Cezanne Portraits at the NPG

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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

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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)

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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

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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.

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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)

 

 

The Courtauld Gallery

After I’d been to see the Becoming Picasso exhibition, I took the opportunity to go round the gallery and look round the  Courtauld’s own collection. I had visited the gallery before, but that was over twenty years ago so it was a real treat to be able to look around.

The trouble with the big galleries in London is that they have so many paintings it is difficult to know where to start and looking round can be exhausting. But the Courtauld has a a relatively small collection – much more manageable and I felt I could stand and look at the pictures without feeling the need to rush on to something else like I often do when I have the rare opportunity to visit Tate Modern, The National Gallery etc..

Their collection includes works from the early Renaissance up to the 20th century, but is best known for it’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. It includes works by good range of artists – Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cézanne. They don’t have many pictures by each of them but the ones they do of are of very high quality.

Where do I start? Well some of the ones I particularly liked were  a Modigliani portrait of a woman – very typical of his work,

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a couple of Matisse Fauvists paintings and paintings by other Fauvists, a Patrick Heron abstract, an absolutely beautiful, simple, wooden Single Form by Barbara (similar to one displayed in Leeds City Art Gallery),

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Single form 1937 by Barbara Hepworth

a room full of Degas’, three beautiful Gauguin’s,

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Te Rerioa (The dream) 1897 Gauguin

a Van Gogh self-portrait (minus ear),

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Jane Avril by Lautrec, a Morisot, Manet’s Folies-Bergère

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère 1888 Édouard Manet

and a room full of outstanding Cezannes.

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The card players Paul Cézanne

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire (c. 1887) Paul Cézanne

And more.

I was breathless by the time I’d finished and went round again, at least once more! I don’t think I’ll be leaving it another 20 years before I pay another visit .