I wasn't sure what to expect from Tate Britain's current exhibition, 'Watercolour'. Reviews were mixed, as was the feedback garnered by the museum from visitors. But though the show has some flaws, it also has quite dazzling highlights.
|John Dunstall: 'A Pollard Oak near West Hampnett Place, Chichester', c 1660|
The curators of the show have evidently decided to broaden its scope and appeal as far as possible. Yes, you can argue that this policy results in a lack of focus - a lack of art historical narrative - but most visitors to art galleries are not art historians. What we ordinary punters want is something wonderful, or moving, or even disturbing, to remove us for a while from the humdrum of everyday life.
|Mark Catesby: 'A blue grosbeak |
(Passerina caerulea) and sweet bay
(Magnolia virginiana)', c.1728-9
In fact you'll find the sole Rav on offer - 'The Vale of the White Horse' (1939) in the next room, surrounded by other landscapes including Edward Burra's lovely 'Valley and River, Northumberland' (1972). If I'm tempted to carp about missed opportunities it's perhaps here, because the curators ought to have given us rather more to enjoy. The Ravilious is excellent, but why not include another piece by way of a contrast - the vibrant 'Lifeboat' of 1938, perhaps?
The Vale of the White Horse (1939), conjured entirely out of cross-hatchings, strokes, dabs and striations of faint colour, frail contour against pale line, with the white page breathing airily in between, is almost nothing, a see-through dream. But it is uniquely strange, starting in reality and ending in its own radiant elsewhere. Laura Cumming, The Observer
|Eric Ravilious: 'The Vale of the White Horse' (1939)|
Still, if you're going to have one painting by an artist at least make it a good one, and while Cotman's painting of Norwich market isn't quite up there with the work he did in Yorkshire it is a wonderful, strangely modern piece. The same applies to Turner, whose painting 'The Blue Rigi' (1841-2) has to represent him pretty much solo. Perhaps the curators felt we'd all seen quite enough Turners...
|Francis Towne: The Source of the Aveiron (1828)|
|Samuel Palmer: 'A Hilly Scene', c1828|
Again, I don't blame the curators for trying. These days museums and galleries have to get as many people as possible through the turnstiles, and if that means including some famous names then so be it (although you'd think that David Hockney would have lured in a few punters, especially since he curated an exhibition of Turner watercolours at the same museum in 2007...). Better a couple of dubious choices than no show at all.
|Patrick Heron: 'January 9:1983:II'|
Coming soon: NOT the Tate Britain Watercolour Show...