Friday, 26 April 2013

David Inshaw, Roland Collins... & Picasso at the Courtauld

David Inshaw: Bonfire, Tree, Moon & Firework, 2012 
Yesterday I finally got to see David Inshaw's unsettling masterpiece 'The Badminton Game' in person, hanging in its rightful place on a gallery wall. Meticulously painted with a crazy sort of pointillist-meets-pre-Raphaelite attention to detail, it transforms a summery moment into a scene that is both whimsical and ominous. This sense of something unknown lurking behind an otherwise beautiful scene gives David's best work its attention-holding power, and if you're a fan of British landscape painting, post-war art in general or just wonderful pictures, I would hightail down New Bond Street to the Fine Art Society and have a look at the exhibition.

The Fine Art Society, with Badminton Game and mink.
Some of the figures are good, particularly the triptych of a woman draped in a towel, but I think the countryside brings out the best in an artist whose work is in the great tradition of visionary British landscape painters. Like Paul Nash he has a peculiar feeling for trees, and like Eric Ravilious he finds imaginative ways to explore chalk figures - particularly the Cerne Abbas giant. Crows in flight, bonfires, cliffs and water-filled ditches are all presented coolly and without fuss, yet each motif is charged with ambiguous emotions.

15 Paintings by David Inhaw, Fine Art Society (a bit dark, sorry)
If you want to know more, have a look at what Andrew Lambirth has to say, visit David's website, or best of all go along to the show.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city... in fact just round the corner in Cork Street, Browse and Darby have an exhibition of work by Roland Collins, who at the age of 94 is enjoying a well-deserved popularity. After a sold-out show at Mascalls last year he has recently exhibited at the Rye Art Gallery, and now has this small but lovely London exhibition.

Roland Collins, Belgrave Mews
His are paintings that do better with fairly subtle lighting, so that the colours are more natural, and this is the case here. Rather than being dazzled you can focus on his wonderful compositions, the best of which draw the eye through the foreground into some half-hidden scene behind. This show also features watercolours from the early part of his career - in the late 1930s - so you can see how his work exploded into life after the war, when he loosened up and grew more bold.

Roland Collins, A Shore Off the Yacht Club, Whitstable
Meanwhile, in another part of the city... As I had a little time before going to Greenwich to talk about 'Ravilious: Submarine', I trotted along to the Courtauld Gallery - surely one of the most civilized places in London. In fact it's more or less the perfect art museum, being small, fairly quiet and full of interest. Trying to order a cup of tea in the cafe proved to be a bit of a challenge, but then I was able to sit outside and look up at the sky...

If you have a friend who is interested in art history but intimidated by the vastness of most museums, the Courtauld is the perfect place to start. Starting at the bottom and working your way up through the three floors you see examples of work from diverse periods in European art, from the 14th century to the 20th. It's unusual to see such a carefully selected group of pictures covering such a wide time-frame, and fascinating to chart developments and influences.

It struck me that the figures in the current exhibition, Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, have much in common with the very earliest pictures in the collection, being simplified and expressive. The overwhelming impression, though, was of the Spaniard's sheer energy; accompanying photos show the maniacal light in his eyes, while the paintings themselves are bursting with life. One day, I think, people will look at Picasso's more grotesque work and wonder what all the fuss was about, but in these youthful paintings his brilliance, emotional power and vitality is clear to see.

View of the Courtauld, with melancholy barmaid
Still, the picture I spent longest enjoying was 'A Bar at the Folies-Bergere'. A couple were very earnestly discussing the fact that the girl's reflection isn't quite right - it should be directly behind, perhaps, rather than off to the side. Meanwhile, the barmaid gazed out, as she has done for more than a century, waiting without much hope for her shift to be over.

1 comment:

  1. Now you are giving me Londonitus, a condition induced by exhibition envy. If you venture oop north then you might enjoy the William Blake exhibition at The John Rylands.