Posts Tagged ‘dulwich picture gallery’

james whistler, artist

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the belief ‘art for art’s sake’

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames is a new exhibition of Whistler’s etching and paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. ‘An American in London’ is overdoing it a bit since James McNeill Whistler left Massachusetts and America to study in Paris in 1855 at the age of 21, and came to London four years later, where he remained on and off for the rest of his life. That said, the exhibition admirably displays his genius for capturing the atmosphere and bustle of life in late 19th century London.

Whistler arrived in London as a Bohemian artist full of the lessons of Courbet’s realism, and Baudelaire’s instructions that the artist of the day should depict the life of the time. His aim was to do with London docks and life on the Thames what the impressionists in Paris were to do with the life and leisure of the middle classes of Paris and the Seine. This is seen to full effect in the exhibition with several rooms of his etchings and sketches of ships and wharfs on the river, and glimpses of squalid London life. But he also captured the moods of the river at different times of the day. And this was the case with his paintings of life on the water: the river, the bridges, the people, which are shown in the final rooms.

james whistler, artist, westminster bridge, river thames, london

James Whistler, The Last of Old Westminster, 1862
The new bridge is built over the old in a forest of piles and timbers

For 16 years Whistler lived in Lindsey Row in Chelsea from where he sketched and etched the Thames so often that it became a part of him. In seeking to capture atmosphere, he titled many of his paintings ‘arrangements’, ‘harmonies’, and ‘nocturnes’. Whilst his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, his public persona was combative. He was a man who liked to live his life in the public eye and was very concerned about his personal appearance and the critical reception of his paintings. And that was where his troubles began. (more…)


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Paul Nash The Void 1918

Paul Nash, The Void, 1918
Working from memory, Nash depicted the total devastation of the Great War, shocking the viewer’s sensibilities. This dark, hellish scene reveals the war’s desolation, destruction, and terror.

A new exhibition has opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, Nash, Nevison, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922. These six artists, David Bomberg, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Richard (C R W) Nevison, and Stanley Spencer, were all students of the Slade School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture at University College in central London in the years around 1910.

The Slade was then opening its doors to a remarkable crop of young talents, what the Professor of Drawing, Henry Tonks, later described as the school’s second and last ‘Crisis of Brilliance’ (the first included Augustus John, Percy Wyndham Lewis, and William Orpen). Bomberg, Nash and Nevison became war artists in the First World War, and Nash and Spencer were also war artists in the Second World War.  In A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (Old Street Publishing, 2009), David Boyd Haycock tells the story of this entangled, war-defined group (Bomberg was not included).

David Bomberg Study for Sappers at Work France

David Bomberg, Study for Sappers at Work, A Canadian Tunnelling Company, Hill 60, St Eloi, France 1918-19

The exhibition, in bringing together more than 70 original works including paintings, drawings and prints, plus original letters, documents and photographs, shows how the First World War crushed the ambitions of that generation of talented artists, who felt that they had failed to portray the full horror of the slaughter.

Brian Sewell writing in the Evening Standard on 20 June 2013, link, says ‘Rarely, if ever, have I said “Wow” on entering an exhibition in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, but I did say it last week. The cause was David Bomberg’s painting of Canadian sappers tunnelling below the trenches in the Great War …’ In the conclusion to his review, Sewell, in his typical form, says ‘I wish it were compulsory for every art student at the Slade school now [and at other schools] to spend an hour in this exhibition for I’d wager that amongst their thousands they would not muster one with the talent and skills of these half-dozen prodigious tyros of a century ago. Would “Wow” be their response? (more…)

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