleeting glimpse of those people who have just left the room, who were eating that meal just before you walked in, or smoking that pipe, or baking that loaf.  Whose wig sits on the wing of the chair? Or whose floral perfume scents the formal withdrawing room?

18, Folgate Street is an 18th century house (1724) which has been preserved and restored and, during his lifetime, lived in, by Dennis Severs, the American artist and storyteller, who died, aged only 51, in 1999. Twenty years after purchasing the house he saw the Spitalfields Trust buy the house and commit to keeping it going, when on his death-bed.  It’s still going twenty years later.

The House is chock-full of antique furniture and fol-de-rols, china, costumes, tapestry and tat, but all in period. So is the lighting, mostly candlelight, but some gas-light in the Victorian rooms. We visited on a sunny Monday lunchtime so it was relatively light, but the house is most often open in the evenings, from 5 – 9pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on Sundays ( see Tours ).  I imagine that then it is even more atmospheric, though it would also be more difficult to see the multiplicity of objects on show, often close together.

Severs created an imaginary family of Huguenot silk-weavers called Jervis to inhabit the house and it is their homely detritus (and comestibles) that one comes across as one climbs the narrow stairs, either down to the kitchen and cellar, where there are the supposed fragments of St Mary’s, Spital (1197) and the warmth of an iron range and the smell of…what is that smell?  Or upwards, through fashionable London entertaining to the elaborate boudoir and then up beneath the eaves to the penurious lodgers’ rooms.

Scent is something the House does well, as is sound – the ticking of a clock, the half-caught chatter, like Eliot’s rose garden ‘full of children, Hidden excitedly, containing laughter’ in Burnt Norton. Visitors are asked to walk around the house, on a pre-determined route, in silence, so that this sound track has full effect. There are wordless guiders, who will direct you if you go wrong.

There are other symbols of life lived in the house.  The half lemon on the mantlepiece, the half drunk glasses of sherry on the card and occasional tables, the cheese and bread in the kitchen.  I like to think of the guiders going round each morning setting everything fresh into position, spraying the scents and lighting the candles ( there are piled candle ends in several rooms, today’s occupants being as thrifty as Madame Jervis could have been ).

It takes about 45 minutes to walk through the house and costs either £10 on Monday lunchtimes, or £15 in the evenings ( a guided tour is available for groups at £50 per person ).  We arrived at about 12.45 on Monday lunchtime and had to wait for a further twenty minutes, in a queue, as only small numbers are allowed in the house at any one time.  Once inside, you realise why ( people were smaller then ).

It’s an unusual and, for me, unique, experience and well worth visiting.

For more visiting of history try                        Undiscovered                  The Real Thing      Mother of Parliaments                           An Old Prospect                     Metamorphosis                    Waterloo

All photographs are from the House web-site, photography inside the House not being allowed.

Last chance to see – John Ruskin, The Power of Seeing

This year’s Spring exhibition at 2, Temple Place is a collaboration with Museums Sheffield and the Guild of St George to bring together a range of paintings, drawings, metal works and plaster casts to celebrate the work and legacy of John Ruskin (1819 – 1900).

Ruskin was an only child, his father was a wealthy sherry and wine importer, partner in Ruskin, Telford and Domecq, his mother an innkeeper’s daughter. Both parents were fiercely ambitious for their son and he grew up in a hothouse atmosphere in Herne Hill, south London.  A road there bears his name today.

He first came to the attention of the art world with Modern Painters (1843) written while Ruskin was still at oxford. It was a passionate defence of the art of J.M.W.Turner and redefined art criticism of the day.  It brought him to the notice of luminaries such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte. This was followed by Modern Painters II (1846) written while on the Grand Tour with his parents. He married Effie Gray, the young daughter of a family friend in 1847. Together they journeyed to Venice where Ruskin worked on perhaps his most famous three-volume work The Stones of Venice (1851-1853). It was in The Nature of Gothic chapter in Vol II that he set out his belief in artisanal integrity and attacked industrial capitalism which had such an impact on socialists like William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.

The marriage was, apparently, unconsummated ( though Ruskin contested this ) and was subsequently annulled in 1854, though not before major scandal when Effie left Ruskin for John Everett Millais. Ruskin had championed the Pre-Raphealites and continued to do so, even providing a stipend for Elizabeth Siddal, Rosetti’s wife, to encourage her art.  He also became a firm friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. These friendships are documented in the exhibition, as is his late crossing of swords with James McNeill Whistler.  While the case bankrupted Whistler, it also tarnished Ruskin’s reputation and may have contributed to his mental decline. I have never understood how a devotee of Turner’s art could have denigrated Whistler’s and that isn’t something which is tackled here.

The exhibition shows items from the Ruskin collection at Sheffield including his Turner paintings and Durer engravings ( loved the cat ) as well as many of his own drawings and paintings.  In addition there are newly commissioned pieces exploring the legacy of Ruskin, from Timorous Beasties, Grizedale Arts, Hannah Dowling and Emilie Taylor.  I very much enjoyed Dan Holdsworth’s moving image Acceleration Structures, based on the peaks and crevasses of three Alpine glaciers above Chamonix, where Ruskin would sketch and paint.

Ruskin died at Brantwood House, on the shores of Coniston Water in January 1900. Lionised in his lifetime, his reputation suffered in he early years of the twentieth century, but his international influence continued, with his works translated into Russian ( Tolstoy was a fan ) into French by Proust and Gujarati by Gandhi. Architects, writers and educationalists, politicians and thinkers all acknowledge their debt to him.

The exhibition ends on 22nd April, so only three days left. It is FREE to enter.  A very good idea if you want something interesting and stimulating to do on a sunny Easter weekend. More details on the web-site here.

For more on the Pre-Raphealites, Arts and Crafts and earlier Temple Place exhibitions try                Edward Burne-Jones                      Arts and Crafts                      Walking Burne-Jones        Beyond Beauty                    Rhythm  Reaction: the Age of Jazz in Britain 

Soane and Kapoor

On Friday to leafy Ealing to see the newly opened, refurbished Pitzhanger Manor. country house and showcase for architect and collector Sir John Soane, with its attached art gallery. In the sunshine Ealing looked leafy indeed, with its Common and Green ( who knew, not me, certainly ). Still there, set back from the Uxbridge Road, the original Ealing Studios where so many classic films were made. We even found a handsome Georgian/early Victorian hostelry named The Sir Micheal Balcon, after the legendary producer and head of the studios in its heyday.

Sir John Soane’s house sits on Mattock Lane, Ealing Green, its neo-classic frontage and garden now behind a formal war memorial.  Entrance gates are to the right hand side of the formal gardens. Inside it is less chaotic – less mad – than his house and museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but it still demonstrates his distinct architectural style and idiosyncratic and impressive design. The interior has been meticulously restored to a very high standard, including the hand-painted and beautiful ‘chinese’ wallpaper in the gloriously light drawing room, the exquisite ceilings and ‘marbled’ walls.

The oldest part of the building is the south wing, which was build by Soane’s first employer George Dance and which Soane retained, demolishing the rest of the mansion and rebuilding it, including a colonnade of ‘ruins’, which now links the main house and the modern gallery.

Inside there is his trademark use of space and light, the arched ceilings, friezes and roundels, niches and other stone decoration, like the caryatids in the ground floor room, front right. It isn’t a large house and Soane uses a designer’s tricks to fool the eye, drawing the gaze through open, often mirrored doors, from room to room to give the impression of greater space. The entrance hall goes straight through the house to the long gallery at the rear and doors open off it, as well as rooms having linking doors between them.  The main staircase, of iron and stone, is off to the left beneath a large and elaborate skylight.  Jet, marble in various colours and, very clever, wallpaper of fake marble make the interior very dramatic.

I loved the long glass gallery which runs across the rear of the house and overlooks what would have been the private gardens, including a lake with rusticated bridge.  These have now been merged with Walpole Park (1901) a public park which includes another lake, formal gardens and a sporting pavilion. I also loved the two huge rooms in George Dance’s wing, the dining room on the ground floor and salon or drawing room on the first. I’m not surprised that Soane couldn’t bring himself to demolish this even if it means that the whole Manor has a rather lop-sided look.

On the other side of the central classical building there is a modern conversion of the old kitchen buildings into Pitzhanger Gallery. The current exhibition is by Anish Kapoor and it complements Soane perfectly. Kapoor’s mirrored and sculpted discs and boxes play with light, vision and sound just as Soane’s interiors do, tricking the eye.  The pieces are interactive and huge fun. A gallery employee told us that he saw something new in each of the pieces every day he turned up for work and took great pleasure in watching visitors play with the distortions. We certainly enjoyed doing so, taking photographs into the sculpted mirrors which captured one of us upside down in the middle ground while the other was the right way up nearer to the piece.

Entry to both house and Gallery is £7.70 (£4.95 concessions).  I recommend it highly, especially while the Kapoor is on, until 18th August.  Ealing Broadway is the nearest tube and rail station, turn left out of the station and follow the signs for Ealing Green (not Ealing Common as we did).  There are signs painted on to the pavement. There are plenty of places to eat and drink on the High Street.

Bonnard Colours

At Tate Modern’s big Spring exhibition yesterday I (and a lot of other people) enjoyed some vibrant Pierre Bonnard paintings. I confess that I hadn’t seen many before, indeed, I knew little about this contemporary of Matisse.

Born in a suburb of Paris, the son of a senior civil servant, Bonnard (1867 – 1947) began to show works in the 1890s. He met Toulouse-Lautrec and, in later life, was a regular visitor to Claude Monet at Giverny and a correspondent of Henri Matisse. The exhibition includes photographs of Bonnard, his studio in the south of France and his companion and wife, Marthe de Meligny, by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Ostier.

He is feted as a colourist and one can see why. He juxtaposes the very brightest of hues, many not found in nature, yet they capture nature. It is easy to understand that, in the depression of the 1930s, his pictures were regarded by critics and the art-loving public as happy and hopeful celebrations of nature, both wild and tamed. Some of the more serious and original aspects of his art were ignored.

He is fond of unusual perspectives, choosing to paint views, interior and exterior, through doors and windows, or through tunnels of greenery.  He painted landscapes, many around his house in Normandy and subsequently in the south of France where he bought a house. The red tiled roofs of Le Cannet and small towns around it feature prominently in the rooms covering his later life.

As do pictures of his wife bathing, and, indeed, it was one or two of these which I had come across before. De Meligny suffered from ill health and following the water cure prescribed for her, bathed every day. Bonnard painted her doing so. These paintings are full of light and reflected light, in the water, in the bathroom tiles and on the walls, They are also so full of pattern – the carpet, the bath robe – that I began to think of post Impressionists like Gauguin and Van Gogh.  One can also see the influence of the Japanese prints which Bonnard had admired so much in his formative years.

De Meligny was his principal human subject, though he often placed small figures at the forefront of his landscapes, sometimes just sketched lightly, like the shepherd who features in a number of them.

Bonnard’s interiors are equally colourful, though with the colours still found in older houses in rural France today – the dark-brown paint of doors and wood panelling, the distinctive blue-green of the shutters,the red-brown and sometimes black of the terracotta floor tiles.  I recognise these from visits to stay in the south of France.

The exhibition is a large one of twelve rooms.  I very much enjoyed it, despite the crowds. If, however, you asked me where Bonnard stood in my personal pantheon of  twentieth century European artists he wouldn’t be at the top of my list. That’s not to say that he wasn’t taking forward the ideas of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists ( though he preferred to paint from memory in the studio, not in the open air ), it’s just that more interesting developments were, by that time, taking place elsewhere.

The exhibition runs at Tate Modern until 6th May 2019 and costs £18 to enter. Booking is essential (unless you are a member) and be prepared for crowds.

For more posts about art in London see                   Doreen Fletcher; a Retrospective                 Art on the Underground               The Queens House                   Arts & Crafts             Edward Burne-Jones

Zurbaran: The Impossible Light…

…is the name of an excellent, fascinating exhibition in Jerez de la Frontera (until 10th March) and Cadiz, from 21st March until 28th April 2019. I saw it at the Claustros de Santo Domingo, the 13th century monastery which is now an exhibition and performance space in Jerez.  It is, in Jerez, FREE to enter and I recommend, if you are in the vicinity, that you go and see it.

Presented by Tercero efe, a quartet of photographers from Cadiz – Rafael Sanchez, Paco Rocha, Rafa Perez and Juan Martin Beardo – the exhibition is of life-size photographs which recreate the paintings of the seventeenth century Spanish master Francisco de Zurbaran using modern people and digital photographic techniques. The Zurbaran originals can be seen in the Museum of Cadiz ( see Falling Off a Ladder and Cadiz in the Rain ) which is worth a visit for all sorts of reasons, but the collections of Zurbarans and Murillos found therein are two of the best.

The originals are displayed in the Museum as if in a Church (see right and below), some of them having once hung in the Charterhouse at Cartuja, just outside Jerez. The photographers take each painting and pose modern individuals in the attitude of the subject, adding backgrounds and, sometimes, suitable clothing using digital photography techniques far removed from the simple photoshop. In particular the works attempt to recreate the stunning light and shade of the originals, the chiaroscuro which earned Zurbaran the nickname ‘the Spanish Caravaggio’. The paintings are astonishingly clear and precise, with knife sharp edges to the drapery and the photographs capture this amazingly well. They also recreate the human portraits, often to great effect ( the modern faces taking on a timeless quality ).  As the accompanying leaflet says, however, Zurbaran had only the ‘trickeries’ of paint and light to help him with his creations.

I particularly liked the wonderful version of the Angel with Incense, one of only four which feature women as their subjects (this isn’t  a criticism, there aren’t that many female subjects among the Cadiz Zurbarans and the two Angels are very fine).  Saint Hugh With Swan was another favourite – Saint Hugh was the Bishop of Lincoln.  But all of the photographs were astonishing. They make one consider the nature of art, authenticity and verisimilitude, especially given a series of additional works, which are inspired by but not recreations of the original paintings. These photographs of individuals as clerics or saints, posed in suitable attitudes and in the style of Zurbaran are created from the imaginations of the photographers.

There is an interesting video showing how the photographs were created and modern people were transformed into seventeenth century masterpieces.  I include a link below to a Youtube video (in Spanish) in which the arts presenter talks about the exhibition and there are interviews with two of the photographers.

If you would like to read more about past exhibitions in the Claustros de Santo Domingo and/or at this or previous Festivals de Jerez, see                Indomitable Women        White Villages and Desert           Festival Art 2018                  Street Art

Festival de Jerez 2019

For us another fabulous Festival de Jerez is over. We have all gone our separate ways, though performances at the 2019 Festival continue until next weekend.  Yet again we have been astounded and amazed by the quality, as well as the variety, on offer.

Festival de Jerez 2019 was also the Festival Feminista, a full-throated riposte to recent regional elections in which, for the first time since Franco, representatives of the far right, via the new party called Vox, won seats in the Andalucian Parliament. Vox stands on a specific anti-feminist platform, as well as being anti-immigration and advocating what sounds like a return to the 1950s. So there was a full supporting programme of events for feminists of both genders. The Festival also had plenty of female headliners – Ana Morales, Eva Yerbabeuna, Maria Pages and, on Saturday, Mercedes Ruiz.

We saw Ruiz at the Teatro Villamarta, where she was joined by some famous fellow performers, including some old favourites. The performance, entitled Tauromagia featured original music and composition from flamenco great Manolo Sanlucar, re-interpreted by Santiago Lara as music director ( see The Guitar in Time and Jazz Guitar ) and singer and setter of text, David Lagos. This reunited three of the four protagonists of Lamento a phenomenal performance which we saw at the 2016 Festival. Ruiz was in fine form throughout, dancing with second soloist, Ana Agraz and a fine cuerpo de baile, Beatriz Santiago, Aurora Carabello and Vanesa Reyes.  We, like the rest of a very full theatre, were enthralled and entranced.  The ovation at the end of the performance lasted a long time, and justifiably so.

It was probably just co-incidence, but we saw more dancing this time than usual. Not just the established stars but some newer, up and comers. So, at Sala Paul, Bodegon, an intriguing set by Jose Maldonado, Javier Latorre and Carmen Coy. This had first been performed at a Festival in France in 2016 but had been developing since. We had seen Maldonado as a member of Miguel Linan’s company in 2016 ( see Reversible ), representing the masculine. Here he had a more fluid style although still exhibiting classical training and remarkable athleticism in a set originally directed by Linan. A modern dance piece with flamenco at its heart it was about creativity and art and involved the principal painting pictures with both paint and light, a remarkable Coy acting as muse, creative idea and, possibly creation.  I do not pretend to have understood it all, but I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to see what this talented dancer does next.

The other dancer new to us was Adrian Santana, who we saw deliver Simbiosis, a more traditional set in Sala Compania on Monday night. Traditional, but still with new ideas.  Two male singers sang separately and together of love and loss as Santana and Agueda Saavedra formed a wonderful partnership, dancing solo and together. Stunning.  Afterwards we kept bumping into the performers, now in civvies, but still on a high from the tremendous reception given to their performance and out on the town.  A terrific end to our sojourn at the 2019 Festival.

And guess what, it didn’t rain. Not a drop.  Unlike last year ( see 2018 Round Up ).  Now London awaits the arrival of a clutch of starry flamenco talent at Sadlers Wells Flamenco Festival 2019. This has finally moved from February/March when it repeatedly clashed with the Festival de Jerez to July.  Hooray – two flamenco festivals a year!

For more flamenco try                 Camerata Flamenco Project                           Lola  Dancing to Different Tunes

Some of these photographs are by Javier Fergo for the Festival de Jerez, others by Helen Hughes.

Doreen Fletcher, A Retrospective

Doreen Fletcher painted the streets of East London until she gave up painting in 2004, discouraged by the lack of interest and recognition. In 2015 a chance encounter with The Gentle Author – writer, blogger and publisher – of Spitalfields Life, resulted in her paintings being brought to a new public, largely via social media.  I first saw some of her work in the exhibition Henry Silk and the East End Vernacular at Abbott & Holder in 2018. A few of her paintings, not for sale, hung in the second ‘Other artists’ room and I blogged about them, admiring their Edward Hopper like quality, their similarity to the American in subject matter, in vibrant colours, unusual viewpoints and the rendering of people, small and anonymous, but never insignificant, within the built environment.

Last night saw the launch of Doreen Fletcher, A Retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow Road and we went along. We arrived at six when the doors opened, but by a quarter to seven it was impossible to move. The show had featured in BBC Online and The Guardian and was ‘exhibition of the week’ in The New Statesman so a lot of interest had been generated. Tremendous for the artist, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves, but less so for the viewer. Nonetheless I was able to catch a quick word with The Gentle Author, though not with Doreen herself.

The Nunnery Gallery is housed in a nineteenth century former convent and has two viewing rooms and a bar and the paintings were in all of them, though it grew increasingly difficult to move from one to another and we finally gave up.  We will go back, because the paintings deserve greater concentration and contemplation than we were able to give them yesterday.

The art is representational, a faithful depiction of place. She says ‘My concern as an artist is with the pockets of life we ignore’ and she is a painter of the ‘almost gone’. So this exhibition is, amongst other things, a social document of a lost place and time and way of life.

The scenes are often flat, a shop  or cafe front, head on to the viewer with strong horizontals ( I never realised just how many East End streets had pavement railings until seeing Fletcher’s paintings ). She shows the pattern and colour within these flat frontages – Pubali Cafe, Limehouse (1996) with its pinks and blues and Pepsi signs; VIP Garage, Commercial Road (2001) with that green which is rarely found in nature but is often a feature of urban, painted environments; the Launderette, Ben Jonson Road (2003) with its grid of metal shutters and metallic signs.  These are depictions of real places and are perfectly realised paintings.

I particularly like the paintings which have interesting perspectives, the corner of roads, like The Lino Shop, Poplar (2003), Ragged School Museum, Stepney (2017) and Fried Chicken Shop, Silvertown (2017).  Salmon Road in the Rain (1987) is a favourite of mine, with its blue sky after rain and the reflections in a road still wet.  Bartlett Park, Poplar (1990) is a depiction of a road junction and subject matter doesn’t get more quotidian than that, as the road leads the viewer off to the block of maisonettes passed the one brick building and its bill-boards and smoking chimney.

Fletcher is also interested in light, so many pictures are set at dusk or night time and with unusual viewpoints, from under a railway or canal bridge, rather like some of the viewpoints used by the Impressionists when they painted the urban environment. The good news is that she is painting again and some of her later works are included in this show.

I can thoroughly recommend this exhibition. Go, it’s free, runs until 24th March  and the Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and, because I always like to end with a book, how about Doreen Fletcher, Paintings (2018, Spitalfields Life Books ).  Some of the images in this blog are taken therefrom and do not do justice to either the paintings or the quality of their printed reproductions.

For more articles about art and exhibitions on The Story Bazaar see   Art on the Underground         Walking Burne Jones            Frida Kahlo