Friday, 31 July 2015

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Summer Intermission: "Travels in the Air"

James Glaisher, pioneer balloonist and meteorologist, published his account of Travels in the Air in 1871.

I have a fast approaching deadline, and must put aside my blog for a while.  So I leave you with these illustrations from his book,  conjuring up long summer evenings, for you to enjoy.

Frontispiece:  Travels in the Air   James Glaisher    NOAA Library

Illustration: Travels in the Air  James Glaisher     NOAA Library

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Kangxi Porcelain, painters and collectors

James Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti  led the craze for collecting blue and white china in the 1860s and some of their pieces survive, like this Chinese "ginger" jar.    Whistler must have appreciated the porcelain painter's skill in achieving the wide range of tones in its cobalt blue underglaze decoration.

Kangxi lidded jar, c.1662-1722  
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Blue and white ceramics frequently appear in the background of his paintings, although Whistler's best known relationship with Chinese porcelain may be the famous Peacock Room which he painted for the display of  Frederick Leyland's collection of Kangxi china, along with his "Princesse du pays de la Porcelaine".

La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine  James Whistler 1863-5
© Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Asked to repaint the flowers on the room's leather wall panels from pink to yellow - better to offset the 'valuable blue china',  Whistler entirely repainted the panels with his wonderful scheme of golden peacocks, Harmony in Blue and Gold, completely eclipsing the the collection itself.

Harmony in Blue and Gold: the Peacock Room   James Whistler 1877 © Freer Art Gallery, Washington D.C. 

According to artist Thomas Armstrong, "The cobalt blue of the pots suffered terribly from juxtaposition with Whistler's paint, made of Prussian or Antwerp blue. …the colour did not serve as a happy background for people or furniture, and it was fatal to the blue china."

Section  of the Peacock Room   James Whistler 1877  
© Freer Art Gallery Washington D.C 

Murray Marks, the dealer who supplied these wealthy patrons with their Oriental porcelains, wrote that "No-one can say a word against the almost miraculous beauty of the decorations which …was quite wonderful and entrancing, but it was complete of itself, not a background for porcelain or for anything else."*

Some twenty years later, Whistler's friend Louise Jopling painted a china collection in a quieter domestic setting, sometimes called "Washing the China" and now appropriately at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Blue and white: washing the china   Louise Jopling 1896
© National Museums  of Liverpool
* see "The Holland Park Circle"  Caroline Dakers

Other artists also collected Persian wares, like these,  of which more in my next blog.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Ravilious in Dulwich

I finally got down to Dulwich Gallery to see James Russell's Ravilious exhibition.  What a magical, sparkling feast!  Like two more of my favourite artists, Sickert and Freud,  Ravilious subtly manipulates the viewer, with more than a touch of Magritte;   inanimate objects meticulously observed are poised to take on a life of their own, in other paintings you feel someone has just slipped out of sight.

Here are just three where odd details drew me in, but nothing can compare with seeing the masterly brushwork and design of the watercolours themselves.

Convoy passing an island  1941    The British Council

Prospect from an Attic c. 1932
Scarborough Museums and Gallery

Wet Afternoon  1938      
Dulwich Art Gallery 

 And in the last room, the dark seas of his 1940s Arctic Circle paintings unexpectedly brought to mind Georges de La Tour.

HMS Glorious in the Arctic 1940
© Imperial War Museum

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