Compton Verney

The joys and tragedies of childhood are captured on canvas over centuries

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Fleeting moments captured in time make up the opening exhibition of this year at Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Painting Childhood: from Holbein to Freud, and Childhood Now are two linked exhibitions, featuring what curator Dr Amy Orrock believes is the first exhibition on the subject to cover 500 years of works.

The starting point for the exhibition was three paintings in Compton Verney’s own collection, but these have been augmented with many loans, including 22 from the Royal Collection, the first time they have been shown in an exhibition about childhood. They do of course show higher-class children, and they remain the focus for most of the exhibition – not surprisingly ‘real’ poor children seem to rarely have been painted.

The exhibition starts with images from the time of the renaissance, when intimate sketches of babies and infants were generally made to help in the creation of religious paintings, their faces becoming that of Jesus or the infant St John the Baptist. There is a drawing by Francesco Salviati, Study of a Child, dating back to around 1500.

The next section on Royal Portraits looks at how status can be conveyed through the body of a child, and shows how iconography was often used. The children are also of course usually dressed in the richest type of clothes.

One of Compton Verney’s own paintings, Edward VI by Guillim Scrots, from 1550 (top), shows the young king holding a flower, while other flowers turn away from the sun and towards him instead, showing his importance.

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The five eldest children of Charles I, by Anthony Van Dyck, from 1637 (above), shows the eldest boy with his hand draped casually on the head of a big dog, showing his future status and power to subdue all he wants.

There is a separate practice image of two girls from the right of this portrait, but tragically, as in quite a few of the paintings of children at this time, they weren’t to have long lives so are captured here at their best. Princess Elizabeth lived to be 15, and Princess Anne just three.

Dr Orrock said that paintings of children became more sentimental as time went on, as the painting Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos, by Edwin Landseer shows. The baby is pictured with the loyal dog draped across her cot, and watched over by a dove. Queen Victoria and Albert made many delightful casual drawings of their own children, and a number are on show here, depicting a baby crawling after a ball, being bottle fed and other normal activities.

The exhibition continues into a section on Playing and Growing, showing children with toys or pets. Not all are joyful though, in an era with high mortality rates for children.

The Graham Children by Hogarth shows the lovely family, with a musical box, and a cat eyeing the bird. By the time it was finished in 1742 the youngest child had died. It is significant that the child is in a wheeled chair, on the way to the afterlife, and a cupid with a scythe is placed on a clock.

Jan Steen’s A School for Boys and Girls, 1670, is a rare image here showing a lower class of child, as two teachers supervise a class of unruly youngsters.

The themed section on Fantasy and Reality shows children being used as models for paintings. There is Gainsborough’s A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood from 1782, featuring a child acting out the poor scene, and little Penelope Boothby in Reynolds’s oil of 1788 showing the girl in a cute costume which went on to become a fancy dress outfit for decades. Perhaps the most famous of this section was John Everett Millais’s Bubbles from 1886, showing the child looking wistfully up at bubbles floating above his head; it was later used in a Pears Soap Advert.

The gallery on Family Life brings the works in to the twentieth century, showing artists’ children as their own models. Bonnard’s The Evening Meal of 1903 shows the family sitting down to their food, painted as though from another room glimpsing in to the peaceful scene. Camille Pissarro’s Jeanne Holding a Fan of 1863 is sadder, the girl slumped forward, not looking well, and she later died. Louise Borgeois’s etching shows the woman looking pained as she gives birth to her equally-sized child, as the artist tried to show the struggles of being a mother and an artist.

Lucian Freud’s Annabel from 1967 captures the girl reaching teenage years, looking pensive in a chair.

To complete the focus on childhood, there’s a further exhibition of works by three contemporary artists, Childhood Now. Matthew Krishanu spent a significant part of his childhood in Bangladesh and India and paints images of what he calls the two boys, him and his brother, from photos of that time. In Limbs they are up a tree, their legs mirroring its branches, and in other works they swim and climb on rocks.

Mark Fairnington paints his own twin sons as they grow up, their skin spookily white and their red hair a startling contrast. In many they look very similar but there’s always a difference, whether in hair style, or bruises on their legs.

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Chantal Joffe has painted her daughter Esme since her birth, and they are often shown together too, as in Self portrait combing Esme’s hair. The girl is also seen playing with friends, and growing into the lanky girl now watching TV with her mum.

It’s a large and varied exhibition, with lots to see and read, which brings together interesting works in a good thematic way, and introduces three current artists whose work is also exciting to explore.

The exhibitions are on until June 16.

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Green Dwelling aims to conjure up images of medieval residents

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Geese admire part of the new installation in Old Town Meadow

There’s a new development attracting attention on the hill at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park this year.

Dutch artist Krijn de Koning was commissioned to create the installation which is the latest outdoor work at the venue near Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, encouraging people to engage with the 1779 landscape designed by Capability Brown.

Green Dwelling is made up of 24 blocks of various sizes and shades of green in Old Town Meadow. Apparently the artist was inspired by the meadow’s history. It was once the site of a medieval village, Compton Murdak, and was later planted with elm trees which were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s.

The blocks apparently represent ancient megaliths and the designs of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, and are arranged with mown paths to recreate the ancient village and also create new framed vistas which Capability Brown was known for.

My attempt to get close to Green Dwelling and look at Compton Verney from it was defeated by the squelchy mud after a few days of rain; hopefully I’ll get a second chance to visit.

Below, an artist’s impression of the installation before it was built

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Small artworks give a close-up view of Whistler’s talent for observation

TheMusicRoom,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Music Room, 1859, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Art where the greatness is in the detail is the focus of the new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire.

Entitled Whistler and Nature it looks closely at the work of James McNeill Whistler, the American-born but generally European-based artist who was active in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

However after looking round a lot of the exhibition it does raise the question of how closely the title relates to what is on show. In the catalogue introduction Compton Verney Chief Executive Steven Parissien says that Whistler’s “close observation of nature and its moods underpinned his powerful and haunting visions of nineteenth century life”. And there are many seaside scenes, but also the Thames River in built-up London, indoor paintings and parts that focus on people and nudes in particular, and it’s hard to relate the title that well back to the exhibition.

The show starts by telling us about Whistler’s background in a family of soldiers and engineers, and how he went to the military West Point Academy in 1851-54, and learned to draw maps. There are some examples of his topographical works on show.

In 1855 he moved to Europe, and lived in England amongst relatives including a half-sister. There are some charming early etchings from London, including the 1859 The Music Room, showing the family sat around reading or knitting, a collection of lines bringing them to life. A Greenwich Pensioner lounges on the grass in a top hat in another etching, and the grass is patterned in swirls in Greenwich Park from the same year.

A room is dedicated to etchings of the Thames, focusing we’re told on line and topographical accuracy. There are fantastic historically-interesting views of water, warehouses, and boats with tall masts. In Black Lion Wharf workers are rowing boats around, or sitting after some task. We are even shown how this particular image is on view in the background of the famous painting of Whistler’s mother on show at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris.

BlackLionWharf,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

Black Lion Wharf, 1859, JAM Whistler @The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

The influence of Hiroshige is very apparent on Whistler, as on many international artists at the time, and there are a few of the Japanese artist’s works on show to make this clear. There is even a small, beautiful painting by Whistler of women looking over the smog-covered Thames with dresses and parasols which look like those of Japanese women.

In 1879 Whistler fled the fall out of a court case to go to Venice, and one room is dedicated to a small number of these works, and they are again detailed and charming, showing typical scenes but with his own style; one is unusually an upright view of a favourite view, and there is The Traghetto no2, people having a drink with a gondola only just visible in the background. One etching is highly detailed and floral, another is very pared back and powerful.

TheTraghetto,No.2,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Traghetto, No2, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

There are two sections which don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the show. In Whistler in the Studio, we are invited to admire his draped figures, influenced by classical Greek designs and also Japanese art again, rejecting the earlier Courbet-inspired outside paintings and etchings. A later sections returns to draped figures and nudes, where he has obviously decided less is more, and drawn a veil over the details of his female models’ bodies. It is in the former of these sections that the largest painting in the exhibition is on show, a lovely painting of a woman striding along, her scarf billowing, painted in the styles that Whistler was practising, but by his friend Albert Moore. It’s a brave decision to include it as it overshadows some of the works nearby.

Whistler’s Travels takes us away to the 1880s-90s, and trips to France and the English coast, including St Ives, and lots of small watercolours and oils which are very successful. A few areas of colour or a few small lines portray ships, people and the landscape. In Grey and Silver – North Sea ships battle on beneath the grey sky, and the Bathing Posts, Brittany, show the sea where people were beginning to enjoy bathing.

Some lithographs of Paris are excellent, just a few lines bringing to life people in the Luxembourg Gardens, his wife gardening or people visiting.

Whistler returns, as his wife lay dying, to depicting the Thames from the window of their room, showing people going about daily life beside the river, or crossing bridges, as his viewpoint remained little changed.

It’s overall a fascinating exhibition and a glimpse into the skilled smaller works of a painter better known for his larger, impressive paintings.
*The exhibition is on until December 16.

Eric Ravilious and his talented circle are rightly celebrated in this densely-packed exhibition

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

A fascinating artist and his circle of talented friends are the focus of an excellent new exhibition at Compton Verney art gallery which you really must not miss.

Ravilious and Co: The Pattern of Friendship is a densely-packed exhibition, with dozens of paintings and engravings, plus textiles, ceramics, book covers and illustrations by the circle of artists who were active in the early 20s.

Curated by Andy Friend and Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, where Eric Ravilious grew up and which houses the largest collection of his work, it consists of more than 400 items, with 90 of them not seen before. They are shown chronologically so you can follow through the artists’ stories, and see where they interact, with their artistic influences, political involvements, friendships, marriages and affairs.

The exhibition opens with Ravilious’s The Greenhouse: Cyclamens and Tomatoes which illustrates his mastery of colour and style, with the rows of identical ceramic pots filled with pink flowers, and plants hanging heavy with green tomatoes overhead.

It then backtracks to the Royal College of Art, and the many artists Ravilious interacted with professionally and personally. It includes the influence of Paul Nash on the development of his wood engraving, and his prolific output, with a later mocked-up bookshop containing nearly 100 books, covers and illustrations by Ravilious, Paul and John Nash, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman to show the influence they had in the 1920s and 30s, and the incredibly stylish work they produced.

 

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

Their work was transferable to other materials as well, with a huge bowl created for Wedgwood by Ravilious to commemorate the Boat Race also featuring, and looking more like an item from the 1950s than 30s.

There are paintings from brothers John and Paul Nash, with Whiteleaf from 1921 by the former showing a dark brown countryside with movement in the trees, and Paul’s The Shore, Dymchurch, a recurring subject appearing twice in the exhibition, with variations on the distant sea, birds aloft and breakwaters. Other paintings by Barnett Freedman show his developing painting work throughout the 1920s.

Waterwheel, a watercolour of 1934 by Ravilious, shows his style of muted colours, and clear texture, though apparently he’d artistically ‘moved’ the wheel in question to fit in with what he wanted to paint. Westbury Horse of 1939 is equally attractive, though a freight train rushes by the ancient English scene, showing new developments and possibly a portent of war.

Women artists feature well in the exhibition, and there are designs on show by Enid Marx (who also features heavily in Compton Verney’s excellent and re-hanged Folk Art collection), including a headscarf in Spanish Republican colours, and designs by Diana Low. A wood engraving by Helen Binyon, The Wire Fence, of 1935, shows the odd subject matter of a woman climbing through a fence, in a similar pose to Ravilious’s Boy Bird Nesting from 1926. Later, Diana Low became close to the 40-year older William Nicholson and they painted each others’ portraits; she is shown standing, attractive and vibrant, but she paints him looking portly, laying full out on a sofa.

Ravilious went into teaching after the Royal College of Art, in his early 20s, and one 17-and-a-half-year-old student made a particular impression on him; he apparently spent several years sure of his feelings for Tirzah Garwood, but not sure if they were reciprocated. There is a fantastic engraving of the bleak attic room she lived in while studying, The Boxroom of 1929, where he used to visit her, with a woman pictured laying on the bed under some drying washing. It contrasts with another fantasy engraving of a woman on a sumptious bed with fantasy-forest wall hangings surrounding her.

A striking portrait by Phyllis Dodd shows Tirzah in a green coat and hat, looking like a woman who knows her own mind; Ravilous and Tirzah later married and there are paintings and other works by her on show too, demonstrating her clear style and interest in different subject matter to Ravilious’s landscape passion. Her work include paintings of the Four Seasons, with spring seen as spring cleaning, and others showing the good people of Eastbourne, some more as caricatures than characters.

New areas of countryside and coast, and house moves, inspired Ravilious and visiting friends at different times, as selections of their work shows. There is his only known surviving pastel work, Study of a Sussex Woodland from 1924, showing shade under a low canopy of trees. He went on an Italian tour, and the engraving of San Gimignano from 1925 includes its recognisable towers, though his image of a Sussex Church, framed between trees, is just as beautiful.

Helen Binyon painted watercolours of Furlongs, East Sussex, when the Ravilious’s lived there in the early 1930s, and there is Furlongs by Ravilious, showing horses pulling towering carts of hay. He subsequently had an affair with Binyon, depicted by her friend Peggy Angus in 1940, with him looking pensive at the bottom of the stairs, she with her chin in her hands and a cup of tea beside her.

The exhibition also includes a design shop made to look like Dunbar Hay, a London retailer which sold works by Ravilious, Enid Marx, Tirzah, Bawden, Diana Low, Peggy Angus and others, with them designing for organisations such as the BBC, London Transport, Wedgwood and the GPO.

 

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

As the Second World War approached, the Artists’ International Association was formed, flirting with communism, and led by Helen Binyon, with other artists taking in refugees. Her affair with Ravilious had ended but they remained close and there is a letter praising her illustrations for Pride and Prejudice. A poignant 1939 lithograph by Binyon called The Flower Show is said to be based on an Eastbourne event, and to show a man who looks like Ravilious carrying a small child.

There is a selection of Ravilious’s pre-war watercolours showing scenes such as Beachy Head and Rye Harbour, next to his work as a war artist; the same colours are there, but there’s suddenly the jarring notes of barbed wire on the beaches and barrage balloons above. Corporal Stediford’s Mobile Pigeon Loft is a different subject matter for Ravilious, showing lots of the birds.

Ravilious went on an RAF reconnaissance flight off Iceland on 2 September 1942, and disappeared; a few days later a jolly letter he had written to Tirzah arrived at her home, including instructions for her to draw round her hand so he could buy her gloves. Left alone with three children, she had already survived cancer once, but went on to remarry a few years later before succumbing to the disease. The exhibition closes with her painting The Springtime of Flight, showing a plane in a brilliant blue sky over a sea of colourful flowers.

This really is an exhibition not to be missed, packing in fantastic paintings by Ravilious and the Nashs in particular, plus more of their contemporaries and lots of great engravings, ceramics and textile works too. It continues until June 10.

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 (c) Royal College of Art

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 C Royal College of Art. 

 

Artist and writer go back to nature to explore children’s Lost Words

Dandelion -R Jackie Morris r

Dandelion by Jackie Morris

It’s a sobering fact, quoted in the introduction to a new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park, that three quarters of British schoolchildren spend less time outdoors than prisoners.

 

And that a survey found that eight – 11 year olds were better able to identify types of Pokemon characters than types of UK wildlife. It’s impossible too not to think of recent news reports about the rise in childhood obesity rates and see how these things like together.

The exhibition The Lost Words is inspired by these findings, and is a collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris.

And at least you have to get some exercise walking through the beautiful Capability Brown-designed parkland at Compton Verney to see the show.

Macfarlane has written a series of poems each named after a bird, animal or plant and Morris has painted two or three watercolours to go with each. The poems are acrostic – the first letter of each sentence spells out the name of the subject of the poem.

Subjects include bramble, wren, willow, magpie, starling, raven and adder. In most cases there is a beautiful illustration on goldleaf of the creature, then another watercolour of it in motion; there are small birds amongst foliage, two otters circling each other in a pool, a family of kingfishers waiting to be brought food, and a heron in flight, amongst the 50 works. There are also some others, showing the path of the creature for example. In some, there’s a magical, mystical nightime scene.

Morris seems to excel specially at birds, and it’s an attractive, entrancing exhibition, which should send you back into the park to see what you can spot down on the water in particular.

The Wild Washerwomen, Quentin Blake

Also at Compton Verney until December 17 is Quentin Blake – Inside Stories, in which the illustrator explains how he works, and the stories behind some of his best-loved creations. The exhibition includes his own explanations of how he has put together the pictures for stories by writers as varied as Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen and the eighteenth century’s Voltaire (he produced an illustrated version of Candide).

There are initial drawings, and then the fully-completed illustrations on show.

There are more than 140 works on show, including the drawings used in books such as Dahl’s The Twits and BFG, and David Walliams’s The Boy in the Dress. Others, such as The Wild Washerwomen, are less familiar, to me anyway.
The exhibition is sure to delight the many fans of Quentin Blake’s work.

Idea of rural idyll is thoroughly explored in excellent Compton Verney show

A Farmer and his Prize Heifer, artist unknown, c.1844 -® Compton Verney, photo by Jamie Woodley

A Farmer and His Prize Heifer (unknown artist), c.1844, Compton Verney, photo Jamie Woodley

Lying as it does in its own “rural idyll”, it is fitting that Compton Verney art gallery has opened its year with an exhibition examining the truths and myths behind those words.

Entitled Creating the Countryside: Thomas Gainsborough to Today it looks at how artists have depicted the country over the space of four centuries. Often throughout the exhibition older and newer works are placed together to throw in elements of realism to an attractive glossing over of the truth.

The exhibition begins by looking at the idea of the countryside as a place of escape, an idea that has obviously been around for a long time as seen in Claude Lorrain’s image of Youth Playing a Pipe in a Pastoral Landscape from 1645, showing the boy as peaceful animals graze and the scene looks lovely.

Nearby, there’s a Henshall and Company of Longport platter showing Compton Verney, a vision of an idealised landscape created by Capability Brown, showing two men in the foreground with their hunting dogs and pheasants, and the artificially-made lake.

John Constable’s Willy Lott’s House, 1816, shows a simple but attractive house next to water, with a comment that it transformed landscape painting. Next to it is a Paul Reas photo of Constable Country – people being moved into position to view the scene of one of his famous paintings, turning the rural idyll into a tourist business.

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Helen Allingham, A Surrey Cottage, 1880, watercolour Couresy of Burgh House and Hampstead Museum

 

The next room features other country images not quite as they seem; Helen Allingham’s A Surrey Cottage 1880 is a watercolour of a delightful scene, but the cottage in question was under threat of destruction from the coming of the railways.

Grayson Perry’s 2006 ceramic Fantasy Village also looks at the reality behind the image – a village where single mothers were cast out, and where now there are ugly convenience shops and litter.

A room entitled Working the Land, focuses on other issues and there’s a big altar-like display of corn dollies made by Raymond Bush for harvest festival; the delicate and attractive work contrasts with the photograph by Andy Sewell from 2014 showing plastic carrier bags of food as a church centrepiece.

There are works by a number of artists including John Nash, George Stubbs, Harry Becker and Constable showing countryfolk at their honest toil, and then another photo by Paul Reas entitled Harvest of a Bygone Age, Home Farm Museum, Hampshire, showing people from 1993 watching a host of others in period costume gathering in hay; the performers have mostly paused to look at their audience, creating a strange multi-focused scene but again with the past and the countryside as tourism.

Sigrid Holmwood’s Museum Girl with Doll, painted with mushroom and other natural plant pigments, also shows a scene of acting from a country museum.

A section entitled The Dark Pastoral examines mysticism, turmoil and death. Hilary Jacks’s Turqoise Bag looms over it, a tree with a plastic bag caught in its branches, symbolising the impact on the environment of modern living. John Piper’s Derelict Cottage shows a former home, now lost, and covered in scribbled marks. Graham Sutherland’s Number Forty Nine, from 1924, also creates beauty in a detailed drawing of a thatched cottage which has lost most of its roof.

Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp in an untitled work create a sinister tone with a photograph of a woman’s legs laying on bluebells, red shoes on, raising ideas of a violent act having taken place.

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Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp, Untitled, from Country Girls, 1996, C-Type colour print
© The Artists, courtesy of the Hyman Collection, London

Evelyn Mary Dunbar’s A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling is an oil painting of women at work in a bleak wood, reflecting the time, surrounded by images of cutting, with a saw, pliers and secateurs.

The Great Escape section looks at holidays, including Paul Hill’s photo Legs Over High Tor, Matlock, a girl’s legs hanging off the natural feature as cars go by on the road below, and a colourful Shell poster of Faringdon Folly, 1936,considered a worthy destination.

The village is looked at too, with a long work by Sir Stanley Spencer designed to hang in Cookham.

A 1971 photo by Homer Sykes of the Burry Man, a depiction of a strange village tradition, plus the Allendale folk walking with burning barrels on their heads shows the stranger side of village life.

It’s a well put together exhibition, not being fooled by the chocolate box image of the countryside and showing that mythologizing and sentimentalising it is not just a recent thing.

BURRYMAN  SCOTLAND SOUTH QUEENSFERRYThe Burry Man by Homer Sykes, 1971, courtesy of the Hyman Collection

Queen Victoria, Paris and Picasso are unlikely mix of stars for Compton Verney autumn exhibition

 

max-berthelin-royal-visit-to-napoleon-iii-the-grande-galerie-des-fetes-at-the-hotel-de-ville-paris-23-august-1855-royal-collection-trust-2016

Max Berthelin, Royal Visit to Napoleon III, The Grande Galerie des Fetes at the Hotel de Ville, Paris, 23 August 1855, Royal Collection Trust 2016

Two contrasting exhibitions end the year on a high for Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Queen Victoria in Paris features watercolours from the Royal Collection, and Picasso on Paper: Prints from the collection of the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, is self explanatory.

The Victoria exhibition is an unexpected joy. It features 44 watercolours which are from three different sources. In 1855 Napoleon III sent Victoria 10 watercolours depicting her visit to Paris from 18-27 August that year, she then commissioned 15 more and the final ones were sent by Baron Haussman. They are seen together in this touring exhibition for the first time – and some have never been seen before in public. The occasion marked the first time Britain and France were fighting on the same side, in the Crimean War, and only 40 years after the Battle of Waterloo.

Compton Verney has done what it does well with this exhibition, presenting them in rooms painted a gorgeous deep blue, and with the low lighting required to protect them.

charles-auguste-questel-royal-visit-to-napoleon-iii-the-illuminations-in-the-gardens-in-the-gardens-of-versailles-25-august-1855-royal-collection-trust-2016

Charles Auguste Questel, Royal Visit to-Napoleon II, The Illuminations in the gardens of-Versailles, 25-August 1855, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

This is a collection where the names of the artists are less important than what is shown or represented. Indeed in some of them, the architecture of the buildings, inside and out, is what is particularly impressive – and apparently that was entrusted to architecture students to draw. There are scenes inside from various parties, including at the Hôtel de Ville, where there were 7,000 guests, and the high ceilings and decoration inside is impressively shown; regular artists painted in the people in the bottom part of the frame.

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William Wyld, Chateau de Saint Cloud, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

Victoria’s visit is depicted from her arrival in the Royal Yacht at Boulogne, through to a huge welcome in Paris, through a fake ceremonial arch built temporarily for the occasion. There are landscapes of Saint-Cloud, where she stayed, and which was razed to the ground when Napoleon III fell in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and some gorgeous interiors of the rooms, with Victoria and Albert shown reading in one. The detail of the rooms and of clothes and hairstyles will delight those interested in the era.

There’s a fantastic nightime painting of Versailles, a packed visit to the opera, and an exaggerated image of Victoria inspecting troops on a massive parade ground. The third room is dedicated to 19 scenes from the Hôtel de Ville ball. It’s an exhibition which is a delight in many different ways.

The Picasso exhibition features 70 works from the Dusseldorf collection, created over a period of 40 years from the 1920s-60s. The exhibition seems to work in phases, marked by Picasso’s changing women, and professional collaborators.

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Pablo Picasso, Head of the Faun, Colour Linocut, Edition 19/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK and

Pablo Picasso, Françoise, 14.06.1946, Lithography, Edition 4/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK

There is a portrait of Jacqueline Roque, who featured in more than 400 of his works, and also marked the start of his collaboration with Hidalgo Annéra.

There are some cute images of his young children, Paloma and Claude, the outlines of one created with his fingertips as he didn’t have tools to hand. Motherhood is an etching, with a few simple lines creating perfectly the woman and the young boy she is feeding. The Painter on the Beach from February 3, 1955 is a humorous work of several odd characters posing.

La Tauromaquia is a seires of 16 aquatint and sugar lift works showing simple scenes of bullfighting, and there is another series, Poèmes and Lithographs, featuring portraits and stream-of-consciousness text.

A move from Paris to the south of France resulted in a new collaboration with a potter there, and there are some works loaned from Leicester Arts and Museums Service, including the lovely Yellow Face of 1947, with the sweet face drawn with his fingers again.

So clearly a pair of exhibitions with no connection, but both interesting in their own right – and on until December 11.

Changing face of BBC comedy is a good lesson in laughter

Steptoe and Son, Harry H. Corbett as Harold Steptoe, Wilfrid Brambell as Albert Steptoe & Duncan Wood with various cast members & studio crew, 1965, Copyright BBC

Steptoe and Son, 1965, Copyright BBC

The developing face of comedy on the BBC from the 1950s to the present are examined in an exhibition in Warwickshire.

BBC Faces of Comedy at Compton Verney contains nearly 100 photographs from the BBC archives, and it’s amazing how many from the earlier section are still household names, or popular faces from repeats, today.

The early selection mostly of course covers BBC radio, and starts in the 1930s. A 1938 shot shows the actor Carey Grant guest starring on Band Wagon. The star of It’s That Man Again Tommy Handley is shown standing on his head for a promotional photo to look suitably zany.

Joyce Grenfell and Tommy Cooper, complete with fez, are in later images and there’s a very young Bruce Forsyth from 1959 starring in Educating Archie. Amazingly, this was a successful radio programme featuring a ventriloquist’s doll, but it only lasted a year when it moved to TV as viewers complained they could see the ventriloquist’s lips move!

The Frankie Howerd Variety Show from 1951 features him and Eric Sykes hamming it up, and Howerd pretending (presumably) to be asleep in a script conference. The Goon Show stars sit almost one on top of each other for a photo pulling daft faces, and Hancock’s Half Hour is represented by a lounging Hancock having his hair combed by Hattie Jacques with the other stars sat around attentively.

A young Morecambe and Wise are featured in conversation in 1957with Morecambe dangling a pipe from his lips; apparently their first attempt to transfer to TV was unsuccessful, but they came back three years later for another go and the rest was history.

Ken Dodd had perfected the look he’s had ever since by 1958, with his mad hair and dazed expression, and Kenneth Williams was looking camply askance in a Beyond our Ken picture from 1958.

These early photos differ from the more recent in that the images are mostly more outrageously posed and staged, with the comedians trying to appear the same way they put themselves over on radio or early TV. The later ones sometimes show the actors in character, but others are behind the scenes or during down time.

Lifes Too Short- Ricky Gervais - Stephen Merchant- production shot- S1 Ep1  2011- Copyright BBC

Life’s Too Short, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant production shot, 2011, Copyright BBC

They still represent the passing decades though; there’s The Liver Birds pictured in 1969 with their hairstyles and clothes very much of the time, several photos from Dad’s Army, and Are You Being Served?, showing different sets in the studio. Fawlty Towers has the stars very much in character, as does the Young Ones. In Only Fools and Horses the stars are shown relaxing on set and being filmed on a boat, and the Absolutely Fabulous stars are shown in costume but off duty in Paris. Ricky Gervais and his University of Warwick-graduate co-writer Stephen Merchant are shown laughing in a studio.

Some issues are dealt with, including the fact that Ain’t It Half Hot Mum from the 1970s is not generally reshown like other shows from the decade as one of the Indian characters was a white man blacking up. However more recent shows such as Goodness Gracious Me and Citizen Khan show that comedy is becoming more representative of the population.

It’s an interesting exhibition which shows changes in society on several issues.

An age of dreams and designs is brought back for Compton Verney summer

Cona Rex Coffee Machine - Estate of Abram Games

Cona Rex Coffee Machine – Estate of Abram Games

A time when Britain was trying to shape a new future through stylish designs and dreams of a better life is being revisited for an exhibition.

Britain in the Fifties: Design and Aspiration at Compton Verney will be a trip back to the past for those old enough to have lived through it, and who may have their own feelings about a decade when post-war food rationing did not entirely end until 1954.

Some items will also seem familiar as they enjoy a new popularity through the retro and vintage craze. Others still lasted a long time; there is a display of the original illustrations for the Ladybird book Shopping with Mother by Harry Wingfried from 1958 but the book, with its social and gender stereotyping as noted in the gallery caption, was still popular in the 1970s.

Abram Games is one designer who appears several times. There are his original sketches for the Festival of Britain logo, and the logo itself, along with other festival souvenirs, pamphlets, a scarf and a model of the skylon, the huge structure Winston Churchill apparently ordered to be taken down as it reminded him of the socialist aspirations of the previous Labour government.

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson www.sanderson-uk.com

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson http://www.sanderson-uk.com

 

There are photographs of some of the new homes which were built, focusing on West Point in Allesley Village, Coventry, which still exists. One gallery is hung with beautiful colourful textile designs including influences in fruit and vegetable patterns from William Morris in one by Terence Conran. Another by Robert Stewart oddly features a man riding a fish.

Household gadgets are interesting for their innovation or not – a mechanical potato peeler does not seem to have stood the test of time. A coffee maker designed by Abram Games looks like something elegant but also straight out of a science lab. Ken Wood turns out to be a real person with an electric toaster on show and there is a toast rack by Robert Welch, whose firm also lives on today. There is a table and sideboard set with beautifully elegant crockery by firms including Derby and Midwinter.

In another room, you are invited to sit in a mock up of a 1950s living room to read the newspaper story about the climbing of Everest while watching on a replica TV the Queen’s coronation. More attractive crockery is on show including a cucumber plate.

Elegant looking cars, hiding simple designs, are celebrated through images of vehicles including a Triumph TR2 from 1953, made at Canley, Coventry.

A display of attractive dresses from Horrockses feature an unusual name as one designer; Graham Sutherland took time out from his Coventry Cathedral tapestry design to come up with a printed design dress for Liberty which showed busts of classical characters face to face, and a diagonal neckline and side-buttoning bodice.

Cathedral designer Basil Spence also created a poster promoting rail travel for British Rail, showing his design for it in 1967, several years before it was officially opened. Abram Games also designed a poster showing the shape of the country in railway livery.

Larger items on show include a Mini car, and a small caravan created as a gift for the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

The exhibition also draws interesting attention to social change – 90 per cent rented homes in the 1940s, to 60 per cent home ownership by 1959, and the fact that many apparently labour-saving devices actually kept women in the kitchen more. Sadly it seems design itself wasn’t enough to produce massive social change in certain areas.

*On until October 2, 2016.

Celebrate Shakespeare’s influence on artists through the ages in Compton Verney exhibition

Visitors to an exhibition celebrating the plays of Shakespeare in art may feel they are stepping on to the stage themselves.

The exhibition at Compton Verney is arranged in eight acts focussing on different plays. It has been designed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Design Stephen Brimson Lewis and this brings a dramatic air to the gallery spaces, and really enhances the exhibition.

Entering Act 1 brings a disorienting feeling and it’s quickly clear that’s from the different slopes to the temporary wooden floor, with light shining through it, representing the shipwreck in The Tempest, and the sound of the sea. Works on show there include a large dramatic oil, The Shipwreck by Philip de Loutherbourg, showing two figures clinging to rocks. In contrast, there’s Antony Sher’s contemplative self portrait from 2009 of himself as Prospero. Karl Weschke’s image of Caliban shows a strange misshapen figure on the beach.

Act 2 explores the deaths of Ophelia and Lady Macbeth, and is dominated by a dark, carpeted side room featuring Davy and Kristin McGuire’s Ophelia’s Ghost (below), a holographic projection on to water. Kristin was filmed multiple times under water ‘drowning’ for this work which now looks beautiful and ethereal, the image seen through bubbling water and colourful flowers.

Ophelia’s Ghost © Kristin and Davy McGuire, photograph by Electric Egg

Also featured are Simeon Solomon’s Ophelia from 1887, a Rossetti drawing of Lady Macbeth and Bryan Organ’s 1973 work, Ophelia after Millais, the drawing gird marks still visible. Above them all stands the dramatic tall portrait of a crazed looking Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent (below). A spooky soundtrack adds to the ambience.

Act 3 celebrates the work of designer, director and writer Edward Gordon Craig, with some lovely, clean cut modernist woodcuts included. Act 4 features a new commission by Tom Hunter, in which he re-enacts Ophelia’s death in modern costume, in the Compton Verney lake. You walk below green foliage, and movements trigger audio recordings of plays in this gallery.

Act 5 shows more of his dramatic photos showing samba dancers, a thrash metal band and Pearly Kings and Queens playing roles from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the gallery is split up with a wall with a chink in it, drawing on a line from the play.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Acts 6-8 features King Lear, Macbeth and Henry VIII. Henry Fuseli’s paintings from the late eighteenth century stand out for their dramatic use of light and dark, especially in The Weird Sisters and The Vision of Katharine of Aragon. A room of his work features a silver floor and moving lights.

Paired with Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy, is Boydell’s Vision: The Shakespeare Gallery in the 18th Century, which examines the history of John Boydell’s gallery which opened in 1789 in London, using the Bard to develop a national form of history painting. It contains prints and paintings from that period, plus a digital re-enactment of what the gallery may have looked like.

It’s interesting, but the main exhibition can take a bow for being an appropriately and enjoyably dramatic show.