Week one: speculative fictionThe art of speculative fiction is the pursuit of small but ramifying differences. Robert Harris’s Fatherland is not the first work of fiction to imagine the Germans as victors in the second world war. The author has … Read More
Crystal Bennes heads to London for her series about museum storage collections and the art hidden away inside them
‘It has always struck me that Historical Portrait-Galleries far transcend in worth all other kinds of National Collections of Pictures whatever; that, in fact, they ought to exist […] in every country as among the most popular and cherished national possessions.’ (‘Project of a National Exhibition of Scottish Portraits’, 1855, Thomas Carlyle)
Thomas Carlyle’s words, printed in Proceedings of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, were repeated the following year in the House of Lords by Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope. In a long speech to his fellow peers, Stanhope argued for the creation of a dedicated Gallery of National Portraits of ‘those persons who are most honourably commemorated in British history as warriors or as statesmen, or in arts, in literature, or in science’. Stanhope prevailed and by 1859 the National Portrait Gallery opened in its first space on 29 Great George Street in London. If the collection’s first acquisition, the so-called Chands portrait of Shakespeare, says much about what kind of British history was considered worthy of being told in the mid 19th century, policies have evolved with the times. To discuss some of the complexities involved in conveying the history of Britain through portraiture, I met Rab MacGibbon, an Assistant Curator, in the National Portrait Gallery’s off-site storage facility in south London.
A person of exceptional historical interest
The ‘Phoenix’ portrait of Elizabeth I (c.1575), associated with Nicholas Hilliard
Nicholas Hilliard was appointed Elizabeth’s official court artist around 1570. While Hilliard’s exceptional miniature, painted in 1572 when the queen was 38 years old, is a highlight of the National Portrait Gallery’s collections, this larger portrait is also of considerable interest. A sister version is held by Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, with Elizabeth facing in the opposite direction, wearing a pelican rather than a phoenix pendant.
Although Hilliard has traditionally been considered a miniaturist, the similar face patterns between the two portraits and the miniature, alongside research suggesting that the artist’s studio did accept commissions for portraits ‘in large’, mean that the portraits are now deemed to be associated to the artist. And dendrochronology indicates that the panels for both paintings derive from the very same tree in the Eastern Baltic. The two pictures were shown side-by-side in 2010, after which the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Phoenix’ portrait underwent conservation treatment in 2013/14 to remove old, discoloured varnish.
Some 10 contemporary likenesses of Elizabeth I make up part of the Gallery’s Tudor collection, with a minimum of three images of her on display at any one time. ‘Elizabeth I is a person of exceptional historical interest,’ MacGibbon explains. ‘But she also comprises part of the national curriculum and our education programme is very important.’
Unknown man, formerly known as Cornelius Johnson (1636), Cornelius Johnson
There are a surprising number of unknown subjects dotted throughout the collection. A number of pictures were originally acquired as a specific sitter, but later research proved the initial attribution false, such as this portrait formerly known as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II) or this portrait formerly known as Henry Purcell’s brother, Daniel.
This captivating picture was purchased in 1920 as a self-portrait of English-born Dutch artist Cornelius Johnson. Although the image strikes one immediately as a self-portrait (the telltale gesture of the hand directed towards the chest, the clear gaze directed out), the sitter’s features bear little resemblance to authenticated portraits of the artist – such as in this later engraving. Despite the picture’s attractions, there is sadly little opportunity to display a portrait of an unknown sitter. Nevertheless, creative curatorial thinking on the part of the National Portrait Gallery has at least opened up possibilities. In the 2011 Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People exhibition, authors were invited to create fictitious narratives describing portraits of unknown subjects. Writer Joanna Trollope was paired with the picture, resulting in a description of the inner thoughts of our gentleman in The Diary of Paxton Whitfield.
It’s the artist, stupid
John Seymour Lucas (1905), John Singer Sargent
There are certain instances in which the artist seems to take precedence over the sitter. MacGibbon pulls out this picture of John Seymour Lucas as an example of a sitter who resides in stores having fallen into relative obscurity, but the painting quickly prompts an interesting discussion on Singer Sargent. If Lucas was a popular genre painter in his day – Singer Sargent and Lucas were Royal Academicians together in the 1890s – today he is largely forgotten. There’s no argument to be made that the portrait was obtained at the height of Lucas’s popularity, either, as it was gifted by the sitter’s granddaughter in 1978. As with Elizabeth I, here we might describe Singer Sargent-the-artist as a person of exceptional interest within the National Portrait Gallery collections. A gallery display had, until its recent dispersal to make way for a dedicated photography display, been dedicated exclusively to the work of Singer Sargent. The collection has over 20 of the artist’s portraits. Lucas, unfortunately, isn’t a significant enough person to occupy permanent wall space.
Waiting for conservation
Thomas Burnet (1675), Jacob Ferdinand Voet
The reason why this portrait of British scientist Thomas Burnet is in storage is a neat illustration of the curatorial balance between interest and importance. Burnet, a fascinating figure in 17th-century English science, took a theological approach to geological processes; investigating, for example, whether or not Noah’s Flood would have been possible given the amount of water present on Earth’s surface. While one might expect that the fall of speculative cosmogony in the history of British science may have contributed to Burnet’s appearance on the storage racks, this is not the case. Instead, Burnet is in need of costly conservation work and is simply not high-profile enough a figure to warrant fast-tracked restoration, especially not when more famous contemporaries such as Isaac Newton and chemist Robert Boyle already occupy display space in the gallery.
Importance by association
Frederick V, King of Bohemia and Elector Palatine (1635), Gerrit van Honthorst
This rather bathetic portrait of Bohemia’s so-called Winter King (he reigned for only one winter), was painted three years after the death of Frederick V. Having been nominated king by the Bohemian nobles in 1619, Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (sister of Charles I), began their reign in Prague. Just over a year later, Frederick was defeated by the Emperor Ferdinand II at the Battle of White Mountain and fled in exile to The Hague with his family. While in The Hague, Elizabeth commissioned Gerrit van Honthorst for various pictures including this portrait of her completed after the death of Frederick. As the grandmother of George I, Elizabeth’s offspring initiated the Hanover line of succession (Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Stuart) – making her an obvious choice for display in the National Portrait Gallery. Frederick’s interest, however, stems only from his association with Elizabeth. MacGibbon comments that the Winter King’s portrait would almost never be displayed in isolation from his wife.
Portrait on paper
Germaine Greer (1995), Paula Rego
While the National Portrait Gallery holds nine portraits of Germaine Greer, only one – this pastel on paper – is not a photographic work. Since 1979 the Gallery’s commissioning programme has paired important figures in British history and culture with contemporary artists. This portrait of Greer, commissioned in 1995, is another example of artist first, then subject. The National Portrait Gallery asked Paula Rego if she would paint a portrait for the collection. When Rego acquiesced, it was Greer she wanted to paint, resulting in this moody, unflattering pastel. Interestingly, Greer later spoke of her misgivings about portraiture which she called a ‘minor art form at best…made by artists working in a self-limiting genre,’ even while simultaneously praising the abilities of her friend Rego. Greer also publically expressed her regret when, in 2010, Rego accepted an OBE from ‘a monarch who has never bought a work by a living artist’, rather than be ‘content with the unadorned name she has made famous and respected throughout the art world’. One of only two large-scale pastels in the National Portrait Gallery collections (the other is also by Rego, of playwright David Hare), display of the portrait is strictly limited for conservation reasons. It was last exhibited in 2015.
SOURCE: Apollo Magazine – Read entire story here.
Pierre Gouthière played a role in the foundation of the Louvre. It was not the role he wanted.
In late 1797, the French Ministry of Finance ordered the sale of two alabaster vases “of mediocre quality” to help fund the museum. That description may not have extended to gilded mounts that Gouthière had fashioned some twenty years before. The Frick goes so far as to claim that they “capture . . . blossoming laurel . . . as if cast from nature.” Yet the master gilder had seen his patrons dead, his finances in ruins, and his art a thing of the past.
It takes a leap into the past even to describe his art as nature. His subjects included the fantasy or exoticism of nymphs, dromedaries, African heads, and ambiguous gender along with leaves, snakes, door knobs, and ram’s heads. They grow so intricate as to all but dissolve into a weave of gold. Gouthière may have been gilding laurel, but he was surely also gilding the lily. He met standards of realism that Revolutionary France had begun to set side, in favor of Neoclassicism. A show of him as “Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court” brings that style to life through February 19.
It offers a welcome lesson or two, even for someone like me with little love of excess. The Frick has always held furniture and the decorative arts, although one might walk right past them on the way to paintings. A commission here once shared a room with the museum’s holdings of Jean Honoré Fragonard. As its first sampling of a living artist, it has invited Arlene Shechet into its portico gallery, to curate Rococo porcelain and her own. Now, though, it installs the gilding downstairs, in rooms more often dedicated to prints and drawings. It shows the gilder at work and on the make.
That first lesson comes with effective use of new media, from a museum that has often leapt ahead of others with its Web site. A video explains Gouthière’s craft, and a touch screen allows one to flip through the results. They introduce vocabulary like firedogs (or the public face of andirons), thyrsi (or the staff of ivy and pine that Bacchus carried), and dégraissage (or paring back, from an artist with no penchant for restraint). He had a hand every step of the way, from the creation of a wax mold for bronze to gilding and burnishing. For him, chasing meant cutting into metal with tool after tool—not just to shape it, but also for a wealth of detail. That intricacy only increases over the course of his career.
Gouthière did work from designs by architects and classical models, because he played well by the game. Born in 1732, he quickly took over a patron’s workshop and married the man’s widow. He went around the merchant who had secured him work from the future king of Poland, put down the silversmith with whom he had partnered, and became gilder to the king of France in his mid-thirties. Where the court divided between supporters of Marie Antoinette, such as Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and the king’s mistress, Gouthière succeeded with them both. Yet key patrons died soon after the revolution, stiffing him, and he hardly worked again until his death, bankrupt, in 1817.
He shows no sign of fatigue. The curator, Charlotte Vignon, opts for neither chronology nor theme. Like Gouthière, she pretty much piles it on. One can spot clearer masses early, but in time Greek porphyry, green marble, and Chinese porcelain must compete with fine leaves and chains. A dromedary’s hair rises like flames, as if from Gouthière’s sconces, incense burners, and firedogs. “Form follows function” is a distant dream away.
Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.
SOURCE: Haberarts – Read entire story here.
The hackers stole names, addresses, W-2 forms and other information for about 250 full- and part-time employees.
SOURCE: ArtsJournalMUSIC – ArtsJournal – Read entire story here.
EngadgetIMAX opens first VR theater in Los Angeles
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SOURCE: theater – Google News – Read entire story here.
The first trailer for the Carpool Karaoke TV series is out, and it’s got an impressive cast list.
SOURCE: BBC News – Entertainment & Arts – Read entire story here.
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SOURCE: Creative Bloq – Read entire story here.
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