Saturday, 26 July 2008

Robin Simon's Daily Mail weekly choice


Winifred Coombe Tennant: A Life through Art
National Museum Cardiff
26 July-9 November
Free admission

The Davies sisters gave incomparable Impressionist painting to the National Museum of Wales. Now a new exhibition celebrates Winifred Coombe Tennant who donated outstanding Welsh paintings. Eighty works on view include plenty by Kyffin Williams (see picture) and also Gwen John who linked Tennant’s two great loves, Wales and France.

The Vulture, Daily Mail, 25 July 2008

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Courtauld 75th anniversary


Enjoying a joke… his own. Robin Simon giving the welcoming speech at the Courtauld Institute's 75th anniversary evening at Somerset House, London, on 5 July 2008.
For more pics click Courtauld at 75.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Doing a runner at the Tate (whoops! 'Tate')

Another Tate stunt… I forbear to mention the stunt artiste responsible and you will have to look at this link to an Oz paper that knows a piece of nonsense when it hears of it. 
I was trying to teach in the Tate when this began. We were greeted by a health and safety adviser when we arrived. As we passed, for various reasons, through the bowels of the Tate 'back stage', with relays of sweaty runners under our feet and we under theirs, I warned my students not to touch 'the art works'. The sprinters, some of whom were clearly swifter and fitter than others, were under no illusions about the absurdity of the exercise but then, they were being paid quite well to trot back and forth.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Lars Tharp new director of Foundling Museum

The amiable and brilliant Lars Tharp is the new director of the Foundling Museum where he will begin work on 1 October 2008. Lars follows the remarkable Rhian Harris who has overseen every stage of the creation of the Foundling in its new form as one of the outstanding museums in Britain and  is moving on to take over as Director of the V&A's Museum of Childhood.
Lars is familiar as one of the long-term stars of BBC1's The Antiques Road Show. He is a leading ceramics expert and general all-round Hogarth nut, which is just as well since the Foundling contains three of Hogarth's greatest paintings as well as works by Allan Ramsay, John Michael Rysbrack, Joshua Reynolds and John Singleton Copley. It also houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection and the fair copy of the score of Handel's Messiah. Louis-Fran├žois Roubiliac's terracotta bust of Handel is one of the glories of the Foundling's Picture Gallery, which is dominated by Hogarth's unforgettable portrait of Captain Coram.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The BP Portrait Award 2008

The BP Portrait Award 2008 is the worst yet, a dismal array of photo-realist images: if they were not executed with a spray-gun, they look like it. This annual show at the National Portrait Gallery in London used to be one of the few places left where those still engaged in the skilful use of brush, oil and canvas were recognized. In 2003, this ceased to be the case. I wrote at the time in the Daily Mail:

'This annual show, now in its twenty-second year, performs the invaluable task of reminding us that each generation is bursting with young people still determined to paint people, and to find fresh ways of doing so.

These are the hardy souls who survive the scorn of their supposed teachers at the art schools, where they are often forbidden to draw from the model, and sneered at for painting the world as they see it.

Naturally, they are ignored by the likes of Charles Saatchi and have to scrounge a living without the massive subsidies of the state-sponsored art of the Tate and its Turner Prize parade of charlatans.

And yet… this year I smell a rat. I arrived full of optimism and carried out my usual exercise of spotting the works I admired without looking at the labels or knowing which had won the four awards. The nominations – my four nominations – were: Eddie by Jack Scouller; Jack by Toby Wiggins; Self-portrait, postman by Jason Walker; and Libby Sheldon by Emma Wesley. And my winner is… Emma Welsey for her portrait of Libby Sheldon.

Well, I was wrong, wasn’t I? At least so far as the official awards are concerned. Not one of my winners picked up any of the awards, from the £25,000 first prize to the £1,000 fourth. The trouble, I discovered, is that I was still judging the pictures on the ludicrously old-fashioned basis of how well they were painted.

Three of the official prizes all went to images of slick hyper-realistic trickery that look suspiciously as though they were painted with a spray-gun on top of a colour transparency projected onto canvas. Technically, it is clever, of course, just as spray-painting a stolen vehicle has to be cleverly done. But without the excitement of the brush mark on the canvas, it is all sterile stuff. Only the fourth prize looked as though it had any life in it, and there the brush had actually intervened.

This "snap, enlarge and spray" method is not a new trick, not by any means. And judging by the evidence of this competition it is the predominant technique now taught in the colleges, and approved by the BP judges. It has long been the only kind of realistic art approved by the Tate, and the winner adhered to that dubious formula…'

That was 2003. Now, in 2008, there are NO worthwhile portraits in this selection that have been made by traditional brushwork. It is not that excellent examples of this kind of painting do not exist. They still continue to be made, in the teeth of official discouragement. It is that they have been here, as everywhere else, deliberately excluded. Such artists are now 'non-people'. As a result, the once-marvellous BP Portrait Award no longer serves any useful purpose.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

John Harris wins the Berger Prize

The doyen of architectural history, indeed the maverick of architectural history, John Harris, OBE, has won the £5000 William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2007 for Moving Rooms: the Trade in Architectural Salvages, published by Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre. The prize is awarded annually by The British Art Journal together with the Berger Collection Educational Trust of Denver. 
In a reception at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in London on 2 July 2008 the presentation was made by Tim Knox, Director of Sir John Soane's Museum. 
The assessors commented: 'The author wears his immense knowledge and scholarship lightly, and lifts the lid on so many subjects. The tale he has to tell is rich in its implications. The book forces us to reconsider fundamental questions about the nature of authenticity in all fields, so radically indeed, that this study could almost be reckoned a "postmodern" achievement. It opens up endless possibilities for future research. No-one else could have written it.'
Guests at the reception included Professor Brian Allen, Director of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; Dr Martin Postle, Assistant Director, Paul Mellon Centre; Eileen Harris; Richard Ormond (formerly Director of the National Portrait Gallery and of the National Maritime Museum) and Professor Leonee Ormond; Dr John Martin Robinson; Dr Paula Henderson (winner of the 2006 William MB Berger Prize); Dr Wendy Baron; Dr Gert-Rudolf Flick; William Drummond; Elizabeth Einberg; Dr Celina Fox; Dr Susan Jenkins (English Heritage, Apsley House); Emeritus Professor Andrew Sanders; Jane Martineau (Burlington Magazine); Kim Sloan (British Museum); Professor Edward Chaney; Sally Salvesen (Yale University Press).