Category Archives: Portraits

Monochrome at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

Monochrome was one of those exhibitions at the National Gallery that  I booked for more out of a sense of duty. How wrong I was!! it was fantastic. It was amazing that drawings and paintings looked so much more 3D in black and white than in colour.

‘La Grande Odalisque’ in black and white. The pillars are in the glaring yellow colour of the last room of the exhibition

Ingres’s  (1780-1867) La Grande Odalisque was so much more sensual and fleshy in monochrome than in colour. You have to go to the exhibition and see Ingres’s own black and white version to see just what I mean.

Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque in colour

The  paintings and drawings of stone sculptures were so life-like you could imagine that seen by candlelight without bright daylight or electricity viewers would believe they were real. Some incredible trompe l’oeil. A must see.

Image of a young girl painted to look like a photograph


Once photography became commonplace, some artists regarded it as an enemy. Others like the author of this delightful portrait of a young girl meant his work  to be like a photograph. Artists were told to Imitate,  Rival or Challenge.

My only caveat. The last room deigned by Olaf Eliasson  was lit entirely in very bright yellow – ostensibly to make it easier to see details. But I ended up with flickering lights behind my left eye for ages. I think there should have been a warning and the possibility of missing that room – though I couldn’t have known it would affect me so adversely.

Ashley Bickerton – Damien Hirst does it again


Orange Shark (2008)

Ashley Bickerton’s Ornamental Hysteria is another brilliant exhibition in Damien Hurst’s gallery in Newport Street. Like the previous exhibition of his own Jeff Koons artefacts, the exhibition extends over two floors.

Born in Barbados in 1959, he has moved around the world ending up in New York in 1982.

Flower Pot (2009)

It’s hard to choose which of his work I liked best. This sculpture of colourful flowers growing out of skulls is certainly high on my list. The texture and colour of the stone container are gorgeous. The painting behind is Red Scooter (2009) a joyous vision of a family and their dog riding a red scooter on the beach.

Canoe, shark, woman (2016)

Love this sculpture of a woman balancing on a pile of coconuts and holding another hammer-head shark .

The serene painting on the wall behind is K.T._K.T (2015).

I must go again!!


Exhibition at the Royal Academy September 24th – January 2nd 2017


The pleasure was in huge rooms full of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), most of which I hadn’t seen before and Rothko,  (1903-1970) panels in lovely bright colours – one from 1949 subtitled Violet, black, orange,  yellow on White and Red – and much more.

I was not surprised to find that two of the paintings by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) were so like de Kooning’s (1904-1997) when I read that he was Kooning’s mentor.

Though I quite liked the large abstract sculptures in the courtyard outside, only one of the sculptures within the exhibition really excited me – Sky Cathedral Moon Garden + One by Louise Nevelson 1957-60. A large sculpture composed of turned and shaped wood, I found it mystical and entralling.

The pain was yet again tiny print on the labels so that to read them I had to walk up close to the wall. Since following my heart attack my exercise tolerance is limited, it was literally a pain having to walk nearly twice the distance to read them all. In my view, if an artist gives their work a title, even if Untitled, it is relevant and should be easy to find. bad mark, curator.

Cover from Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952
Cover from Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952

I always promise myself that I’m not going to buy one more art book. We have too many on our coffee table already.
But this one was irresistible. Not only is the colour reproduction excellent but the text is interesting and readable.


Gothenburg’s Konstmuseum – Museum of Art

'Beggar' by Giacomo Ceruti 1698-1767
‘Beggar’ by Giacomo Ceruti 1698-1767

For us, no visit to a city is complete without going shopping and exploring at least one art museum.

The Konstmuseum at Gothenburg, a stark edifice on the outside, had two exhibitions – Watched – Surveillance, Art and Photography’ an exhibition of photographs that explored the extent to which we are all subject to surveillance and  included a hologram of a woman who spoke greetings in several different languages. and Gränslöst Unbounded. The Eighteenth century Mirrored by the Present, an exhibition giving the modern take on 18th century art.  There are also several floors of their permanent collection of Scandinavian artists and a room of impressionist pictures we were unfamiliar with.

18th Century porcelain
18th Century porcelain
Porcelain figure by Christin-Pontus Anderson
Porcelain figure by Christin-Pontus Anderson

Eighteenth century porcelain amazed us with its detail. I tried to imagine what it would have like working often under poor lighting with a soft material that would flow this way and than and maybe all for a pittance.

There were unsettling modern porcelain figures by Christian-Pontus Andersson, so different from the delicate waif-like ballet dancers of Degas , especially his Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. 

Equally unsettling were the few included photographs including the selfie of the obese Ilu Susiraja, Re-Animate Me by Tobias Bernstrup, and Volcanoes by Frida Fjellman.

Painters’ Paintings at the National Gallery, London

Poster for Painters' paintings showing Lucien Freud and his Corot portrait
Poster for Painters’ paintings showing Lucien Freud and his Corot portrait

Yet another fascinating exhibition at the National Gallery.  This time it’s of paintings collected by other painters.

It’s a large exhibition and by its nature it feels a bit discontinuous but a wonderful opportunity to see paintings from such a wide variety of collections.

Books about the painters represented in the exhibition
Books about the painters represented in the exhibition

And it you want to read further, the National Gallery shop has a mouth-watering collection of books about the painters whose collections and works are on display.

Again it’s a ‘don’t miss’ if you can make it to London!!



King George III at his coronation September 22nd 1761 by Allan Ramsay
King George III at his coronation September 22nd 1761 by Allan Ramsay

For me, this is the saddest portrait in the exhibition. Allan Ramsay has portrayed the young King George III (1713-1754) in his coronation robes in all his divine glory. His queen, Charlotte, and children are shown in a paired portrait hanging next to it.

Little did anyone at the time know about the dreadful metabolic disease porphyria, that was said to have sent him into bouts of madness – so beautifully shown in the play The Madness of King George, though more recent evidence suggests that his symptoms may indicate that he suffered from mental illness and that there are other explanations for his discoloured urine.

John Pettie's Bonnie Prince Charlie
John Pettie’s Bonnie Prince Charlie

This for me, is the jolliest portrait on show, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart 1720-1788). A handsome young man, in the excellent audio guide provided as part of your ticket, Alexander McCall Smith comments on the fineness of Charlie’s legs and that he would himself prefer to wear his kilt below his knees.

Bonnie he might have been but his attempt on the English and Scottish thrones with the aid of the French was doomed to failure and he spent the rest of his life in exile.

Miniature by Robert Thorburn 1818-1885
Miniature by Robert Thorburn 1818-1885

This is my favourite portrait of Prince Albert even though it’s a miniature painted by Robert Thorburn in watercolour on ivory – no longer an acceptable medium.

Here he looks thoughtful and wistful – not the stern martinet as he is often portrayed.



First lecture in Module 3
First lecture in Module 3

I had been to lectures in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery on upcoming exhibitions but it wasn’t until I looked through their Spring What’s On that I discovered these brilliant lectures on the History of Art. I’d unfortunately missed the first two modules but the first on of this term’s module 3 was fantastic. The tutor, Lucrezia Walker, first pointed out the main differences between the rather static, formal Renaissance art and that of the Baroque period using Bernini’s sculptures as illustrations.

Caravaggio Self-portrait

She then went on to discuss Caravaggio’s work in depth – his time in Rome, his flight to Naples and then on to Malta only to die while attempting to return to Italy.

I’m not sure what I expected from his self portrait – perhaps more of a bully0boy in keeping with his reputation as a brawler and out-spoken difficult man. I hadn’t realised that at the time some of his works were considered too sacrilegious and that he had to repaint them.

One of his paintings of an appealing young boy with ever so slightly damaged fruit
One of his paintings of an appealing young boy with ever so slightly damaged fruit


He certainly admired young boys, whether only as models for him, and painted them as luscious objects. His meticulous baskets of fruit are tongue-in-cheek with evidence of decay and dissolution for the close observer.




Glitzy laughing model
Glitzy laughing Naomi Campbell

Everyone has been raving about the huge Vogue100 exhibition – a pictorial history of Vogue magazine since its birth in 1916. Several of my friends have been twice.

Yes, there are loads of fantastic portraits. though I liked best the long tables of black and white photographs. I particularly liked the hand-drawn and painted covers of the early years.
But the National Portrait Gallery curators elected to do something I really hate – group the  captions to one side of the exhibits so that at times it was hard to tell which description went with which photo.  The detailed descriptions were in a small thin font, difficult to read especially in the rooms where the light had been dimmed. My view is that the title of any artefact is  important, especially if given by the author of the piece, and should be easy to find and read, even if the artist has elected to call the work Untitled .

A quotation from the Vogue of 1938 Primer of Art made my hackles rise:
A lady of quality should be able to walk into any drawing room, to look at the picture over the mantelpiece and to exclaim: “Oh what a charming  Picasso of the early Blue Period”, or “I like your new Follower of Masaccio (circa 1420) immensely.” If she guesses right she is a gentleman and a scholar.”
The cheek!!

Portraits of my favourite authors and other artists
Portraits of my favourite authors and other artists

I loved the Russia and the Arts exhibition – and not only because the titles were underneath each portrait!! Included were portraits of some of my best-loved Russian authors whose books I’d first pored over in my teenage years – Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky – as well as musicians like Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, painters (mainly unfamiliar to me) and patrons – from the years 1867-1914.

My mother and grandmother were Russian so there was probably a bond there.
Memoir extract from The Girl with a Threepenny Birth Certificate

My grandmother was a tall, commanding woman with dark hair piled on top of her head. As a deeply orthodox Jewish woman it would have been a sheitel, a wig. I always went to bed before she did and I never saw her without it. I loved her and looked forward to curling up against her warm back in the big double bed we shared. Continue reading VOGUE100 & RUSSIA AND THE ARTS AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY LONDON


Ballet 3
Joint performance by Royal Ballet School and Dagenham Park C OF E School

A wonderful crisp spring afternoon at The White Lodge in Richmond Park with performances together and separately by children from the Royal Ballet School and from Dagenham Park Church of England School, a partnership under the auspices of the aDvANCE project which offered collaboration between the Royal Ballet School and  people learning dance in different contexts.

The standard achieved in terms of both movement and musicality by both groups was amazing. They had clearly learned much from each other. I am old enough to have seen Margot Fonteyn dance on the stage but rarely have I seen such an exciting performance. The children from the RBS were lithe – the girls all with their hair pulled tight in a bun at the top of their heads and the boys with short – not shaved – hair. The children from Dagenham C of E school ranged from slender to frankly plump with frizzy hair, hair in cornrows, some bleached and some straight.
After only a term’s coaching they had achieved coherence and style. The ideas came from the children and edited into performance standard by the RBS choreographer. They danced to Over You and On the Nature of Daylight, while the RBS children danced to the Mazurka from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Percussion by Don Ricardo Garcia. Their joint performance was to excerpts from Swan Lake.

Sitting in Richmond Park within easy reach of Central London, The White Lodge looked at its best, herds of deer grazing in the distance. The building  was originally constructed as a hunting lodge for George ii, and particularly memorable for me were the painted portraits and photographs of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who lived there while they were still the Duke and Duchess of York. Growing up in London, as I did during WW2, I have very fond memories of the Pathé News showing the King and Queen visiting the East End bomb sites I knew only too well. When two bombs landed in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace the Queen said  “I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face“.


Giorgione at the Royal Academy
Giorgione at the Royal Academy

There has been a slew of exhibitions recently of major artists with either the artists they influenced or together with other artists making work at around the same time – such as the Botticelli and
Delacroix exhibitions.

This exhibition, In the Age of Giorgione, at the Royal Academy brings together paintings by artists working in Venice including  Giorgione (Giovanni Cariani 1477/8 – 1510) himself and other Renaissance masters such as Titian, Bellini, Lotto and del Plombo as well as by
Albrecht Durer.   I much preferred the Giorgione and  Durer portraits  to the rest. They speak to me in a way the others do not.

Little is know of Giorgione’s life, other than that at 23 he was already appreciated enough to be asked to paint the portraits of the Doge Agostino Barbarigo and of the condottiere Consalvo Ferrante.  Born in Castelfranco, he died at the early age of 33 – already extremely influential among his contemporaries.