NGI Renovated and Renewed

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During my visit to the National Galley of Ireland I was able to take a look at the older parts of the building that only reopened on June 15th. They’ve been closed for the past six years for extensive renovation works including building repairs, fire upgrading, environmental controls and improving accessibility.

First impressions were that the architects in charge of the project, Heneghan Peng, who were also responsible for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre, had done a good job. All the services have been well hidden and the older rooms, which I remember looking tired when I last visited them, have been refreshed and brightened up. Windows in the Shaw room, that were previously covered over to facilitate the hanging of paintings, have been uncovered making it a much brighter space lit with natural light.

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They’ve also created an airy, bright covered courtyard in the space between the between the Dargan Wing and the 1901 Milltown Wing

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At one end of the courtyard there’s a rather beautiful sinuous wooden sculpture, Magnus Modus, by Joseph Walsh, made of olive ash with a Kilkenny limestone base. It was commissioned by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the National Gallery of Ireland.

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Harry Clarke at the NGI

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The National Gallery of Ireland fully opened earlier this year, following renovations that have taken 4 years to complete. During this period most of the Gallery’s collection has been locked away in storage, so, although I didn’t have much time left before the gallery closed for the day after visiting the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Paintingand Käthe Kollwitz exhibitions and listening to the musicians in the Performance Art event, I found some time to wander round the permanent collection.

The Gallery has a small collection of Irish stained glass so I made my way to the room where its on display and was immediately drawn to two stunning pieces, one large and one small, by Harry Clarke, a leading exponent of the Celtic Revival and of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement at the beginning of the 20th century. I’m a big fan of his work which I’ve seen at the hUgh Lane Gallery in Dublin and the Honan Chapel in Cork

The larger of the two works is The Mother of Sorrows

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The  Gallery website tells us that this window

was made as a Memorial to Sister Superior of Saint Wilfrid, Principal of Dowanhill Training College, Glasgow. Following the success of Harry’s window, The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin, for the convent chapel at Dowanhill in Glasgow in 1922, the superior, Sister Wilfrid, ordered a further war memorial window to commemorate the victims of the First World War. The Mother of Sorrows was commissioned by Sister Wilfrid in 1926, based on the pieta (Bowe, in Christie’s website, Lot 86, The Irish Sale, May 17th 2002).
Due to Sister Wilfrid’s sudden death the window was erected in Glasgow on 24 January 1927 and became her memorial.

It was purchased by the NGI in 2002

The smaller piece, The Song of the Mad Prince, based on a poem by Walter de la Mare is particularly beautiful.

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The song of the mad prince is an exquisite panel housed in a James Hicks cabinet. A small light at the back of the cabinet illuminates the panel. The panel is made up of two sheets of flashed glass; flashed blue glass is on top and flashed ruby glass is underneath.
The panel was originally made for Thomas Bodkin, Harry’s friend and patron.

Clarke’s work certainly is exquisite. Very much influenced by the Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Arts and Crafts movement with finely drawn figures, minutely detailed images and luminous colours. These photos, snapped with a mobile phone, really can’t do them justice; they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be really appreciated.

Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death, War at the NGI

Leaving the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting exhibition at the National Galley of Ireland I spotted that there was an exhibition of works by Käthe Kollwitz in the Print Gallery.

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Käthe Schmidt was born in Königsberg, 150 years ago on on 8th July 1867  in what was then in East Prussia (today Kaliningrad, Russia). However she lived most of her life in Berlin where she studied and later married Karl Kollwitz, a doctor living for the half century in Prenzlauer Berg, a working class suburb of North Berlin and one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. Her husband worked for a workers’ health insurance fund and often treated the working poor free of charge. Initially trained as a painter, Kollwitz began to focus on the graphic arts – drawing, etching, woodcuts – and sculpture. Influenced by the writings of Emile Zola, her subjects were ordinary people, the downtrodden and the repressed with a particular emphasis on the suffering of women. Her work is dominated by images of death, war and social injustice.

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Self portrait

The couple had two sons, Hans and Peter. After the outbreak of WWI, Peter, who was only eighteen, volunteered for the German Army. He died on the Western front in 1914, soon after he’d arrived and this left an indelible impression on Käthe who had persuaded her husband to allow the 18 year old to enlist.

The exhibition features 38 prints and drawings from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany along with two lithographs from the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection. It includes two of her print cycles, Peasant War and War, and a number of what are described as “honest” self-portraits.

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The Plough from the Peasant War  series

Kollwitz’s dark images were a stark contract to the paintings I’d just viewed of domestic scenes from well off middle class life during the Dutch Golden Age. They portrayed the reality of life for people living in poverty, in harsh conditions and suffering the impact of war.  And although she worked during the first half of last century they remain relevant today. Her images of the impact of war could have been created in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and poverty still exists even in Europe and America.

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The Prisoners from the Peasant War Series

As it’s the 150th anniversary of her birth there’s been a number of articles about her life and work. A number I’ve read question her political commitment and see her as an outsider, even something of a voyeur – observing the life of workers and their families but with no real commitment to social justice. Personally, I find that difficult to believe. Her work shows a passion that must be based on sympathy and a desire for change.

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The Widow I from the War series of woodcuts

 

An indictment of the social conditions in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th century, it’s impossible for anyone with a social conscience and a feeling for social injustice not to be moved by her stark black and white images.

 

Performance Art at the NGI

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Just after I’d arrived at the National Gallery of Ireland on Sunday and was starting to explore (I had a couple of hours before my time slot for the main exhibition), when I wandered into the Shaw room, a rather grand large room close to the Merion Square entrance, it was clear something was going on. I could see a group of people with musical instruments who were clearly setting up to perform and several people setting up easels.

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It didn’t take me long to suss out what was going on. Like most Galleries holding major exhibitions, the National Gallery of Ireland has held a number of events to accompany the Vermeer and Masters of Genre Painting Exhibition, and this was one of them.

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Many of the paintings in the exhibition feature musicians and musical instruments from the Dutch “Golden Age”– virginals, lutes, harpsichords, violas and the like as well as singers. So the Gallery had organised a collaborative event – Performance Art – with the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Musicians from the RIAM performed music from the Dutch Golden Age on instruments of the time, while members of the RHA had set up their easels so they record the scene live – sketching and drawing.

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A good crowd gathered to watch the musicians and the artists at work. It was an enjoyable event and I stayed for a good hour, only leaving because it was getting close to my time slot to see the exhibition.

The musicians were Catriona O’Mahony playing baroque violin, Miriam Kaczor who played the recorder and baroque flute,

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David Adams on harpsichord, Andrew Robinson, who played the viol and lute,

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who also told us a little about the instruments and the type of music that was played during the Golden Age

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and soprano Clodagh Kinsella.

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The artists were Una Sealy, Blaise Smith, Cian Mcloughlin, Sean Molloy and Comnghall Casey. They didn’t seem to be at all put off by everyone watching them at work and taking photographs.

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Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting in Dublin

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I’m back in Ireland this week and on Sunday I got up early to drive over to Holyhead and caught the 9 o’clocferry so I could spend an afternoon in Dublin. I was keen to visit the newly refurbished National Gallery of Ireland and take a look at the exhibition of Dutch Genre paintings that was coming to the end of it’s run.

I’d heard of this exhibition, which is a joint project with the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington and curated by Dr. Adriaan Waiboer, Head of collections and research, National Gallery of Ireland, when it was showing in Paris and I was hoping I’d have the chance to see it in Dublin. I thought I was going to be disappointed as a week’s work I had planned in Ireland was postponed, but when it was back on again it gave me an opportunity to see it before it closes on 17 September. Luckily I sorted out a ticket on the internet at the same time as I was sorting out my ferry as it sold out a few days before I arrived.

Vermeer’s name dominates the adverts for the exhibition, but the majority of the 63 paintings  on show are by other artists. However, 10 of them are by Vermeer – a fair proportion of his work as only 34 paintings are firmly attributed to him, with question marks over a further three. The other artists represented are his contemporaries, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Caspar Netscher and Jan Steen. I’ve become more familiar with the Dutch Genre style ever since we visited Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2012 and I’d seen, and learned to appreciate, a number of the paintings previously, particularly works by ter Borch and Metsu.

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Woman writing (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The theme of the exhibition is to

explore the fascinating network of relationships between Vermeer and Dutch genre painters of the period 1650 to 1675, and will give visitors an insight into how Vermeer and his contemporaries admired, inspired and rivalled each other. (NGI website)

The Netherlands is a small country and it would be ridiculous to think that Dutch artists in the same period and living in relatively close proximity wouldn’t know each other, be aware of each other’s work and be influenced by each other.

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Woman with a balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Each wall in the gallery takes a different theme – women writing letters, women with their backs to the viewer,musical duets, women with lutes, astronomers, lace makers, and even a woman holding a parrot. For each of these themes there are a small group of paintings by different artists and the audio guide and accompanying booklet outlines connections – who came up with the idea, who was influenced by it, how they changed the composition etc.

There wasn’t a Vermeer in every group, but when there was it tended to stand out. There’s something about his work – the composition, the more natural, relaxed posing of his models, the way he uses light – that appeals to modern taste. However, in some of the groups I preferred the work of a different artist. For example the group of men and women writing letters. This included Dublin’s own Vermeer and two paintings they own by Metsu. I actually prefer the latter. But these were exceptions.

I hadn’t seen six of the ten Vermeers in the exhibition and many of the other paintings were new to me. So a worthwhile visit from that point of view.

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The Geographer (Staedel Museum, Frankfurt-am-Main)

As the exhibition was sold out I’d expected to be in the middle of a scrum and straining to see the pictures. But that wasn’t the case. The gallery space was quite airy and the number of people had clearly been restricted, making this a pleasurable experience. When a group were around a particular painting or group of paintings, after a few minutes they had moved on and it was posisble to get a closer look. And it was also possible to move backwards and forwards taking a second, third or fourth look at individual pictures.

So a much anticipated exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed. It was worth getting up early!

“Affecting Change” at the Open Eye

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While we were in Liverpool last weekend we called into the Open Eye Gallery which is located in one of the modern glass buildings at Man Island near the Pier Head. The photographic gallery is in it’s 40th year and it’s always worth  a visit to have a look at whatever exhibition is on. We’ve seen some excellent photographs and discovered some talented photographers during our visits.

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The current exhibition Affecting Change

looks at how real change is made today, and what role photography has in that process. The exhibition features five rising photographers working in the North West.

The works on show look into the daily lives of people working hard to transform the lives of others. The artists have worked in collaboration with various collectives across Liverpool, a city renowned for transcending insular politics by championing positive change.

There’s even an opportunity for visitors to contribute their views on how to affect change, originally by writing on the wall (see photo at the head of this post), but as this has become filled up (obviously plenty of people have views on this!) the comments have to be written on sticky notes that can be stuck to the nearby door.

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Addressing the issue of how migrants are treated, Yetunde Adebiyi has produced a series of photographs based around the work of Between the Borders, an organisation dedicated to improving the experiences of asylum seekers.

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I particularly liked the wall of photographs by Jane MacNeil 

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There are controversial plans to redevelop the North Docks area on the Liverpool waterfront. A lot of the publicity has focused on how the development could affect the look of the historic waterfront with talk of removing its Unesco world heritage site status. There’s been less written about the affect a major development will have on the people currently living and working there. Working with the North Docks Community Group, the photographer has produced a series of images , featuring people from the local community and the places where they live and work.

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Jane MacNeil usually specialises in street photography, so this series based on posed portraits is something of a departure for her. But a successful one in my view.

Upstairs, Danny Ryder has recreated the inside of the not-for-profit radical bookshop News From Nowhere. Now located in Bold Street, a street of independent shops, many years ago I used to spend many an hour browsing the shelves in the shop in its original location near the entrance to the Queensway Mersey Tunnel.

The replica bookshop also functions as a reading room and social space, with seating and hot drinks provided.

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The Danger Tree – Paint and Pixels

During our visit to Liverpool on Bank Holiday Monday, while we were passing the Mann Island buildings we spotted that there was an art exhibition in the unit on the end, facing the Museum of Liverpool. It was free entry so we decided to take a look.

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The exhibition was titled “The Danger Tree” and featured the paintings of a British artist, Scarlett Raven. The paintings were hung in what resembled a set for a play about the First World War – a bombed out gallery on the French / Belgium borders in1916 . As we entered the gallery we were given headphones and an iPad, which included an app – Blippar. Pointing the iPad camera at one of the paintings .and up popped an interactive viewing the paintings and the story inspired by the artwork by digital artist Marc Marot..

The artist creates her works by applying layers of paint, building up a thick impasto image, mainly fields of flowers and seascapes. A series of photographs taken of each of the layers are shown by the app allowing the viewer to see how the painting was built up. In addition there were animations of photographs and images – digital art – based around stories and poems from WWI, with music, recordings of soldiers from the War and a narrations from leading actors including Stephen Graham, Christopher Eccleston, Sean Bean, Vicky McClure and Sophie Okonedo., who read out poems by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke.

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It was well done and after popping in out of curiosity we spent a good hour viewing the paintings and the accompanying interactive works. I though the paintings were attractive, and the interactive art very professional and well done. It was interesting to see how the paintings were built up. However the digital art probably dominated and distracted somewhat from the physical “analogue” art. I also thought that the link between some of the paintings and the theme of WWI was a little tenuous. But we enjoyed the exhibition and the novelty of the digital content, enough to purchase the exhibition guide. I downloaded the Blippar app onto my phone and by focusing on the reproduced paintings in the book we can view the digital content. Indeed, if you do the same and focus it on the images of the paintings in this post, you can see them for yourself

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