Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Major new Singer Sargent exhibition announced - in London and New York

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends will be on display next year at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I'm sure this will delight many fans of portraiture!

This morning I went to the launch event for this new exhibition which has been five years in the making.  The exhibition is going to be a unique perspective of some 70 paintings and works on paper by John Singer Sargent - one of the greatest portrait painters of all time.

The focus will be on portraits of the artists, writers, actors, dancers, and musicians of his time.  It will review the relationship he had as a painter and an individual with a number of those who were involved with contemporary developments in the arts, music, literature and theatre. It will reveal the depth of his appreciation of culture and his close friendships with many of the leading artists, actors and writers of the time - including Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Gabriel Fauré and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Dates for the exhibition - and your diary - are:
  • National Portrait Gallery: 12 February - 25 May 2015
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art: 29 June - 4 October 2015
The exhibition has been extremely fortunate in the loans promised for the exhibition - many of which come from private collections as well as the permanent collections of some of the world's great art galleries. His great nephew Richard Ormond CBE, co-author of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonné, is curator of the exhibition in London - at the Gallery where he used to be The Keeper and Deputy Director. The recently retired Curator of American paintings and sculpture will mastermind the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The original idea behind the exhibition was to provide a different perspective on Sargent the man and to reveal a more thoughtful person behind the portraits that he produced.

There has been a suspicion voiced by some, notably Roger Fry, that Sargent was a superficial painter. There is an explanation of how this view came to be voiced (it relates to a Sargent comment on Fry's exhibition of Post Impressionist paintings) on Natasha Wallace's excellent John Singer Sargent website

An attempt was then made to "airbrush him" out of the development of modern art said Ormond this morning. He also commented that this was despite the fact that some of his later paintings not being unlike those of Cezanne.

He told us that Sargent was a very cultivated man who was immersed in the arts of his time. He was widely read, particularly French literature, and was also deeply musical and an enthusiastic promoter of young musicians. He was also a friend to a very wide range of artists, writers, actors and musicians.

His paintings of his friends are also more intimate and informal unlike the grandest piece portraits he executed for commissions. He could also afford to take a more experimental approach in terms of both composition and application of paint when it came to painting friends.

Sargent was a child of American ex pats. He was born in Florence and lived his life in Europe, visiting most of the major art galleries and art collections while still a child.  He was recognised to be very talented in relation to art while still a child and was sent to study in Paris. Subsequently he became one of the most popular portrait artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was regularly commissioned to produce portraits. So much so that by 1907, at the age of 50, he gave up portraiture for the paintings and mural work which he wanted to do. In part because he'd had enough of paintings with "an anxious relative hanging on every brush mark".

His paintings of artists and friends were however another form of portraiture and he continued to paint them long after he gave up portrait commissions. These are more informal and are often painted plein air.

The exhibition will have five sections (and I hope I've got these right below). These focus on:
  • Living, studying and working in Paris 1874-1888
  • Brief stays in America in 1888 - where he became an established portrait painter
  • and Broadway, Worcestershire in 1888 where he lived and worked alongside a group of Anglo Americans
  • Living and working in London 1889-1913
  • Painting trips with friends 1899-1914


The exhibition will include his fabulous portrait of his teacher Carolus Duran. This played an enormously important part of the development of his career as a portrait painter after it was exhibited at the Paris salon and praised.

Broadway and painting trips with friends

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy 
by John Singer Sargent, 1907
Copyright: Art Institute of Chicago
Two sections of the exhibition will focus on the portraits and plein air figure groups painted during the time he spent living in Broadway, in Worcestershire and those he painted after 1900 while travelling in Europe during summer and autumns holidays from his portrait commissions.

Typically these holidays took him to Venice, the Alps and the southern Mediterranean countries such as Greece and particularly Corfu.

On the right is a painting which will be in the exhibition of a couple who often focused in his paintings of artists and friends. Close up visitors to the exhibition will be able to see how Sargent painted with dazzling speed while painting plain air.

This is a link to a photo of Sargent painting at Broadway.


Portrait of Henry James 1913
Drawing of Henry James
by John Singer Sargent
Wikimedia Commons
Paintings in London will include his portrait of his friend the author Henry James which forms part of the NPG Collection.

James was another American living in London. He was a major sponsor of Singer Sargent when he came to live in London - and indeed they lived near one another.  (Sargent lived at 31 Tite Street in Chelsea  and had his studio at 33 Tite Street)

I discovered from Richard in fiction both entry James? Ormond that there is a book by a lady called Adele tanner about how Sargent appears singer Sargent and James were also both Americans who ere in effect outsiders looking in on the social scene in London. They we very close friends and ,iced near to one another in Chelsea.

Key paintings in the exhibition will include two paintings of his friend the Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde) executed at a house in Bournemouth.

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife (1885) by John Singer Sargent
Collection: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, USA
These will be displayed together for the very first time since they were painted in the 1880s. The inclusion of these paintings will be a particular pleasure for Sandy Nairne, Director of the NPG who is a big fan of the painting of Stevenson and his wife.

Sadly the emphasis is going to be more on his oil paintings rather than his watercolours which I am a huge fan of. Also there are no plans at present to exhibit any of his sketchbooks which I think is a pity. I did however suggest that it would be really wonderful to be able to see at least one of his sketchbooks in the exhibition especially as the focus is on the intimate side of Sargent and viewing sketchbooks generates a level of intimacy and engagement with the artist like nothing else I know.

Nevertheless I very much recommend this as an exhibition to see in 2015 by hook or by crook! I'm expecting it to be very popular.

Note: In 2007 I did a blog project about John Singer Sargent. This is a link to all the posts on this blog which reference John Singer Sargent in some way

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Threadneedle Prize Exhibition 2014

I got a little distracted last week by the installation of new technology (yay - a new iMac!) and hence did not post my review of the Threadneedle Prize Exhibition following on from:

So here is a visual overview of the exhibition with my comments on what I observed.

Threadneedle Prize Exhibition 2014

The exhibition comprises 63 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. You can see them online on the website. Visitors to the exhibition have until 5pm on Tuesday 7 October to vote for their favourite piece to win the £10,000 prize.

Works by Alan Mcgowan, Michael Sydney Moore, Freya Payne and Craig Wylie (shortlisted)
There was a long discussion before the judging started about "What is figurative?"

The consensus was that the judges wanted to give much more emphasis on the figure.

I certainly found this very evident in the content of the works selected for the exhibition.  There's a very strong emphasis on the figure although not every work includes a figure. The works selected demonstrated the diversity that exists in figurative art - with some straying fairly far into the conceptual.

Interestingly, this means that when selectors are trying to achieve diversity that only the very best of paintings of a certain type will be selected. This tends to affect those who paint in a highly realistic way.

However the diversity of selected works is not just about the style of the artwork, it's also about the diversity in the materials and media used and, importantly, how they are used.

Acrylic paint on canvas and stretcher (£4,000) by James Tailor227 x 73 x 80cm
This piece is quite literally made of paint. There is no support other than the stretcher.
By using unconventional stretchers and overlooked but recognizable objects within his work, James is trying to challenge the perception of what a painting is and encompass the world beyond the gallery into his practice. The work does this by moving away from the prototypical canvas and stretcher; a conclusion which is the result of three years of experimentation
Left: The Blade (£15,000) by Shanti Panchal (Watercolour)
- it takes a while to notice the lady has an artificial leg and is wearing a blade.
Middle: Untitled by Tom Jean Webb (£4,000) - this is a drawing on sewn cotton fabric. He also another work in the show.
Right: Two works by Alastair Gordon
Work in fabric and materials seem to become more and more popular.

If I'm honest some of the work looks better as a digital print and in the catalogue than they do when seen up close. For example, I'm convinced the selectors must have thought that the two paintings on the right above were a trompe l'oeil and that the wood support was painted - but sadly it's not. Plus even the tape is tape not paint.

Beckett and Bernini (£24,000) by Kim Meredew
Marble and granite (Chair) slate and limestone
By way of contrast, some works are far more impressive up close than as a digital print. This is an amazing work in stone was very impressive. I confess I touched the chair to check it was really marble!

Not all the works are framed. A very strong shortlisted contender for the Threadneedle Prize is hung on bulldog clips and screws in the wall. One wonders whether the reluctance to frame is actually linked to cost of framing and the cost of a courier for a large frame.

The Net (£2,000) by Thomas Allen
charcoal and sanguine, 150 x 240cm
One of the shortlisted works - hung on bulldog clips
The drawing is about the relationship between the artist and his girlfriend conducted over the internet
Another way to look at it is if it's OK to hang oil paintings on a box canvas without a frame why is it not OK to hang a drawing without a frame.  Plus some drawings without a frame have more impact!

The Conductor (£6,000) by Barbara Polderman
Mixed media, 150 x 140 x 50 cm
The very orange figure in a plastic hood in the rear room reminded me very much of the images that have been created about the military prisoners kept at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and, more recently, the images of the orange suited ISIS hostages. Whether that was the intention is another matter.

The opposable big toes in orange velour was also very disturbing!

Small works were displayed extremely well on dark grey walls - and most were presented in a very professional fashion
In general, this year's exhibition has less sculpture than I'm used to seeing - although one was shortlisted for the major prize.

Works by Carol Anderson Knight, Thomas Tichy, David Teager-Portman (shortlisted) and Tom Jean Webb
Many of the works were also very big. In fact I'd say works on the whole were mostly big or small with not a lot in the middle.

Works by Suzy Murphy, Ben Johnson and Morwenna Harrison
These are all sizeable paintings - the two on the left are figurative art without the figures
The exhibition continues until 11th October. It's open every day at the Mall Galleries from 10am to 5pm and admission is free.

The Winner of the £10,000 Visitors' Choice Award will be announced at 7pm, Wednesday 8th October at an Evening Viewing (6-8pm) of The Threadneedle Prize: Figurative Art Today and The Curated Space by Sacha Craddock. Admission Free and there is a Pop-up Bar.

Previous posts re. Threadneedle Prize

The Threadneedle Prize 2014

The Threadneedle Prize 2013

Threadneedle Prize 2012 - more from Making A Mark

2011 Threadneedle Prize

    Note: The Threadneedle Prize was established in 2008 and has the continued support of Threadneedle Investments, a leading international investment manager, demonstrating their long-term commitment to supporting the arts. Through the Threadneedle Foundation, the company is committed to investing in the community, building partnerships that create positive social impact across a range of sectors, with a particular focus on art and education.

    Friday, September 26, 2014

    Snowdon and the world of arts

    Snowdon - a life in view opened today at the National Portrait Gallery.  It continues until 15th June 2015 and admission is free. I anticipate it will be very popular.

    Lord Snowdon has always been so much more than the man who married the Queen's sister - and a very unroyal royal at that.

    To my mind there is absolutely no question that what he will be ultimately be remembered for in the decades to come is his work. His photography and his design work (eg the Aviary at London Zoo and the Investiture of Prince Charles) set very high standards.

    He also recorded the people of his - and our - lifetimes - from high society and those who moved in influential circles to people who were more disadvantaged and had fewer opportunities in life.

    I find his photography work to be very impressive in terms of:
    • The photographic portraits he creates - many of which are iconic. Those who create portraits have a lot to learn from him
    • The topics and subject matter he covers - in this exhibition it's mostly people in the arts and artists of various kinds
    • His collaboration around specific projects for publications such as the Sunday Times e.g. the plight of older people and mobility issues for disabled people.
    He has also been a significant contributor of photos of notable people to the National Portrait Gallery for some time.
    Frances von Hofmannstal and Helen Trompeteler
    at this morning's preview
    This new exhibition is intended to celebrate that gift. It has been curated by Helen Trompeteler, the NPG's Assistant Curator of Photographs in close consultation with Snowdon's daughter, Lady Frances von Hofmannstal (Note to the Daily Mail - NOT Lady Sarah Chatto!). 

    In recent years Frances assisted with the selection of the photographs which formed the recent donation to the NPG and has been responsible for the creation of the Snowdon Archive called Snowdon Review (a website well worth reviewing in depth - it includes some stunning photographs of well known artists). This has been an initiative to organise and record his work online while he is still alive, based on the meticulous records and the masses of photographs kept at his home in Launceston Place.  She has also been influential in the compilation of the book which has been published today in association with the exhibition (although this is not a catalogue).

    The exhibition

    The exhibition includes:
    Private View examined just why London had become, along with Paris and New York, one of the three art capitals of the world. Looking at both the senior British artists as well as the new generation of Op, Pop and Abstract artists, the book - with its combination of Lord Snowdon's photographs and Germano Facetti's typography - established a bold, new visual language.
    Unsurprisingly, the photos donated to the NPG are of "names" i.e. being 'notable is the basic qualification for being a sitter who is included in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

    The exhibition starts with a very small section of photos which provide some context for his royal connection - in marrying the Queen's sister. 

    Antony Armstrong Jones, 1st Earl Snowdon
    by Cecil Beaton
    This includes a photo of Antony Armstrong Jones by Cecil Beaton (see above), the first photo Snowdon ever took of Prince Charles for his 8th birthday and his first commission to photograph the Queen (1957).

    We are then treated to a cavalcade of photographs of luminaries from the past 50+years. I found the placement of two great eccentrics of the English speaking world next to one another to be inspired. Below you can see Vita Sackville West and Peter Cook.

    The Writing Corner
    Vita Sackville West (1892-1962), author, poet, gardener and gardening correspondent 
    and Peter Cook (1937-1995) actor, satirist, writer and comedian
    Then we have an unpublished photograph which records the fabulous fashion designers from the 60s with a notation next to it of who's who.

    The fashion designers of the 1960s
    One long wall is devoted to his exhibition related to his Private View project in the 1960s which sought to record the people working in the arts in London - with a view to trying to explain why it was the visual arts in London were so good.

    The wall of photographs from 'Private View'
    There are also photos of leading edge art colleges (Ealing) and galleries (Whitechapel) and galleries (Helen Lessore).

    Anthony Blunt (1907-1983)
    There's an absolutely amazing photo of Antony Blunt which might be said to be prescient in its design and content. Blunt, for the uninitiated, is the art historian who also became the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures while at the same time being a Soviet Spy. At the same time, he leaked British secrets to the Russian NKVD who he joined in 1937 two years prior to joining MI5!

    There is also an album on display which records the making of the exhibition and includes photos of snowdon at work on his photographs in his studio at Kensington Palace.

    Snowdon's youngest daughter, Frances von Hofmannstal, explains the album relating to Private View
    There's a collection of four photos of notable male sculptors (see top right) with Barbara Hepworth pictured alongside Kenneth Clarke (of 'Civilisation').

    In the inner room the are a number of photos of ballet dancers, artists and authors including a stunning one of David Bowie and another of Terence Stamp.

    (clockwise from left) Terence Stamp, David Bowie, Julie Christie, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling

    Overall I can highly recommend the exhibition to all those who enjoy portrait photography and those who lived through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

    A new book 

    Today also saw the launch and publication of a superb new monograph about him and his photographs.

    I also recommend you look at the book published in association with the exhibition. It's not cheap costing £50, however it includes some amazing photos of the art world in the second half of the 20th century. Plus it has some very interesting and different perspectives on Snowdon the photographer provided by various people from different times in his life.

    I've bought a copy simply because it's a book about the people I have followed during my lifetime and includes many photographs of artists and sculptors, musicians and actors, writers and editors.

    SNOWDON By Antony Armstrong Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon.
    Foreword by Graydon Carter Introduction by Patrick Kinmonth Preface by Frances von Hofmannsthal Contributions by Grace Coddington, Tom Ford, Philippe Garner, Suzy Menkes, A.A. Gill, Alexandra Shulman, Nicolas Ghesquière, André Leon Talley and more. Hardcover / 10” x 13” / 368 pages / 175 colour and B&W photos. Price: £50.00 Rizzoli New York / ISBN: 978-0-847-84328-2


    1. For those who'd like an insight into how Snowdon is today, can I recommend you read this article Tony Snowdon is the lord of the lens in The Australian
    2. Exhibitions of the work of Lord Snowdon at the National Portrait Gallery

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Interview with Winner of Threadneedle Prize 2014

    This is an interview with Tina Jenkins, the winner of the Threadneedle Prize 2014 - the sixth female winner of the prize in the seven years it has been running.

    Tina has won prizes before:
    • She was runner up in the Marmite Painting Prize in 2010, 
    • was awarded the Owen Ridley Prize at the University of Reading for a MFA project and 
    • currently she is the recipient of a bursary from Reading University to research her PhD in 2014.

    I asked Tina about:
    • how she came to be an artist
    • why she entered the Threadneedle Prize
    • her painting - and the materials she uses for painting
    Here's my video interview with her which took place at the Mall Galleries this morning.

    Other quotes from Tina include:
    My paintings are all about analysis. I'm looking at how paintings are constructed today and analysing that through actually making work as opposed to just talking about it
    The figures are all painted first and then I peel off indiscriminate parts of the figures and infill the gaps with abstract gestures. It can be very frustrating because I don't have control as to how much comes off, sometimes I peel off too much and that makes the painting very difficult to work with
    Paint is very versatile but fragile material and so is the plastic, putting the paint on the plastic heightens tensions between the two and forces me to think through those tensions as I'm working.

    All in all it's a big mash up of technique materials and context, completely hysterical
    I'll write about the rest of the Exhibition tomorrow - when the exhibition opens to the public.

    The exhibition is at the Mall Galleries between 25th September to 11th October 2014 (10am - 5pm). Admission is free. 

    Previous posts re. Threadneedle Prize

    Tuesday, September 23, 2014

    Tina Jenkins wins Threadneedle Prize 2014

    Winner of the Threadneedle Prize 2014
    Tina Jenkins with her painting "Bed Head"
    Gloss paint and acrylic on plastic sheeting
    170 x 170 x 8cm
    £3,950 (sold)
    Tina Jenkins won The Threadneedle Prize 2014 this evening. The prize was announced at the Awards Dinner held this evening at the Mall Galleries. It's so late this is going to be a bit of an image oriented post.

    Tina wins a £20,000 cash prize and a solo show to be held at the Mall Galleries in 2015. She's also sold her winning painting "Bed Head"

    I was sat right next to her all the way through dinner and I can honestly say she was one very surprised lady when the prize was announced.

    Tina Jenkins receives her award
    However I understand from the judge who was sat on my other side that she was one of two strong frontrunners from the outset - because her work is so very different.

    Tina Jenkins with the very heavy Threadneedle Prize 2014!

    It's worth repeating her statement about her relationship with painting and her analysis of its practice on her Saatchi website
    Who is painting? And why does it holler so? How does it operate? And who hears its call? Something hangs between us on the outside of painting, some thing that is both of painting and beyond it. It hangs in the interval between all that it is and all that it is not, between the finite and the infinite and emerges from the already determined historical context of painting that always prefigures itself. This is the subject of desire that emerges from past incarnations, is situated in the present and continually opens out onto an elsewhere. This something, this subjectivity desire or excess is not a universal given. It manifests and situates itself at the site of each and every painting anew. Gesture, medium, support and tools are all protagonists here; there is no singular truth to be defined only a multitude of convoluted relationships in continuous motion. Navigating this painterly terrain has become an increasingly complex process as painting continues to structure and critique itself around that which is already inscribed in its psyche and yet continues to desire that which has yet to be defined. It is this contradiction within the place of painting that interests me and drives my practice forward. The subjective space that sits between the stability of these traditional conceptualizations of painting and the increasingly hysterical acts that it activates through the gestural in order to continue to affirm itself mobilizes a relentlessly affirmative force-of-thought. By re- conceptualizing current and historical thinking around the subject of hysteria and painting and re-considering the implications of mark making and gestural determinations within that discourse I hope through my practice to make some sort of analysis of paintings current condition by questioning paintings symbolic title. Lacan identifies hysteria with neurosis. It refers to the gap between the subjects’ direct psychological identity and its symbolic title that is always historically determined. Henri Bergson’s ideas around intuition as a productive force that occurs only when the present is approached through traditional methods that in reproduction exhaust themselves and are therefore unable to present new concepts of representation is central here. Through emergent and imprecise motions intuition acts by negating the old and resisting the temptations to understand the new in terms of the language and concepts of the old. Philosophy, for Bergson, does not consist in choosing between concepts and in taking sides. These concepts and positions result from the normal or habitual way our intelligence works. Intuition therefore is experiential. Bergsonian intuition consists of entering into the thing, rather than going around it from the outside, a seizing of the self from within. This is the space I paint in.

    The Threadneedle Prize Awards Dinner 2014

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