Claude Lorrain. Ascanius and the Shooting of the Stag, 1682, Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford
I spent about 90 minutes in it, most which was mainly looking at the room of Claude’s drawings. It’s fascinating to trace his use of wash, and eventually black chalk. It’s very instructive, especially the wall devoted to Claude’s drawings of figures and animals. It’s evident that Claude’s figure drawing is really awkward; some of the animals are ridiculously out of scale, such as the sheet with an eagle’s head. I was amused to discover that for a composition of the Golden Calf, he based his circle of figures on Poussin’s painting of the same subject. They were French painters in Rome who often shared a bottle of wine together. When Claude takes his cue from his friend he does better, but even on this sheet we get the disparities of scale. This should be borne in mind when looking at Claude’s Judgement of Paris (that subject again) whose figures may not even be by Claude, according to the curators. I find this quite plausible; the range of figurative expression is too wide for Claude, each of the goddesses have distinct poses and gestures, presumably so that they could be identified by the viewer.
The room of etchings is excellent too. The curators have even put out a glass case with all the tools of the process, so that you can appreciate how much labour goes into the art. Claude’s etchings are the least known of his work; I’m only sorry that my visit didn’t coincide with a talk that Jon Whitley's on that side of Claude.
Claude Lorrain, Psyche before the Enchanted Castle, 1664, National Gallery, London.
The Ashmoleon do these kind of exhibitions extremely well. To quote one of my students, “an anti-blockbuster experience”. During my visit there must have been about 10-12 people in the exhibition, at most. Well worth a visit, but you’ll have to hurry as it closes in early January.
And while you’re in Oxford, you might want to pop into Oxford Modern Art for a comprehensive (and free) display of 75 works on paper by Graham Sutherland. A far cry from Claude, with Sutherland’s representation of subterranean mines, surrealistic Welsh landscapes and war-ravaged London. Walking round this exhibition after Claude’s optimistic, sunshine soaked vistas, makes you feel that the sun has gone in and darkness has descended on the world. Curated by another artist, George Shaw, Sutherland: An Unfinished World, runs up to mid March next year.
And finally… if like me you like to unwind after a hard day’s museum going with a pint of Oxford real ale, there’s a nice poster setting out all the pubs of Oxford in the form of a tube map. This sort of thing has been done before by modern artists to make a political point, but the beer connection is much more palatable. The framed version is a bit pricey, but the unframed version is about a fiver. Cheers!