o A ground breaking exhibition of Dutch cabinet pictures on loan from museums and private collections opens this month at Richard Green. Although beloved by the public and collectors, the Dutch petits maîtres have been neglected by critics ever since Ruskin turned his back on the Dutch School in favour of “modern painting”. Dutch and Flemish paintings were shamefully neglected in last year’s exhibition of paintings from provincial museums at the Royal Academy. Irritated by this omission, art historian Christopher Wright, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of provincial museum collections has organised this exhibition to redress the balance.
The public will be able to admire many of the most famous images of Dutch cabinet painting, such as Frans Hals, Jean de la Chambre (lent by the National Gallery), works by Gabriel Metsu and Jan Breughel the elder. However, this show is as much about the history of collecting as about the paintings themselves. Christopher Wright has grouped the works according to the original collectors rather than by date or school. While the Victorians tended to give their collections en bloc to their favoured museums, to reunite paintings from original eighteenth-century collections he has had to borrow works from many different sources. The collectors are discussed in the catalogue alongside their paintings.
The exhibition shows a distinct evolution of taste from the eighteenth century through to contemporary collectors. According to Christopher Wright, eighteenth-century collections were defined by very narrow taste, an interest in meticulous craftsmanship and story telling, the freedom of an artist like Van Goyen was simply not understood. The Victorian period was far more eclectic and quirky: for example, you find an enormous range of taste and subject matter in the Bowes collection.
o For the last five years or so, Mallett’s have been cornering the market in the extraordinary glass furniture made in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century for Indian princes. This month it is showing these outrageous objects in conjunction with furniture by the contemporary glass sculptor/furniture-maker, Danny Lane.
o Ewan Uglow’s drawings are as precise and measured as his paintings. A show at Browse and Darby comprises thirty drawings, his output over the last five years. The majority are studies of female nudes arranged in the familiar contorted poses in a sterile studio environment. While a few are related to paintings, most are executed for their own sake. As Uglow says, “Drawing is the most immediate way of making your ideas, sensations and information explicit.”
One drawing can take as long as a year to complete due to the extraordinary concentration which goes into making a single pencil mark. Volume is conveyed almost entirely by line, which indicates the geometric forms of the body.
o While he exhibited with Epstein, Moore, Hepworth and Marini, Leon Underwood has never received the same critical acclaim. An exhibition at the Redfern Gallery reveals three facets of his work as painter, sculptor and print maker. Underwood travelled widely, and influences from Africa, Mexico, Iceland and Central Europe all flow through his work, which is multi-faceted and difficult to categorise. The sculpture on show ranges from sensual, rounded female forms to roughly modelled figures with strange angular limbs. A maquette for his African Madonna, which was carved in lignum vitae and is now in the Anglican Church in Cape Town, stands out as a potent image of primeval motherhood.
Underwood was also a prolific print maker and the exhibition includes some fifty wood cuts
o Samuel Palmer executed only seventeen etchings and many of these were not editioned during his life time. An exhibition at The Fine Art Society brings together his complete etchings. What is remarkable about this collection is that so many of them are life-time proofs annotated by the artist with his instructions to the printer. Palmer was constantly reworking the plates, changing and adapting the image over a long period, and these contemporary pulls, with their dense areas of black, have a drama and vigour lacking in the posthumous prints many of which were published by his son.
Palmer’s work began to be more widely appreciated a decade after his death and an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1926 brought it to the attention of a whole new generation of English Romantics such as James McIntosh Patrick and Graham Sutherland.
A memorial exhibition for James McIntosh Patrick is being held at the Fine Art Society at the same time. The artist was the subject of a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland shortly before his death, aged ninety, last year. “This show is more of a tribute”, explained his son Andrew McIntosh Patrick, a director of the Fine Art Society, “an acknowledgement of the fact that he showed here for fifty years. There will be some early etchings and a group of post-war oils. It was through my father that I became associated with the gallery and not the other way round as is popularly believed.”
o Graham Sutherland and McIntosh Patrick were born within a year of each other and both started their careers as successful etchers inspired by the work of Samuel Palmer. The work of Sutherland can be seen at Crane Kalman Gallery. This show ignores the etchings and covers paintings and drawings from 1935 to 1976. “Welsh mountain” of 1938 represents Sutherland at the height of his powers as a landscape artist in the series he painted in Pembrokeshire in the 1930s and 40s.
Sutherland moved on from these romantic landscapes coming under the influence of Francis Bacon which can be clearly seen in an oil of 1946 “Study for the Crucifixion” in which a distorted body with limp head hangs grotesquely from the cross. Sutherland’s reputation has suffered by comparison with his more famous contemporaries Freud and Bacon but as Roger Berthoud sums up in the catalogue introduction, “No one is obliged to swallow Sutherland’s work whole: its variety and enormous range of mood are part of its fascination. He himself hoped that, overall, it would be seen to have, ‘unity in diversity.’”
o It takes a moment for John Virtue’s paintings to come into focus. First impressions are of large abstract black and white canvases. As the shapes settle before our eye a landscape begins to emerge. A river winds through the centre out to a far horizon and a church tower in the central distance. Each painting is so different as they capture the changing effects of the weather and the seasons that it takes another few moments to register that the view is always the same. On show at Michael Hue Williams, the works record the landscape of the river Exe as it flows out from Exeter to the English channel.
o Eileen Lawrence makes prayer sticks, so named from the prayer flags which stream in the wind outside Nepalese temples. They are composed of elements meticulously chosen from the landscape around her, a feather, a broken egg shell, twigs depicted with extreme naturalism. Interspersed with liquid washes of watercolour or a strange indecipherable script of the artists invention they seem to be floating gently upwards carrying our thoughts and aspirations into the world beyond. A group of these prayer sticks some eight foot in length, others half this size reflecting the landscape both of Lawrence’s native Scotland and a recent visit to Arizona, are on show at Art First.
o The late Dora Maar, Picasso’s muse and mistress has been much in the news recently with the dispersal of her collection of Picasso’s drawings. Made famous through Picasso’s portraits of her, she was also a painter in her own right, who shared a studio with Brassaï and exhibited at the Galerie Berggruen and the Leicester Gallery. A small group of geometric compositions by her can be seen at Hanina Fine Art.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Richard Green’s cabinet of Dutch delights"