On Friday I went to a superb exhibition on the theme of the artist in the studio. Held at Compton Verney, the show comprises a plethora of studio images and artifacts spread across 9 rooms in the neo-classical mansion. For those unfamiliar with Compton Verney's situation, it is a large mansion not far from Stratford upon Avon. Designed by Robert Adam, the house nestles in verdant parkland. Check out the photo I took, above.
I won't say anything about CV's history- you'll find plenty here- but it won't do any harm to say a few words about the museum itself. CV is owned by the Peter Moores Foundation, Sir Peter being chairman of Littlewoods 1977-1980, and Director until 1993. After that he devoted his time towards transforming a rundown country house into a smart modern museum that stages exhibitions such as the present one. The collection that Moores has built up at CV is perhaps one of the most eclectic in the U.K. Not that there's anything wrong with that: where else would you find Chinese archaic bronzes in the same wing as 17th century Neapolitan painting, or early German religious painting a cough and a spit away from British portraiture.
In addition to the permanent collection, there's a programme of 3 month exhibitions. In the past I've had my doubts about these- too thematically incoherent- but with The Artist's Studio, I think they've got it right in terms of theme and presentation. There's a wealth of material here: paintings, pen drawings, etchings/engravings, photographs, b/w movies of painters at work, real palettes- works of art in themselves-, Turner's travelling water-colour box, and even maulsticks in cases. The artists considered here are mainly British, but there are the odd few representations of continental studios; there are paintings by Flemish artists and the Italians are recognized by a drawing of Parmigianino showing a sketching artist. There's no way that I can encapsulate the exhibition in a short post, not least because I'm hampered by not having a catalogue of the exhibition. There's an accompanying book, but it doesn't contain every item in the show- I'll dock CV a point for that. What I will do is make some notes on a selection of exhibits that caught my eye.
Neglected for years, but this Flemish artist who painted at the Danish court, is due for art history resurrection. Noted for his trompe d'oeil works like this one: a painting within a painting. Note the nice touches- the canvas peeling away from the stretcher and the mini-picture of Queen Christina of Sweden. The skull has provoked debate, however. Is it simply a memento mori, making the picture a vanitas piece; is it a way of presaging the death of painting itself. Can't think of any iconographical precedents for that.
Gertler was a Jew who led a poverty-stricken life. Trained at the Slade and eventually invaded Bloomsbury society. Not really welcomed though. According to Virginia Woolf, Gertler suffered from overweening egomania; he believed his "painting between the spaces" marked him out as distinctive from other artists. An intriguing image: the artistic self framed within the studio, not only reflected in the mirror, but in the flask. Echoes of Parmigianino and Jan van Eyck, but that Japanese figure? According to the literature, it represents the onset of doom. Appropriate. Gertler was to throw himself under a train.What a way for an artist to go!
Saw this is a stunning Orpen exhibition in Dublin in 2004, so it's hello again! An Irish painter of solid middle class origin- salad days of tennis and guiness. Extremely versatile, but perhaps best known for his visual dispatches from the trenches- he was a war artist. This painting- one of the best in the show- shows a sundrenched chamber with a scantily clad model portrayed by an artist. Just think Vermeer with a dash of Bonnard.
An artist I don't know much about, but I like this. According to Tate Modern RM was another Slade graduate and war artist. His style is objectivist, then abstraction, and then back to figurative- that's the usual trajectory. There's an antiseptic, almost minimalistic look to this which is effective for zeroing in on the minutiae of the artist's life.
The centre of the room in one space is taken up with photos, diagrams of Francis Bacon's studio, complete with mirror designed by the artist himself. Bacon's celebrated studio is a study in organised chaos and magnificent squalor. Saw the reconstituted studio itself last time I was in Dublin, and still feel amazed to know that the studio- when dismantled into its components- numbered about 7,500 items. There's a diagram on the wall plotting the coordinates of things in the studio which I wanted to show- but I wasn't able to get it. Perry Ogden took this landmark photo of Bacon's studio last year. Watch this space for a longer post on Bacon in the not too distant future.
So that's it. Compton Verney gets the Art History Today seal of approval for the most enjoyable- and biggest- exhibition they've ever held. It's a great theme, and may be repeated in more shows. The accompanying book says that "a comparable exhibition" is being considered by the National Gallery of Washington.