Jake Attree at the New School House Gallery

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The New School House Gallery is a private art gallery set in a pleasant garden / courtyard off Peasholme Green in York, just by the Quilt Museum. Passing it on our way to the city walls, we decided to pop in to have a look at the exhibition of paintings by Jake Attree. He’s a local, born in York trained at York Art College, Liverpool College of Art and the Royal Academy and has a studio at Dean Clough in Halifax. .

The exhibition, The City, the Gardens and the People, features works in a number of media – oils, pastels, acrylic, ink and pencil sketches. There’s a catalogue available on-line here, and this tells us that

The majority of the works in The City, the Gardens and the People centre on interpretations of York, the city of Attree’s birth, and the exhibition consists almost entirely of new work created in 2012-3.

The most prominent work in the exhibition was, Extensive View of York (2006) which “does what it says on the tin” – it’s a large scale oil painting, covering two large panels, of a view over the rooftops of York towards the Minster

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Extensive View of York (2006) by Jake Attree. Oil on 2 panels 183x386cm

Like many artists his work straddles abstract and figurative approaches. Leaning towards one or the other depending on the work.

He lays his oil paint on the canvas or board very heavily in thick layers, reminding me of Frank Auerbach. They didn’t all work for me – I found some of his smaller landscapes “muddy”, but I did like his Extensive View of York very much and some of his simpler, more abstract landscapes – Red Tide(2013), Red Tide – Red Accent (2013)  and Jumping Hearts (2013)

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Jumping Hearts (2013) Oil on board 16x20cm

and some of his more figurative street scenes featuring people, Looking up Fossgate and Across Pavement (2013) and Figures Passing St Michael le Belfry (2013).

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Looking up Fossgate and Across Pavement (2013)
Oil on panel 90x40cm

In general, I tended to prefer his pastels, which had a blurred, out of focus quality to them that I liked, and some of his pencil sketches.

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The Minster Seen from the Mansion House Roof (2013) Oil pastel 60x75cm

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Figures on Coney Street, Early Evening (2013) Oil Pastel 55x62cm

The gallery is in a Grade II listed former schoolhouse and located in a landscaped garden, just behind the city walls

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Despite the late time of the year, there were plenty of colourful plants still in bloom.

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Jack B Yeats at the National Gallery of Ireland

At the moment the older parts of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin is undergoing some major restoration work so the exhibition space is restricted to the modern extension. This means that the Gallery has had to be particularly selective with the works on display. I think they have done a good job. They’ve concentrated on the “Masterpieces” from the Collection”, hung in two galleries; one featuring works from from the European collection, from the early Renaissance through to the mid-twentieth century, and the second room showing highlights from their collection of works by Irish artists. There were also a couple of smaller temporary exhibitions.

The room showing the Irish works included a display of several paintings by Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957). Although he is largely unknown outside his native country, the Irish National Gallery have a large collection of his works which span his career. The works in the current exhibition are a good cross section and show how his style changed and evolved over time.

Yeats initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style and, in my view, most of his paintings, although displaying a clear talent as a draftsman, were nothing particularly special. Here’s an example

© Estate of Jack B Yeats. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2011

A Cleric, 1913

He was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. This one rather reminds me of the paintings by Degas, with whom Yeats had a common interest in horse racing

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‘Before the Start’ Galway Point to Point (click on image for link to larger, better quality version)

But in the 1920s there was a major change in his style of painting. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, like this one, painted in 1923

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The Liffey Swim, 1923 (click on image for link to larger, better quality version)

Over the years becoming more and more abstract

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Men of Destiny (1946)

To the point where in later paintings it’s hard to make out what he’s depicting, rather like Monet’s later works from his garden in Giverney

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Above the Fair (1947)

Although he was born in London, and lived in England for a number of years, he was a passionate Irishman, and a supporter of Irish Independence. His subject matter included modern scenes of circuses, music halls, and horse races, moody landscapes of Ireland’s west coast, and themes from Irish mythology.

One of the temporary exhibitions taking place during my visit featured his sketchbooks. More about that in another post.

Beryl Bainbridge – Author and painter

On Easter Monday we went over to Liverpool to have a look at the exhibition of paintings by Beryl Bainbridge being shown at the Liverpool Museum until the end of April.

Beryl Bainbridge is a well known author, nominated five times for the Booker Prize, although she never won it during her lifetime. She died of cancer in July 2010 and two years later was posthumously awarded a special honour by the Booker Prize committee. But she had other artistic talents. She started out as an actress, even appearing in Coronation Street, albeit in a minor role. And she was a prolific painter.

This exhibition brings together a small selection of her paintings, 15 in all. The subjects included family and friends, the Titanic, Captain Scott’s journey to the South Pole and, rather bizarrely, Napoleon. They’re figurative paintings, but with abstract elements. They’re mainly oils, but she used mixed media too as can be seen in one of the Titanic paintings which incorporate photographs of people cut from magazines used to represent passengers on the ship and in a lifeboat. The occupants of the lifeboat include a young Adolf Hitler (one of her novels was “Young Hitler”) and Dr Johnson. Martin Wainwright, on the Guardian website compares some of the paintings to early 20th century German art, the work of Beckmann or Grosz, and I think he certainly has a point.

No photos were allowed, but there is a selection of the paintings that can be viewed on the Guardian website here, and a set of photographs taken at the exhibition on the Museum’s Flickr site

My favourites included the small painting of Napoleon featured on the exhibition poster and the book by , a couple of the Titanic related pictures (Boarding the Titanic, 1992 and The Titanic and lifeboat)   and a couple of the paintings featuring Captain Scot’s expedition.

Painting of man in uniform and a naked woman dancing in a flat by a window

Euan Uglow

I called in to the Manchester City Art Gallery yesterday to have a look at the latest temporary exhibitions. I wasn’t particularly taken by the main exhibition featuring works by Raqib Shaw, an Indian-born, London-based artist.

His opulent paintings and sculptures evoke the work of Old Masters such as Holbein and Bosch in their treatment of often unsettling subjects. But they also reflect the ornate style of Persian miniatures and Kashmiri and Japanese textiles. Beneath their beautiful jewel-like surface is a collection of dark and violent images inspired by ancient myths and religious tales from both East and Western tradition.

But, in the main, they didn’t appeal to me.

There was also a small exhibition  – Radical Figures: Post-war British Figurative Painting – which

explores the pioneering role that painters such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and David Hockney played in the reinvention of figurative art in the second half of the 20th century.

that I found more interesting.

My favourite painting from the small selection on display was a nude by  Euan Uglow, the curiously titled The Quarry Pignano (1979)

I found the pose and his use of colour, in relatively large blocks, very interesting. Looking closely guide marks that the artist used while painting are clearly visible. This is very characteristic of his work. He worked slowly, usually taking several years to create a painting and adopted a mathematical approach. He used a large number of  carefully positioned markings in the studio and on his canvas to ensure that the model maintained the exact same position during the many sessions she (and it was usually a woman) would have to pose. And he didn’t make any effort to erase the marks from his canvas, as he wanted his method to be apparent in the finished work.

I’d first come across his work last year during a visit to the Victoria Gallery in Liverpool where I saw his painting Nude, from Twelve Regular Vertical Positions from the Eye, (1967)

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This work won the John Moores prize in 1972, but, unlike most prize winners, it isn’t owned by the Walker Gallery. The model portrayed in the painting is Daphne Todd, who was a student at the Slade school of art at the time and who became a portrait painter herself and President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. She sat for 8 hours a week over the 18 month period that it took to complete the painting.

The wall is divided into twelve segments by dark coloured horizontal bands. These bands, together with marks made on the model’s body, were used to make sure she adopted the same position and pose during the numerous sittings needed to complete the painting.

The body is elongated as the artist wanted to eliminate the distortion caused by a single fixed view point. To achieve this he worked of scaffolding that allowed him to observe the model from different positions.

Uglow is best known for his studies of nudes, often in unusual poses, which were not always comfortable for the models concerned. But this practice certainly led to some interesting paintings.  There’s some telling observations from a couple of his models here.

A Catalogue Raisonnâe of his work has been produced and a significant extract can be viewed on Google Books here.

Uwe Wittwer at Abbott Hall

During our trip to Kendal last Saturday we called into the Abbot Hall Gallery to take at look at the new exhibitions that have been installed since Christmas. The main exhibition on at the moment, “In the Middle Distance”  features works by a Swiss artist, Uwe Wittwer, who produces images that blur the boundary between figurative and abstract art. I’d had a brief "recce" on the web to check out his work and wasn’t expecting to like them too much,but I was very pleasantly surprised. Many of the works were either re-interpretations of paintings by Old Masters, such as Gainsborough and Constable, or computer manipulations of old photographs, he’d “found” on the Internet.

The first room was devoted to watercolours inspired by paintings by “Old Masters”. I particularly liked the "negative" of a Gainsborough portrait of a group of children. In the reinterpretation the children looked as if they were black, subverting the image of wealthy white children in the Georgian period.

Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

He had also produced a reinterpretation of one of Abbot Hall’s prized possessions, the seventeenth-century triptych, The Great Picture, which shows Lady Anne Clifford at various stages in her life her parents and siblings, especially for the exhibition. It dominated the middle of the three galleries.

A number of computer manipulated photographs which were printed out with an inkjet printer were displayed in the third gallery. Again they were relatively large in scale. The exhibition booklet tells us about his methodology:

He hunts for suitable material in a state of reverie, browsing the Internet until the right image presents itself, some crucial element resonating and suggesting possibilities. The process is far from being purely mechanical, however, with each image being extensively manipulated and reworked by Wittwer, who has commented that his inkjets (each one unique) can take as
long as his watercolours or oils to produce.

He has created monochrome, blurred, ghostly images. I couldn’t help projecting my own interpretation of what they were. A large "negative" of children riding on a carousel came across as the horsemen of the apocalypse to me and another picture of a boat made me think of Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead over the Styx.

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Uwe Wittwer Boat (2008) Inkjet on paper 180 x 150 cm
© The Artist

This picture included large dots, the edges spreading out like ink blots. They featured in a number of the works, both the photographic images and the watercolours, including his version of The Great Picture.

I particularly liked his picture “Three Sisters”, created using a photograph of three young women taken somewhere in Middle Europe (East Prussia?) in the late 1930’s, before the Second World War.

Three Sisters (2008) Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

The booklet accompanying the exhibition compares the image to a faded family photograph, but to me they resembled ghosts; grey, half transparent figures against a darker, more substantial background. Their dark eyes peering out towards the viewer, almost seeming to look right through us.

I wasn’t so sure about Black Sun after Antonioni, also shown in the third gallery. It consisted of 78 framed watercolour ‘stills’ from the cult British film from the sixities, Blowup, that starred David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles.

Overall I thought it was an inspiring exhibition with some very interesting paintings and particularly atmospheric photographic based images.  It was well worth the visit and, for me, illustrated that art should, ideally, be experienced “live” rather than relying on looking at reproductions in books or images on the Internet.

Sappho by Charles Mengin

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Sappho by Charles Mengin (1877) Picture source: Wikipedia

While I was in Manchester on Saturday I called into the Manchester City Art Gallery. Unfortunately my favourite rooms were all closed. The Modern and Contemporary Art galleries are undergoing some major alterations and the room with the Lowry and Valette paintings were closed to the public for the afternoon for a private function* . Although I was disappointed I had a look round some of the other rooms which mainly display more “historic” art.

Given it’s origins, the Manchester Gallery has a particularly large collection of Victorian art. Most of it doesn’t appeal to me, except for some of the Pre-Raphaelite pictures and a few other works. I’m not particularly keen on meticulous, photographic, landscapes, mythological and historical scenes and thinly disguised pornography that typify painting from this period. In general, they’re not to my taste. However, there are some pictures on display that I like. One example being Charles Mengin’s painting of Sappho. I’m not alone. Apparently the postcard of the painting is one of the top sellers in the Gallery bookshop.

Many Victorian era paintings include naked or half naked women. Although they’re usually  part of a mythological or historical scene, there was really only one reason why they were painted – titillation. This painting of Sappho from 1877 was intended to fulfil that same purpose. But I think that it has transcended the original intention. There is no doubt that it is an erotic picture. But, to me, the subject comes across as a powerful woman rather than a victim.

I think that her expression is supposed to portray her sadness at the loss of her lover, but there’s something about it, and her pose, that seems to suggest something else – pity, perhaps, or even contempt. You could read it as a sulk or even a sneer. To me, she seems to be more in control than being controlled.  I’m sure that definitely isn’t what the artist intended, and what do I know. But that’s the effect the work has on me.

I haven’t been able to find anything about Mengin, other than he was born in Paris, painted in the “Academic” style and exhibited at the Paris Salon in the late 1870’s. Sappho seems to be his only painting of note

 

*I wasn’t happy about the latter, especially as it’s the second time it’s happened when I’ve visited the Gallery recently. A commercial event preventing visitors seeing some of the Gallery’s most popular paintings. A sign of the times? But I’ll not rant about.

John Piper–The Mountains of Wales

The Mountains of Wales

(Front cover of exhibition catalogue – can be purchased from here)

When I was (a lot) younger, in my teens, I spent many hours in the rugged landscape of Snowdonia walking in the valleys and climbing the mountains. It’s still one of my favourite areas of the country, so during my visit to the National Museum of Art in Cardiff I was particularly keen to see the temporary exhibition  John Piper: The Mountains of Wales – Paintings and Drawings from a Private Collection. It featured a large number of paintings of Snowdonia that the artist had created while visiting the region during the 1940’s and 1950’s.

According to the exhibition catalogue

Like artists before and since, he was drawn to the visual drama of the Welsh mountains, but he was also fascinated by their geology, as his artist’s eye explored ‘the bones and structure.

Piper drove, cycled and climbed miles to reach his chosen locations where, however isolated, wet or windy the environment, he immersed himself in ‘the “lie” of the mountains’. He drew on the spot, using various materials including his fingers, later developing drawings into prints or paintings. His spontaneous, fluid techniques seem at one with the rough textures and colours of the mountains and rocky outcrops.

There were several different styles of drawings and paintings on display. Pistyll Rhaeadr (1940) and Crooked Anvil Pyrddin (1942) were relatively simple sketches of waterfalls that concentrated on highlighting their geological features. There were also a number of sketches of the landscapes of The Vale of Clwyd (1940), Bethesda (1945), Llyn Dinas, Gwynedd (1950) and Llansanffraid Llanon (1954). But my favourites were the drawings and paintings of the mountains themselves. Some, such as Cader Idris (1943), Welsh Landscape (1946) and Cwm Idwal (1949) were “accurate” representations that could have featured in a guide book to the mountains, but many of the others were much more abstract, bringing out the nature of the landscape and the brooding atmosphere of these wild places. I particularly liked Devil’s Kitchen (1946-7), The Snowdon Range (circa 1947), Tryfan Mountain (1950) and Capel Curig (1950-55).

Although most of the paintings on display were watercolours, or “mixed media”, there were a small number of oil paintings.The Rise of the Dovey (1943-4) – featured on the front cover of the exhibition catalogue –  and Rocky Valley, North Wales (1948) were similar in style in that they were predominantly dark and brooding but with brighter coloured areas in the centre to which the eye was drawn. The gallery had used spotlights to highlight these areas which had a luminous, translucent quality, causing them to almost glow.

John Piper, Rocky Valley, North Wales, 1948

Rocky Valley, North Wales (1948) by John Piper © The Estate of John Piper

I think that Piper, in his paintings, successfully captured the rugged beauty and the atmosphere of the wild landscape of Snowdonia. And looking round the exhibition made me want to put on my boots and get out into the mountains. Of course, that’s not really possible in Cardiff, but a trip to Snowdonia is definitely on the agenda in the not too distant future.

 

Some more of the pictures from the exhibition can be seen here and here

Kettle’s Yard

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Visiting Kettle’s Yard was one of the highlights of our recent visit to Cambridge. An art gallery with a difference, it used to be the home of an eccentric Englishman, Jim Ede and his wife Helen. They moved to Cambridge in 1957 and bought four dilapidated cottages on the edge of the town centre, knocking them through to create a single house.

Trained as an artist, Jim had previously been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London and through his work became friends with Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth Henry Moore and other leading members of the Avant-garde art scene. Moving into their new home in Cambridge they filled it with works of art they had collected from their friends and other artists. Jim’s mission in life was to spread the word about Modern Art and held “open house” weekday afternoons during term time for students from the University, local artists and anyone else interested to see his collection

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In 1966 Jim donated Kettle’s Yard to the University of Cambridge, but stayed on as “honorary curator”. An extension was built which opened in 1970 as a more formal exhibition space and also for chamber concerts.

Today the tradition of the “open house” has been continued. It’s open every day except Monday, but only between 2 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon during the winter and 1.30 until 4.30 pm during the summer. Arriving at the front door, visitors have to pull the bell chord and wait for the door to be opened. We were greeted by one of the very pleasant and enthusiastic ladies (I guess they are volunteers) who introduced us to the house and explained that we were welcome to wander through at will and could sit on any of the chairs, just making sure that we didn’t disturb any of the displays.

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It’s very different from a normal art gallery. It’s been left more or less the way it was when Jim and Helen were living there with furniture, books and other items. There are pictures, sculptures and various other objects displayed throughout the building. Paintings by important artists are hung everywhere – including in the bathroom and toilet!

 

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They’re not always displayed at normal eye level. There were some paintings hung low down close to the floor, which could only really be viewed either by kneeling down or by sitting in one of the many chairs scattered around the house.

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There are paintings and sculptures by a large number of artists including Ben Nicholson and his first wife, and Winifred,  Barbara Hepworth, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, Joan Miro, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. There’s a large number of works by the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who died in 1915 fighting in the First World War when he was only 24. Jim bought almost his entire output in 1927, although he later donated a number of works to the French State and various institutions.

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Seated Woman (1914)  by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

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Dancer (1913) by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

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Wrestlers (1913) relief by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

The week following our visit, a exhibition devoted to him was due to open in the gallery adjoining the house. It was a pity to miss it.

As well as the works of art there are displays of objects including glass, ceramics and natural objects, including collections of pebbles artistically arranged.

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I particularly liked these displays , and I think that the engraving on this large pebble is definitely apt.

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I loved wandering around the rooms in the older part of the house – the original five cottages. The extension was more like a gallery space – not surprising as that was what it was designed for. It lacked the character of the older part of the house, but we enjoyed looking at the art.

Jim didn’t have much money and his collection was assembled due to the generosity of his artist friends who sold works to him at a favourable price and even made donations.  So quite a lot of the paintings are quite small, and there are quite a few earlier works from Ben Nicholson and some of the other St Ives school – purchased or donated before they made their names. There was a large number of paintings by the naive painter from St Ives, Arthur Wallis, who was discovered and championed by Nicholson and Christopher (Kit) Wood.

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Two painting by Arthur Wallis

 

I became interested  in the St Ives school of artists just over 12 months ago and last year spent some time finding out more about them and visiting galleries where their works were on display. So it was  good to be able to see such a large number of their works on display. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to see such a comprehensive collection of sculptures and other works by  Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. I’d first come across him during a visit to the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2009 where there was an exhibition devoted to his life and work.

But it was also good to be able to see work by other artists, some of whom I’d not come across before. There are no labels or information on the pictures and sculptures in the house. This is a deliberate policy intended to allow visitors to look at the art works without prejudice and consequently be able to discover new artists or even enjoy works by artists they they may have previously said they didn’t like.

I’d heard about Winifred Nicholson before the visit, but hadn’t seen much of her work. Kettle’s Yard have ten paintings by her in their collection and several were on display during our visit. They’re mainly landscapes and still lives, painted in bright pastel colours in an impressionistic style. She’s less well known than her first husband, but deserves wider recognition.

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Two pictures by Winifred Nicholson – Seascape with dinghy (1926) and Road along the Roman Wall (1926) with a Caritas(1914) by Henri Gaudier-Breska on the table between them

 

Two artists I discovered during the visit were William Congdon and Italo Valenti. There were several works by both of them on display, so they were clearly favourites of Jim. I‘ll have to do some further research on them both.

Congdon was an American who, after the Second World War, moved to Italy. His paintings are abstract with thick layers of paint which had been applied with a palette knife, and colours are mixed on the canvas rather than the pallet. He wrote:

Use a knife – never a brush that only compromises. A knife constructs – without tricks…. Don’t mix colors – mix ideas, feelings”

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William Congdon – The Black City I (New York)

 

Italo Valenti. was Italian (no surprise with that name!) who specialised in abstract collages. He was introduced to Jim by Ben Nicholson with whom he’d held a joint exhibition in 1963.

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Three collages by Italo Valenti

 

The two hours we spent at Kettle’s Yard just seemed to disappear. There was so much to see. It’s somewhere that would repay regular visits. It’s just a pity it’s so difficult for us to get to Cambridge.

Fortunately Kettle’s Yard have an excellent website with a virtual tour and comprehensive database of the artists and their works. So I’ll have to make do with that for the time being. But that’s not as good as wandering round the real thing. So I’ll have to find an excuse to go back down there again.

Marie Laurencin

Spanish Dancers

Spanish Dancers

While visiting the Orangerie during our visit to Paris I was taken by a group of paintings by Marie Laurencin.  I’d never come across this female French artist before and so followed up the visit by doing a bit of research.

There doesn’t seem to be many of her paintings in galleries in Britain (although the Tate apparently have a couple) or in France, which would partly explain why I haven’t come across her work before. There seem to be more examples in the USA, and for some reason there is a museum dedicated to her work in Tokyo.

She was born in 1883 and lived until 1956. She used to hang around “le Bateau-Lavoir” in Montmartre and was associated with Picasso and his circle. She was the lover and muse of the poet Apollinaire, apparently inspiring some of his most famous poems. They appear together in a painting by Henri Rousseau

Although the Orangerie guidebook describes her as the “lady of cubism”, to me her work doesn’t really justify that label. She may have associated with cubists, but her paintings were quite different.  The five works displayed in the Orangerie are all paintings of women. Her style is distinctive and, in my view, very feminine. if I hadn’t already known, I would have guessed that they were painted by a woman.

Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel

Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel

She seems to have mainly taken women as her subjects and used a limited range of soft, pastel colours.  The Orangerie guidebook quotes her as saying

I didn’t like every colour, so why use those I don’t like? I simply left them aside. I only used blue, pink, green, white and black. With age I came to accept yellow and red

I couldn’t find too much about her on the web, but there is a good article about her life and work here.