Saturday, 30 May 2015

Painters of porcelain - John Singer Sargent

It is a Victorian portrait painter who has given us one of the most striking images of oriental porcelain,  John Singer Sargent in his portrait of the four young daughters of Edward Boit.  They are seen in the family home in Paris, with two giant Japanese porcelain vases from Arita.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit    John Singer Sargent, 1882
© Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Treasured but familiar - Detail of above 

Here you can see some of the design on the vases, made in Arita for export to Europe in the nineteenth century, so quite modern pieces but very fashionable at the time.  The wealthy Boit family regularly travelled between their homes in Boston and Paris, taking their favourite furnishings with them, particularly this pair of vases.

Rarely enough for ceramics shown in paintings, the two vases have survived, despite crossing the Atlantic sixteen times.  The four daughters gave their portrait to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in memory of their father, Edward Darley Boit, and the next generation later gave the famous vases to the Museum to stand alongside Sargent's evocative painting.

© Boston Museum of Fine Arts 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

From White Horses to the shores of Tahiti

Dipping into Barbara Euphan Todd's "South Country Secrets" led me by strange association of memories from the Vale of the White Horse at Uffington to Kew Gardens and on to Tahiti.  Her narrative mentions the discovery of nine hundred old swords from the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath being used as railings round the young trees at the Botanic Gardens of Kew.    The expert who spotted them under their regulation green paint in the early 1900s persuaded the government to let him take them away and replace them with new fencing at his own cost.  

Was it the green ironwork which subconsciously called to mind the Botanic Garden's unique Marianne North gallery ?  This Victorian artist travelled around the globe through the 1870s, recording tropical plants and their habitats in vivid oil paintings, to be displayed in a specially designed gallery. 

The Marianne North Gallery, Kew
© Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Interior, Marianne North Gallery
© Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Orchids of Tropical Asia,  Marianne North
Nepenthes Northiana, Borneo, c. 1876
Marianne North, © Royal Botanic Gardens 

The impact of six hundred glowing paintings covering every wall, transports you to another world, and conjured up strange memories of the green lushness of far away Tahiti.  And it was in Tahiti that I discovered Gauguin's work (albeit in facsimile)  in the green shade of the Paul Gauguin Museum.   

Cascade at Tji Boddas, Java c. 1876
Marianne North © Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Fatata te Miti ( by the sea)  Paul Gauguin 1892
© National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Bathers  Paul Gauguin
© Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

Sunday, 10 May 2015

White Horse Hill, Berkshire

I am looking forward to a visit to the Eric Ravilious exhibition (curated by James Russell at the Dulwich Gallery), which includes some of his watercolours of chalk hill figures.   Meanwhile I pulled out my copy of this 1947 Puffin with its view of the Uffington White Horse, which I was taken to see as a child.

The specially commissioned cover design for Puffin Story Books is by William Grimond, who was one of the artists chosen for Kenneth Clark's wartime project, "Recording Britain"* .  It's possible that he visited the author Barbara Euphan Todd (creator of Worzel Gummidge) at Blewbury, nearby.

Eric Ravilious was taught by  Paul Nash, who took this photo on the Berkshire hillside in 1937:

The White Horse, Uffington   Paul Nash   1937
© Estate of Paul Nash/Tate Gallery London

and here is Ravilious's atmospheric watercolour of the Uffington white horse disappearing over the hilltop,  painted in 1939, also in the Tate Gallery collection (but currently away on loan).

The Vale of the White Horse Eric Ravilious 1939
©  Tate Gallery London

* the collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the V&A.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Golden summers at Bucklebury

Gorse on Bucklebury Common  Edward Wilkins Waite RBA
©  Reading Museum

Best wishes to HRH Princess Charlotte

Friday, 1 May 2015

At the V&A: idyllic landscapes

Everywhere you are in the V&A, you can see wonderful paintings, from Corots to Constables, and on ceilings, china, chintzes and chair backs.   Here are just two of my favourites.

Fresco from the Painted Dining Room, Drakelow Hall     Paul Sandby 1793
© Victoria & Albert Museum

This fresco painting shows Dolbadarn Castle* and Lake Llyn Padarn in Snowdonia.  Sandby had published a series of aquatints of the newly fashionable romantic scenery of N. Wales in 1776, but this rustic landscape beyond its picket fence was painted 17 years later for Sir Nigel Gresley's dining room at Drakelow Hall in Derbyshire.
Every wall was painted with a landscape behind a green trellis to suggest dining in a garden room 'al fresco'.  Even the fireplace was set with stones and shells as if the entrance to a grotto.  The house was demolished in 1934 and only this one wall survives.   It is tucked away in the Fashion Gallery at the V &A Museum, with only a few 1930s photos to show the room's full picturesque conception. You can console yourself by enjoying the actual fashionable dress of the 1790s around you, as if on the way to dine with Sir Nigel.

Wall from the dining room at Drakelow Hall  Paul Sandby 1793
© Victoria & Albert Museum
*Turner's magnificent painting of Dolbadarn is in the Museum of Wales collection.

A century later, this Pre-Raphaelite painting also has classical antecedents.

The Mill    Edward Coley Burne-Jones 1881
© Victoria & Albert Museum

 I know little about this painting and almost don't want to know more so that it retains its mystery; it has a sense of Piranesi's ambiguous buildings and Wilkie Collins' elusive "woman in white".  
The sitters were the three elegant, glamorous cousins, Aglaia Ionides Coronio, Maria Zambaco and Marie Spartali. They were society beauties, art patrons, models and artists themselves, known as 'the three Graces'.   Maria Zambaco had a tempestuous affair with Burne-Jones and is the subject of several of his best-known paintings.   The Mill took Burne-Jones a decade to finish, and for me, its strange mood is summed up in his own words about his art:

 "I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be - in a light better than any light that ever shone- in a land noone can define or remember, only can desire - and the forms divinely beautiful."