|Graham Sutherland, Setting Sun|
When I sold paintings I used to spend a lot of time helping people choose frames or come to terms with frames they didn't much like but couldn't afford to replace. The choice of frame says a great deal about the collector (ostentatious, tasteful, lacking a sense of proportion, etc) and the condition of the frames on show in an exhibition say a lot about the paintings and the artist on display.
|Sutherland show: note mismatched frames (pic: Marcus Leith)|
This splendid variety of frames is also found in the Ravilious show, which reflects the history of the paintings themselves. These are pictures (the frames tell me) that have hung in the homes of collectors or family members for years. They have been loved for themselves, as magical objects belonging to a lost past, rather than as treasures to show off. One can imagine glancing at the battered frame and thinking, hmmm, better get that seen to... And then doing nothing about it.
|Ravilious paintings on arrival at RWA (pic: Lottie Storey - I think!)|
Some of Sutherland's Pembrokeshire pictures are gorgeous. I would have been quite happy to save his work as a war artist for another day and linger in front of those fat, melting suns and swooping lanes. They show a sensitive soul inspired to delirious levels by his surroundings. I'm going to St Davids in the summer and look forward to studying the paintings through the landscape and vice versa...
|Graham Sutherland, The Wanderer, 1940 (V&A)|
I love the Ashmolean because it seems to have just the right amount of stuff in just the right amount of space, and the print room is old-fashioned in all the right ways. There are little wooden signs on the tables advising that fountain pens may not be used, and the staff are wonderful, treating top scholars and ordinary members of the public with the same courtesy and attentiveness.
And this is the kingdom of works on paper: boxes and boxes of prints, drawings and watercolours, all carefully mounted, catalogued and stored away from the light. I pulled out a Cotman watercolour of the interior of Norwich Cathedral and a red in it just leapt off the paper. But it was Piper I had come to see, for the sake of comparison with the Sutherland show. The Lewin bequest of assorted sketches, prints and paintings is a mixed bag, with a couple of the artist's sparkling 1939 Brighton Aquatints alongside some pretty rough pencil sketches of Windsor Castle.
My favourite picture is a study for Piper's famous painting of Coventry Cathedral, the morning after it was bombed. The finished painting is famous for good reason, but the study, though only a few inches across and little more than a scribble of black ink coloured roughly with yellow and blue, shows us his first reaction. Like the Sutherland studies, where you can sometimes see the marks of raindrops on the paper, this picture shows the artist's spontaneous response to a scene of great drama. It's a gem.
Graham Sutherland: An Unfinished World ends tomorrow
Eric Ravilious: Going Modern / Being British runs until April 29
There's a show of work by John Piper at Blenheim Palace
And don't forget Long Live Great Bardfield, coming soon to the Fry, Saffron Walden