Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A trip to Somerset House for some proper art - on portraits and paintings

Cezanne's farmer

I met a very good friend in London today. We don't catch up often, and it was very special to have time to spend together.

GF has not been so well recently, so we didn't want to walk too far or bite off more than we could chew.

I felt that Somerset House was the perfect venue for a meet-up.

Lovely courtyard. Lovely loos. Beautiful paintwork and polished wooden floors. An oval staircase that beats most staircases that I have ever seen.

Courtauld Gallery, Staircase

Dancing fountains. I could spend all day watching them.......

Who can resist them? Not me...or the lady trying to balance a bowler hat on the top of one of the jets of water.

Stunning architecture. Several friendly cafes, and the Courtauld Gallery, which I am ashamed to say I have never visited before.

A perfect venue for conversation with a little dose of art.

They even allow photography. Not many galleries do.

Manet -  A bar at the Folies Bergere

We spent most of our time looking at portraits.

And the blurb beside them.

The blurb was sometimes informative, sometimes a little surprising.

I had not realised that the figure on the right in Manet's famous painting is the displaced reflection of the waitress who poses, with a melancholy face, for the artist. Her posture is different in the reflection. She leans towards the gentleman at the bar.

Manet has altered the truth. Just a little.

More questions than answers.

I had never before seen the trapeze artist in the top left of this painting, helpfully pointed out in the blurb.

We found the Modigliani restful.

Modigliani's nude. I am not showing her pubic hair, which apparently caused Paris police to close the exhibition when it first opened, as it was considered obscene. 

We did not find it obscene.

We were less enamoured of the Heckel.

Erich Heckel Seated nude' 1909

Heckel apparently created this nude 'in response to moral and artistic taboos of the time; an act of provocation'.

We were provoked. It got me thinking about the motivation of artists for the ways that male and female form is portrayed.

We also felt that he had started at the bottom ( literally and otherwise) and run out of space on the canvas for the head.

Soutine -'young woman in a white blouse' 1923

We found this young woman by Soutine slightly disturbing.

The blurb informed us that  her white blouse might provoke associations with purity and innocence.

I felt that a little Aerial or Daz would have made this more convincing.

Then there was Dolly.

Even back then, over a hundred years ago,  a young girl portrayed in a sexualised way. Nothing new there.

Kees van Dongen 'Portrait of Dolly; 1912

And we worry about Barbie dolls......

It took us a while to work out this portrait by Leon Kossof.

Leon Kossof "Head of Seedo' 1964

Kossof is quoted as saying ' I'm always working to make it more like the sitter; to make the structure more real, more intense'.

Intensity is in abundance, and took many months to achieve.

All of which made me long for a simple, sensitive portrait in the manner of Cezanne's farmer, the painting that we started with.

Cezanne's farmer

We found only one portrait of a woman painted by a woman.

No sexual connotations here. No attacks on society or provocations.

Just a serene and gentle face.

Paula Becker 'Portrait of a girl' 1906

Sadly the artist died in childbirth a year after painting this.

We marvelled at the Rubens and the 500 year old medieval paintings. The light. The detail. The biblical scenes. Astonishingly real after all these years.

We tried to remember why Van Gogh lost his ear. (Possibly in a fight with his friend, Gauguin).

We saw a vase of flowers painted by Picasso. Very conventional. One of his early works.

And all of that between coffee in one cafe and lunch in another.

It was a good day. It stirred up lots of questions and led to light hearted irreverence.

And not a photograph in sight ( unless you look at the ceiling where there are some crafty reproductions adorning the very ornate plasterwork).


I could equally well have focussed on the picture frames.

But that is another story.

Seurat with shadow

Seurat with shadow


  1. Too easy.. Doktor Caroline.. The 'aesthete'

    I feel, you purposefully miss.. Your.. 'Own backyard'

    *.. Still a fan.. ****

    'Camber' has always been happily.. Crass..

    But, it's not just you guys, the.. New 'knowing' beach style Crasser$

    Other ..'South coasters' exist - As of today, or yesterday, tomorrow.. (!)


  2. I have been very busy in my backyard, and will return tomorrow. I will do my best to be crass. A balanced diet is what the doctor orders........