Tuesday, 17 March 2015

New Exhibitions: Pallant House, Fry, RWA, Ashmolean & Dulwich

Leon Underwood, The Matchbox, 1930 (private collection)
April may be the cruellest month to a poet of melancholy disposition, but for art lovers it brings treats a-plenty, this year more than most. I was selling my wares at the Nadfas Directory Day yesterday and someone mentioned the exhibition of Great British Drawings which is about to open at the Ashmolean. Having visited the print room a few times I am looking forward to this survey of the collection very much. We tend to see only the oil paintings held by museums, but in many cases the drawings, watercolours and other works on paper are as good, if not better.

Visiting a print room is particularly fun, because as you gently lift each carefully conserved drawing out of a box you have no idea what you will find underneath. One Cotman watercolour of the interior of Norwich Cathedral was particularly striking, the bold colour testament to the quality of the care lavished on the painting over the years.

Like a music festival, the exhibition has some big names topping the bill; we are promised Turner, Hockney, Rossetti, Ravilious, Gainsborough and more. I'm sure Ravilious would be amused (and impressed) to find himself sandwiched between Rossetti and Gainsborough.

Whether by chance or by design, drawing is also the theme of a major spring exhibition at RWA Bristol, where fifty-five works on paper from the Ingram Collection are going on show alongside the annual open exhibition, Drawn. The Ingram Collection has a vast holding of Modern British Art, and this selection, dubbed Drawing On, promises work by Edward Burra, John Nash, Barbara Hepworth and sundry other stars of the period.

Weirdly, there's a Ravilious connection with our next exhibition, Leon Underwood at Pallant House Gallery, since Underwood was teaching at the Royal College when Rav was studying there. Apparently, Underwood liked to invite the most promising students for evening get-togethers, and the Boy was one of those so invited, along with Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Underwood is one of those figures whose influence was probably far greater than we realise. A multi-talented artist and inspiring teacher, he explored wood engraving, sculpture and painting, creating memorable, innovative work in each medium. Travels to Mexico gave him a global perspective that was relatively rare among British artists of the time.

Kenneth Rowntree, Coronation lithograph, 1953
If Underwood exerted an influence on Ravilious, Kenneth Rowntree worked (at first) in a clear-sighted way similar to Rav and Bawden. Twelve years their junior he was fortunate to grow up during a golden age of British landscape painting, but less fortunate to see its glory fade after World War II. I can't help but see the giant, decorative ER he lithographed for the Coronation in 1953 as a tribute to Eric, but perhaps I'm being fanciful.

The centenary exhibition at the Fry Art Gallery is a collaboration with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, a gallery that has done more than most to promote 20th century British art. If you haven't done so before, you should have a look at their website, which offers an ever-changing array of paintings, drawings and prints by artists familiar and obscure.

Kenneth Rowntree, Toy Boat at Selsey, 1956 (Fry Art Gallery, Artfunded)
Rowntree has his fans but deserves wider recognition for his upbeat but strangely haunting paintings of landscapes, buildings, boats and interiors. I have a copy of the King Penguin book, 'A Prospect of Wales', and his illustrations are a treat.

Meanwhile, in another part of the country... We're hanging the Ravilious show at Dulwich next week and the excitement levels are mounting. The catalogue is back from the printers and looking great - you can pre-order from Philip Wilson Publishers or from good bookshops like Much Ado Books, Hatchards or Toppings...

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