A few works at Tate Modern

After looking round the Red Star Over Russia exhibition, I spent about an hour having a wander round some of the free galleries at Tate Modern.  I’ve been to the Gallery several times recently, but it’s so big with a massive collection (of which only a fraction is on display at any one time) that I always seem to spot something I hadn’t seen before.

This poster from a collection on display from the May 68 events in Paris (50th anniversary coming up soon)  by the Atelier Populaire rather resonated with the exhibition I’d just seen


I rather liked this 3 dimensional work by Victor Passmore


Abstract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink (1963)

A pleasing discovery was a number of photographs by the German photographer Werner Mantz.


Werner Mantz began his career as a portrait and advertising photographer, later becoming known for his architectural photographs of the modernist housing projects in Cologne during the 1920s. His work is linked with the “New Objectivity” Movement in German photography before the Second World War which was concerned with using the clarity and precision of the camera to depict the everyday world in structured and organised compositions.

The photographs again linked with the Red Star Over Russia exhibition as they were similar in many ways with the photographs by Rodchenko.

I particularly liked this image dominated by the shadow of the lamppost


Detail of Kalkerfield settlement, Cologne 1928


Red Star Over Russia


November 7  2017 marked the centenary of Russia’s October Revolution when the workers and peasants overthrew the oppressive Tsarist regime. The apparent contradiction arising as Russia at that time still used the Julian Calendar which was several days behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West so as far as the Russians were concerned the date was 25 October.  This exhibition at Tate Modern featuring posters, prints, photographs and other images collected by the photographer and graphic designer David King, who died only recently in 2016, is meant to mark the historic event.

The Revolution started with great hope and optimism about creating a new kind of Society, unleashing enormous creativity by artists who supported its aims. Sadly in the face of counter revolutionary forces supported by the west the early idealism turned sour leading to the vicious dictatorship of Josef Stalin.

David King collected over 250,000 books, journals, posters, documents and newspapers dating from the Russian Revolution to the Khrushchev era which were acquired by the Tate just before his death. A cross section of the collection is included in this exhibition, which uses them to give visitors a glimpse of life in the Soviet Union during this period. As the Guardian’s review puts it, it’s

a condensed vision of five decades of Soviet hopes ending in devastation and despair.


I’m not going to attempt a full survey or critique of the exhibition but, as photography was allowed, here’s some of my favourites from the items on display.

From the early optimisitic days of the Revolution, the first room included this banner


and a wall covered with prints and posters



which included El Lissitzky‘s well known Supremacist poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919)

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The red triangle driving into a white disc against a black ground, urging the revolutionary Bolsheviks to defeat the reactionary White Russians. 

Underneath, this imaginative work – a photomontage making up a hammer and sickle by Yakov Guminer

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The next room was my favourite with the photographs and graphic work by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky both of who also produced works in collaboration with their wives, Varvara Stepanova and Sophie Küppers respectively.

There were a number of extraordinarily brilliant ground breaking photographs by Rodchenko


and a series of abstract graphic works by El Lissitzky


There were also examples of the journal, USSR in Construction, to which both couples contributed photomontage and other design elements.


In the next room the walls were lined with a series of photographs providing snapshots of the history of Russia from 1905 until WWII.

Unfortunately the period of experimentation and radical art didn’t last long. 1934 saw the dawn of “Socialist Realism”, the Stalinist State dictating that artists should use realist styles to create highly optimistic depictions of Soviet life. There was a typical example of this in the next room with a series of large paintings by Alexander Deineka  produced for the 1937 International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris, portraying   which “fused reality with aspiration”.

The next room brought us back down to Earth. Here there were “before and after” photographs showing us how leaders and other individuals who fell out of favour with the Stalinist regime were “erased from history”. And there was a particularly moving display of photos of some of the many hundreds of thousands of people, many of them true Revolutionaries, who were murdered by the Stalinist State.


The final room featured posters and photographs from the period following the German invasion in 1941when artists were mobilised to create propaganda, in some cases reworking images from the early revolutionary period.

I enjoyed looking around the exhibition and was pleased that I’d had the opportunity to catch it before it closed. And I still had an hour or so to spare to look round some of the free displays before I had to leave to catch my train.


LAND | SEA | LIFE at Abbot Hall

A couple of weeks ago we finally made it across to Abbot Hall to see the latest exhibition Land|Sea|Life which features works from the Ingram Collection, and which was coming towards the end of it’s run. The exhibition include 70 “Modern British” works by over 40 artists , including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Graham Sutherland and Laura Knight.

The collection has been put together over the last decade by media entrepreneur Chris Ingram. He’s been lucky enough to indulge his passion amassing over 650 works. But he doesn’t simply display them all in his home (probably homes, being a millionaire!). The Collection is currently housed at The Lightbox – a gallery and museum in his hometown of Woking. His taste very much aligns with my own. There wasn’t a work on display at Abbot Hall I didn’t like and looking at the 2 volume catalogue from the Collection confirmed this view.

No photographs, so I’ve restricted this post to images available on the Abbot Hall website, which are only a fraction of the works displayed. This is a drawing by Barbara Hepworth and is clearly a preliminary for a work, the “plaster” of which, is in the Hepworth Gallery collection.



The Ship by John Piper

Most of the exhibits were 2 D works –  paintings, drawings and prints. But there were a number of sculptures, including this attractive vase like bronze object by Kenneth Armitage which rather reminded me of Barbara Hepworth’s work.


Although I was familiar with many of the artists included in the exhibition, there were some new discoveries (always good!).  One of these included John Tunnard who had several works on display. I particularly liked his tempura painting, Installation from 1942.

Another discovery was Edward Burra. One of his works Near Whitby, Yorkshire (1972)features in the video introduction to the exhibition (above) by Jo Baring, the Collection’s Director and Curator. The other works on display were probably more typical of his work; caricature like paintings of people, many of them workers. These included Figure Composition No1 (1976) which features a group of ordinary people going about their everyday business on a busy street, and Seamen Ashore, Greenock (1944) which does what it says on the tin!

A sculpture that took my eye was Ghost Boat  (2003) by the Irish artist, John Behan

Three of my favourite works in the exhibition were by an artist I had come across before, Keith Vaughan. They were ink/gouache and ink/watercolour drawings of buildings from the industrial region of the West Yorkshire Pennines – Village in the Hills (1943), Schoolhouse, Yorkshire (1945) and Industrial Landscape III, Morton Mill (1943). They rather reminded me of landscapes by John Piper.

There were plenty others I could mention, but I think that’s enough for now! Although there wasn’t one specifically for the exhibition, here were a couple of catalogues from the collection on sale at Abbot Hall which include the works on display and many more. Images can also be browsed on the Collection’s website .

NGV Australia – Non Indigenous works

There was a lot to see in the NGV Australia gallery on Federation Square. We’d particularly interested in the work of Indigenous artists but there were plenty of other works that we enjoyed. Most were by artists that we weren’t aware of until our visits to the NGV and the galleries in Sydney and Canberra. So here’s a few of our “discoveries”.

Arthur Streeton, who painted in an Impressionist style, was one of Australia’s best known and most influential landscape painters. Here’s a painting of Circular Quay in Sydney

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and another of Coogee beach in Sydney which we’d visited during our stay there.

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This is a view of a seemingly secluded part of Sydney Harbour

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There were works by other Australian Impressionists too. here’s a painting by Charles Conder, of Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris, Melbourne.

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Female artists were represented in the collection, although, as usual, there were fewer of their works on display than those by men.  I particularly liked this painting by Grace Cossington Smith, an Australian Post Impressionist.


Crowd(c 1922)

Fred Williams was originally a figurative painter, but is best known for his later, abstract landscapes


Mittagong Landscape (1958)

I loved this mixed media work by Elwyn Lynn


Ebb (1964)

And another by Asher Bilu


Yuga II (1966)

Indigenous art at NGV Australia

The National Gallery of Victoria’s “Ian Potter Centre” is the sister gallery to NGV International, which we’d visited the day after we’d arrived in Melbourne. Part of the Federation Square complex, and housed in one of the abstract modern buildings, it is, as it’s name suggests, dedicated exclusively to showing Australian art, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from the colonial period to the present day.

There are 20 individual galleries displaying hundreds of works of art, both from the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. We spent just about the whole of our last afternoon in Australia looking around the gallery, hardly pausing for a break. By the end we were “arted out” and there was still more to see.

We started out by looking around the galleries displaying indigenous art. During my previous visit, in 2014, the works were located on the ground floor. This time they were mainly concentrated in galleries on the top floor.


As with the indigenous works we’d seen in Sydney and Canberra, the artists had largely employed traditional styles, which are abstract and representational rather than figurative. There was much use of coloured dots and cross hatching (known as ‘Rarrk’) and  traditional media, such as tree bark, and materials. However, many of the works had been created using modern materials such as acrylics and canvas. The works themselves, although employing traditional approaches and ideas, were imaginative and the artists have built on these to create  imaginative modern works. Here’s just a selection


Modigliani at Tate Modern


The first Friday in January and our first full day in London in 2018. I was up fairly early as I needed to make a work related call but after that we left the Premier Inn, leaving our bags to pick up later, and took the Tube over to London Bridge. We were heading for Tate Modern as we wanted to visit the Modigliani exhibition that had opened at the end of November. A Sephardic Jew originally from Livorno in Italy, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906. He had a hedonistic lifestyle drinking to excess, indulging in other chemical highs, and died young from the complications of alcoholism at the age of 35. This exhibition is a comprehensive survey of his work created during his all too brief time in the French Capital.


After visiting the Cezanne exhibition at the NPG the previous evening, this was our second exhibition of portraits in 24 hours and a chance to “compare and contrast”, especially as Modigliani was influenced by Cezanne’s work. I think that of the two exhibitions I enjoyed the Modigliani more. The paintings were easier to like – Cézanne’s were more complex and darker in some respects. And Modigliani has been a favourite for some time.


Self portrait (1919)

Unlike Cezanne, who also well known for his landscapes and still lives, Modigliani was something of a “one trick” artist , a painter of portraits. There is one small landscape included in the Tate’s show, but it’s best forgotten. But I love his distinctive portraits with their stylised long necks, oval faces and almond eyes, influenced by African and Egyptian art. Looking up close at so many of his paintings it was possible to see that he used paint sparingly, applied thinly compared to Cezanne. Possibly a stylistic choice but also, no doubt, influenced by financial considerations.

Portrait of a Girl c.1917 by Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920

Portrait of a Girl c.1917 Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920 Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04723


He did try his hand as a sculptor, though, and there’s a room full of his sculptures early in the exhibition. As with his paintings, they’re stylised heads

Head c.1911-2 by Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920

As Modigliani was almost a caricature of an impoverished, bohemian artist, he surreptitiously “procured” his stone from building sites around Montparnasse and this was evident in some of the pieces on display where decorative architectural features were visible.

Many of the portraits were of his friends and patrons, including




Room 8 was largely devoted to female nudes



Nu couché, (1917-18)

The exhibition website tells us that

At the time, these modern nudes proved shocking. In 1917, when some of the paintings were included in Modigliani’s only lifetime solo exhibition, a police commissioner asked for their removal on the grounds of indecency. He found their pubic hair offensive. Traditionally, in fine art, nudes were hair-free.

Personally, I found these some of the less interesting paintings in the exhibition. In a few cases paintings of the model clothed were displayed next to the nude painting. I found these much more interesting and attractive.

The exhibition blurb also tells us that

If Modigliani made these paintings for male buyers, their sensuality suggests changes in the lives of young women, who were increasingly independent in the 1910s. The models dominate the compositions, often making eye contact with the viewer, their made-up faces hinting at the growing influence of female film stars.

I’m not convinced by this analysis. I’m pretty certain that these paintings were created for the titillation of their wealthy male buyers and I doubt Modigliani’s motivation was to make a feminist statement.

Following on from the nudes there were portraits painted during a stay in the South of France from the end of 1918, returning to Paris the following year.  The exhibition guide tells us

Modigliani made some of his strongest works in Nice. ………… In the absence of professional models, he painted local children and his friends, capturing them in warm Mediterranean colours.


The Little Peasant c.1918 © Tate

The next section of the exhibition was something different – a virtual reality experience. After queuing for a short while we entered a room where we sat down and were given a VR headset and were able to view the interior of Modigliani’s studio in Montparnasse.


Through study of documentary material and of Modigliani’s works themselves, the environment in which the artist made his last works is reimagined. In this room you can immerse yourself in a virtual reality recreation of Modigliani’s final studio, which uses the actual studio space as a template.

The next room featured portraits of Modigliani’s “intimate circle” – his closest friends, including his art dealer, Léopold Zborowski and his partner Anna Sierzpowski (known as Hanka Zborowska).


The exhibitions ends with a row of portraits of his last lover, a young aspiring artist, Jeanne Hebuterne who he met in the spring of 1917 when she was 19. Despite the objections of her parents they set up home together and a daughter was born in November 1918 while they were briefly living in Nice in the South of France. Tragically, the day after he died, despite being nine months pregnant with her second child, she threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window the day after Modigliani’s death, killing herself and her unborn child.

Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne are a marked contrast to Cezzane’s painting of his wife. Unlike poor Mrs Cezanne, Jeanne comes across as a strong, beautiful young woman.


All in all a very enjoyable exhibition. Together with the Cezanne exhibition we’d seen the previous evening it made it worthwhile staying down in London for a night.


Cezanne Portraits at the NPG


The Thursday immediately after the Christmas break I had to go down to London for a meeting so we took the opportunity to have a short break in the Capital as there was a couple of exhibitions we particularly wanted to see. We were lucky in managing to book a room in the Euston Premier Inn for less than £60 – a remarkable bargain these days.

After my meeting in Southwark had finished late afternoon, I crossed the river and took the bus from near St Paul’s


over to Trafalgar Square to meet my wife in the National Gallery where she’d been spending a few hours. We went back inside for a quick look at some favourite paintings and the small exhibition of paintings by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela of Lake Keitele in his native country. No photos allowed but I downloaded this picture from the National Gallery’s website (under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons licence)


Lake Keitele (1905) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The National Gallery’s website tells us

For the first time in the UK, this exhibition unites all of Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’ landscapes. They are displayed side by side, showing the gradual shift of the composition, between naturalistic landscape and highly stylised, abstracted image. They also illuminate the various influences, Finnish and foreign, absorbed by this highly distinctive and versatile artist.

The National Gallery closes at 6 so we made our way out onto Trafalgar Square and past St Martins in the Field


round to the National Portrait Gallery which is open late on Thursday evening.

We had a look round taking in some old favourites – the Elizabethan gallery and portraits of some of my “heroes” including William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Humphry Davy – and some new discoveries before purchasing tickets for the exhibition of Cezanne portraits.

This is a major exhibition with 50 portraits by Cezanne, which has already been shown in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris and will later move on to National Gallery of Art in Washington.

As usual over here no photos allowed (how different it was in Australia where we could take photos even in paid exhibitions) but there’s a short youtube video showing highlights

The portraits are mainly of his family and friends with some of other people he knew – including workers from around where he lived, one in particular who posed for some well known paintings. There are also a good number of self portraits. Covering the whole of his career, it’s possible to see how Cezanne’s technique changed and evolved. Some early portraits, including one of his uncle Dominique, have been painted with a pallet knife rather than a brush.

One person who appears more than anyone else in the exhibition is Marie-Hortense Fiquet  his wife,  who he met in Paris when he was 30 and she was 19. He painted her about 30 times and a good number of these portraits are included in the exhibition.


Portrait of Madame Cézanne with Loosened Hair, c. 1883 – 1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source: Wikipedia)

It’s very interesting to see how his portrayal of her changed over the years. She doesn’t look particularly happy in any of them and the later portraits are far from flattering to say the least. What does it say about their relationship? He married her against the wishes of his family and stuck with her until he died so he surely can’t have hated her and in those days wealthy men could easily discard a wife or lover. It’s well known that he was a miserable so and so, so perhaps that was reflected in his paintings of her or does it just reflect how his art evolved.

If these portrayals are hardly “attractive” in the conventional sense, and Cézanne has been accused of  “cruelty” in his painting of his wife, with whom he had a difficult relationship, he would no doubt have painted her in exactly the same way had the pair been in the first flush of romance, such was his obsession with pure form and shape.   (Mark Hudson writing in the Telegraph)