Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Volunteering at The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum

Volunteering at The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum

As mentioned in my May post since June last year I’ve been volunteering at the The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum (RHF). However, I've recently left the RHF museum to move down to England so I thought I'd memorialise my time there in one last blog post. 

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Regimental Headquarters and Museum is located near Charing Cross on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and it’s a hidden gem stuffed to the gunnels with all sorts of historic military paraphernalia. The Royal Highland Fusiliers were formed in 1959 by the amalgamation of two of the British Army’s most distinguished Regiments The Royal Scots Fusiliers and The Highland Light Infantry

Me holding a medal

I found the RHF Museum shortly after graduating from my Museum Studies course and I’ve spent the last year volunteering there in various capacities. Volunteering at the museum has been a really great way of building my CV and getting some much needed ‘hands on’ curatorial and archival experience that’s much needed -and expected- these days before even hoping to find paid work within the cultural heritage sector. Tasks at the RHF museum have included everything from organising display cases, conducting archival research and handling enquiries from veteran’s families seeking information on relatives who once served with the Regiment. This placement has also involved assisting in the digitisation of WW1 related documents and artefacts and managing the museum’s dreaded electronic database system (Modes).

For this month's post I thought I’d share some of the interesting artefacts kept in the collection that have really caught my eye over the last year. Up for discussion are the WWI gas masks and a 'Dead Mans Penny'/Memorial Scroll donated to the museum by the family of RSF Pte Walter Rumph.

The P helmet and the PH helmet
Probably the most distinctive items currently on display are the two nightmarish First World War gas masks kept in the RHF museum's Gallery Five. The masks on display are the P helmet and PH helmet and are worth seeking out (see picture's below).

Machine Gunners in gas masks during the Battle of the Somme in France, July, 1916.

Gas masks used in World War One were made as a result of poison gas attacks that took the Allies in the trenches on the Western Front by surprise. Early gas masks were crude since no-one had thought that poison gas would ever be used in warfare as the mere thought seemed too shocking. The P helmet, PH helmet were early types of gas masks issued by the British Army during the War to protect troops against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases. Rather than having a separate filter for removing the toxic chemicals they consisted of a gas-permeable hood worn over the head which was treated with chemicals.  The P (or Phenate) Helmet, officially called the Tube Helmet, appeared in July 1915, replacing the simpler Hypo Helmet.

The "P" helmet introduced in 1915
The Phenate or "P" helmet was made of two layers of flannelette (Cotton) with an added mouth piece. The inner layer of flannelette is usually, not always, striped pajama flannelette. "P" stands for Phenate. These stayed in service until Jan 1916 as Primary defense. It featured two mica eyepieces instead of the single visor of its predecessor, and added an exhaust valve fed from a metal tube which the wearer held in his mouth. It had flannel layers of cloth-dipped in sodium phenolate and glycerin and protected against chlorine and phosgene, but not against tear gas. Around 9 million were made.

The "PH" helmet introduced in 1915
Phenate-Hexamine or "PH" helmet is almost identical to the P helmet. The real difference was in the dipping solution. PH Helmets are usually stamped PH with a number (Lot number). The PH Helmet introduced in October 1915, with added hexamethylene tetramine, greatly improved protection against phosgene and added protection against hydrocyanic acid. Around 14 million were made and it remained in service until the end of the war by which time it was relegated to second line use.

'Dead Man's Penny' and Memorial Scroll donated to the museum by the family of RSF Pte Walter Rumph
Also on display in the same gallery is a selection of Memorial Plaques and Scrolls. For this post I've specifically focused on a memorial Plaque that was given to the next of kin to Private Walter Rumph and subsequently been donated to the RHF museum.

These Memorial Plaques were made of bronze and often referred to as ‘Dead Man’s Penny’s’ due to their similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin. The Memorial Plaques where issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. 

Dead Man’s Penny commemorating the death of RSF Private Walter Rumph
It was decided that the design of the plaque, about 5 inches (120 mm) in diameter and cast in bronze, was to be picked from submissions made in a public competition. Over 800 designs were submitted and the competition was won by the sculptor and medallist Edward Carter Preston with his design called Pyramus, receiving a first place prize of £250.  This token includes an image of Britannia holding a trident and standing with a lion. The designer's initials, E.CR.P. appear above the front paw. In her left outstretched hand Britannia holds an oak wreath above the rectangular tablet bearing the deceased's name cast in raised letters. The name does not include the rank since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals. Two dolphins swim around Britannia, symbolising Britain's sea power, and at the bottom a second lion is tearing apart the German eagle. The reverse is blank, making it a plaquette rather than a table medal. Around the picture the legend reads (in capitals) "He died for freedom and honour", or for the six hundred plaques issued to commemorate women, "She died for freedom and honour".
The plaques were issued in a pack with a commemorative scroll from King George V. The scroll was printed on high quality paper, size 11 x 7 inches (27cm x 17cm).
The committee found the choice of words very difficult and asked for advice from numerous well-known writers. Among those approached for suggestions was Rudyard Kipling, whose only son John was missing in action, believed killed, at the Battle of Loos in late September 1915. However, even with this help the committee couldn't make a decision on the words. Dr Montague Rhodes James, Provost of King's College Cambridge, was then asked if he would write a draft for the wording. 

The accepted wording agreed by the committee was:

He whom this scroll commemorates
was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them
endured hardnedss, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty
and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.

Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

The text was to be printed in calligraphic script beneath the Royal Crest followed by the name of the commemorated serviceman giving his rank, name and regiment individually written in calligraphic sc.

Scroll for RSF Private Walter Rumph

During my time at the RHF Museum I helped cataloging many of these plaques and scrolls. I became quite attached to these items that belonged to Pte Walter Rumph’s family as I was put in charge of listing and cataloging them when they where recently handed into the museum. Among the collection of items handed in with Pte Rumph’s death penny and scroll was a selection of embroidered postcards from the front, a series of photographs and many other personal belongings and trinkets.

Pte Walter Rumph with his wife Helen and daughter Gracie
 Tragically, Walter died on October 31st, 1918 just a week before the war ended, leaving a widow and a small daughter, Gracie.

Postcard reads: 'With compliments and kind rememberance of 28 sept 1913, 5 years of the best with love Dear from your loving husband Walter xxxx'

The postcard above was sent to his wife on their five year wedding anniversary. Just over a month later Walter Rumph was killed on the Western front on October 31st 1918 a week before the war ended.

Here's a segment about The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum filmed recently by STVGlasgow for the Riverside Show -look closely enough and you can see me 30 seconds in standing in the background of the main gallery.


Nemo Me Impune Lacessit 
(No One Assails Me With Impunity)


Friday, 1 May 2015

Churchill and The Royal Scots Fusiliers

Chuchill and The Royal Scots Fusiliers

Since June last year I’ve been volunteering at the The Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Regimental Headquarters and Museum is located near Charing Cross on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and it’s a hidden gem stuffed to the gunnels with a sorts of historic military paraphernalia.

The Royal Highland Fusiliers were formed in 1959 by the amalgamation of two of the British Army’s most distinguished Regiments The Royal Scots Fusiliers and The Highland Light Infantry. Recently the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's funeral two months ago caused me to think of one of the more famous alumni of the The Royal Scots Fusiliers….  The very same Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Lt-Colonel Churchill commanding the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers 1916
Winston Churchill famously said ‘it was in Scotland I found the three best things in my life: my wife, my constituency and my regiment’. The regiment he found was the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the second oldest of all the Scottish regiments.
Lt-Colonel Churchill commanding the 6th Battalion (close up)

After his resignation from the government in 1915, Churchill rejoined the British Army and after spending some time as a Major with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers on 1 January 1916.
Correspondence with his wife shows that his intent in taking up active service was to rehabilitate his reputation, which was at an all-time low after having to leave his position as First Lord of the Admiralty after the disastrous battle of Gallipoli. During his period of command the battalion did not take part in any set battle although Colonel Churchill exposed himself personally to danger by making 36 excursions made into no man’s land. Churchill apparently won his troop’s affection early on when he successfully lobbied for dry socks to be given to sentries who had been standing in the rain. I’ve personally read a lot of the First World War battalion diaries there constant references to soldiers suffering from ailments caused by Trench Foot and poor footwear, I can see how this would have endeared him to the men.

During the First World War the regiment raised 19 battalions, was awarded 58 battle honours and 4 Victoria Crosses. It lost a total of 5,600 men over the course of the war.

Anyway, one item that caught my eye recently was a beautifully framed letter and photograph of Churchill hidden away in one of the museums more jumbled store rooms, jokingly known to museum staff as simply ‘Room 13’. It seemed a shame that this is not on view to the public so I thought I’d post it here (see picture bellow).

Picture frame with photo and letter.

Churchill letter (close up)

Churchill photo (close up)

The photograph appears to be hand signed by Churchill himself.
The letter reads:

I am very glad that the Second World War history of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Scots Fuiliers, should be written. I remember with pride commanding the 6th Battalion of this famous Regiment in the First World War, and my memories and admiration for it endure.

Winston Churchill

I’m not sure what 'Second World War history' the letter is referring to but (I need to do a little more research on it) but its worth mentioning that after the First World War in 1925 to mark the 250th anniversary of the regiment, the immensely popular author of The Thirty-Nine Steps John Buchan published The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (1678-1918). The book was dedicated to Buchan’s brother Alastair who fell in the Great War while serving with the regiment.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Duncan Shanks Sketchbooks at the Hunterian: The Poetry of Place

Duncan Shanks Sketchbooks: The Poetry of Place
‌14 March – 16 August 2015
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission free

My partner Mila Athayde has been busy for the last year cataloging work at the Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery by the renowned Scottish Artist Duncan Shanks so for this months post I thought I’d discuss the project she’s been working on there. The Duncan Shanks sketchbook exhibition: The Poetry of Place. 

Duncan Shanks was born in Airdrie and studied at Glasgow School of Art where he later lectured. He draws his subjects and inspiration from the countryside around his home in the Clyde Valley. Strong colour and richly-applied paint chart the changing seasons and the forces imminent in nature. His works also examine the perennial tasks and practices of traditional rural life.

Corra Linn main fall in summer (mid-1980s) by Duncan Shanks
He was featured in STV’s Talking Pictures (see video bellow) an art show featuring a different Scottish or Scotland based artist during the early nineties. It’s a bit dated now but it does give you a good insight into Duncan Shanks work. Incidentally STV appears to have uploaded the entire series onto YouTube and its well worth seeking out.

Duncan Shanks studied at Glasgow School of Art in the early 1950s and after graduating became a part-time lecturer at the School, where he taught until 1979. He has exhibited widely in Scotland and the UK and is represented in public and private collections across the country, including Scottish Arts Council, Arts Council of Great Britain, Glasgow Art Gallery, Dundee Art Gallery, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie, Government Art Collection, Edinburgh City Art Centre, Glasgow University and Edinburgh University.

Pink Cloud, Red Pole (1973-1978) by Duncan Shanks
Recently a 100 or so sketchbooks documenting Duncan Shanks’s lifelong interest in the Clyde Valley and his own garden have been the subject of ongoing curatorial study in collaboration with Chris Allan and the artist. The aim was to catalogue his sketchbooks and provide an insight into the life and work of one of Scotland’s most accomplished contemporary landscape and still-life painters. The work will result in an on-line catalogue of the sketchbooks and an exhibition at The Hunterian opening on the 14th of March and running to August the 16th.

This exhibition seeks to open up this unique body of work that will display his ability to astonish with colour and form, communicate his desire to share the feeling of being at one with Nature, and offer a glimpse into the increasingly varied functions of his sketchbooks over the past five decades.

No one can be more in tune with nature than the landscape painter who walks. Each step on the way changes some aspect of experience and all experience, internal and external, is put to work in the creative process. And for a painter so sensitive to change, in weather, in the growth and decay of nature’s cycle there might be sufficient on the doorstep, or from the studio window to inspire a lifetime’s work, indeed the profusion of nature exaggerated by geography might positively discourage travel. A true landscape artist, Shanks presents us not with the familiar and predictable face of Nature but enables us to crouch low or soar high, to see it as we have never seen it before. His 104 sketchbooks, gifted to The Hunterian over the past two years, have been the anchors of his life as an artist.

This major gift to The Hunterian is so special because it constitutes his entire output of sketchbooks from the past 45 years. The sketchbooks addition to the Hunterians collection will insure Shank’s art will be catalogued, photographed and conserved for future generations. Alongside the 30 sketchbooks on display for the exhibition an additional three paintings, Fragments of Memory (early 1990s), Shower from Tinto (1980-2010) and Night Garden (1995-2007), generously gifted by the artist to complement the sketchbook collection, will demonstrate the central role sketchbooks started to play in his work from the 1980s.

I have to also say the Hunterian Gallery deserves kudos for the hanging and display arrangements. The paintings look fantastic and as for the sketchbooks, the exhibition designers have opted for a sort of 'window shop' display that works really well and I think looks much nicer than the typical type of display cases usually reserved for books.

Duncan Shanks sketch books in 'window shop' display
Exhibition space

In short a really good exhibition do yourself and go check it out!

All pictures featured in this blog are from the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery.
To find out more follow this link: http://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/visit/exhibitions/focus/duncanshankssketchbooks/

Sunday, 1 March 2015

There and Back Again: Part III

There and Back Again: Part III

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

In my last post I wrote about the exhibitions I visited whilst in Manchester for this entry I’m going to talk about my cultural sightseeing in Brazil between most of December and early January. Up for discussion will be the Museu Castro Maya.

Whist in Rio I visited the Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art) and Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, but my favorite cultural highlights by far was the Museu Castro Maya or the Castro Maya Museum (in English). Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya (1894-1968), or Castro Maya for short, was a buisness man and art collector  who was born in Paris and returned there several times, which made him a very familiar with European culture, and particularly the French.

Museum Plaque

It was his activity as a collector supporting national artistic values ​​and the pursuit of public access to it's collections that made ​​him a great patron committed to the city of Rio in which he lived. He helped create of the Company of the Hundred Bibliophiles of Brazil, in 1943, filling a cultural gap by editing 23 books, and Castro founded the Society for Friends of Printmaking in 1952, helped to spread the taste for engraving as artistic expression. It is also important to highlight that Castro had a pivotal role in the founding of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, of which Castro was the first president.

The Castro Maya Museums - Museum of Sky Ranch in Santa Teresa, and Dam Museum, the Alto da Boa Vista - today constitute the set of museums belonging to the Brazilian Institute of Museums, Ministry of Culture. Based in Santa Teresa a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro located on top of the Santa Teresa hill. The area is famous for its winding, narrow streets a favorite spot for artists and tourists. The neighborhood originated around the Santa Teresa Convent, built in the 1750's on the Desterro hill. At the end of the 19th and early 20th century it was an upper class borough, as testified by its magnificent mansions, many of which are still standing. Santa Teresa has since ceased to be an upper-class neighborhood, but it has been recently revived as an artistic hotspot and is now home to several artists, art studios and galleries. Castro Maya, who lived in the neighborhood in his Chácara do Céu mansion which has now been turned into the Castro Maya Museum and its exhibits include works by Matisse, Jean Metzinger, Eliseu Visconti, Di Cavalcanti, and Candido Portinari it also includes some pretty smart period features.

Museum interior

Notice the painting Nature morte by Louis Casimir Marcoussis in the Museum Hallway

I truly loved the Castro Maya Museum not only does it boast a fantastic view from the hills looking over the city, but the yellow stone covering the facades and the exquisite art deco styled finishing’s make it worth checking out alone. Also the gardens that were designed by Roberto Burle Marx are beautiful and offer a very scenic view of downtown Rio.

Gardens were designed by Roberto Burle Marx

The view of downtown Rio

The Museum has a good selection of classical European art dating from the 1800's (Impressionists/expressionists ect) and Brazilian abstract art. The abstract art really caught my attention partly because Modernist Brazilian art was not something I was familiar with and there seemed to be some fascinating parallels with late Cubism/early Abstract Expressionism from America and Europe.

In Brazil abstract art as a movement came late in comparison to Europe. Brazil had a vigorous art scene, but it was one marked more by sturdy academic tradition. Even modern figurative art had to fight an arduous battle to impose itself upon the public during the 1920’s far behind what was going on in Europe and even the rest of South America. The Sao Paulo Biennial founded in 1951 (the second oldest art biennial in the world after the Venice Biennale) is commonly accepted as the landmark event that signaling the arrival abstract trends in Brazilian art. As a result of these changes on the national art scene the Castro Maya Museum from the 1950’s onwards started to expand its collection to the include more Abstract art. The epicenter of the Castro Maya collection is focused the years between the 1957 (IV) and 1959 (V) Biennials. As a result most of the works held by the Castro Maya Museum are composed during the second half of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.

Untitled (1959) by Georges Mathieu

Untitled (1959) by Jean Paul Riopelle

Its noticeable that a lot of this work in the collection features modernist work and ideas that lean towards nationalist themes such as slums and are more influenced by Geometric Abstraction/Cubism. These works probably functioned as a kind of safe-conduct for acceptance, given how behind the rest of the Modernist world Brazil was even with a man like Castro Maya needed work that still had (no matter how vague) a connection to the figurative. Many of these Geometric/Cubist works Castro Maya could relate to more immediately because there modern features were still linked to reality and where a more obvious continuation of those more accepted earlier modernist European trends.

Untitled (1960) by Jean Guillaume

Untitled (1960) by Ivan Serpa

The abstract acquisitions at the end of the 1950’s are linked to the building of his home in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. With its inauguration in 1958 the Chacara do Ceu was conceived as a white cube that would house the modern part of Maya’s Collection which was being vastly expanded at the time. Also while I was visiting the Museum had a show of contemporary art by Land Art and Installation artist Claudia Bakker showing the museum still has a role to play in the modern art world.

So yes, the Castro Maya Museum, very good!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

There and Back Again: Part II

There and Back Again: Part II

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

In my last post I wrote about the museums and galleries I visited whilst in Manchester for this entry I’m going to talk about my cultural sightseeing in London on the 7th of December. Up for discussion will be the Display Gallery, National Gallery in London and the Tate.

In this post I'll be discussing the exhibitions: 'Late Turner', 'Peder Balke' and 'Rembrandt: The Late Works'.
In two weeks time in Part III I’ll be discussing Brazil and the Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art), Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and Museus Castro Maya.

Tate Britain
The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free
The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free is the first exhibition devoted to the extraordinary work J.M.W. Turner created between 1835 and his death in 1851. Bringing together spectacular works from the UK and abroad, this exhibition celebrates Turner’s astonishing creative flowering in these later years. It's during this period he produced many of his finest pictures but was also controversial and unjustly misunderstood at the time. In his later work Tuner started to experiment with his technique further stepping away from the established rules of the dominant Romantic and Neoclassical traditions of this era. It’s this style that is said to have become influential to Monet to Matisse, who learned from Turner how colour could be expressive, atmospheric, even abstract. This causes many to argue that Turner is then the father of modern art.

I’ve always loved Turner I think he’s the greatest British artist of his era, if not the greatest British artist ever. So this collection of his later work on display at the Tate - just in time for the new 'Oscar bait' biopic movie was a must see for me.

If anything the exhibition is huge and there's a lot of diversity among Turners later works. This exhibition is notable for even displaying unfinished canvases taken from his studio after his death. It’s left to the viewer to decide whether these painting truly represent Turner. To be honest I think Turner had hits and misses at every period in his career and everything here is on show. But there is enough classic masterpieces on display to keep even the most critical eye at bay –the only big exception being The Slave Ship, originally entitled Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon coming on (1840).

Some of the classics on display are Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) with the Philadelphia Museum’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1834), Burial at Sea (1842) and Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842).

Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)
Burial at Sea (1842)
Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)

Late Turner: Painting Set Free as well as unfinished also exhibits watercolours and sketchbooks. So in short, any painting geek who really wants to get under the skin of JWM Turner has every opportunity in this show.

Peder Balke at the National Gallery

I don’t know why but I’ve always been a sucker for Scandinavian stuff whether it be my love of Tove Jansson’s Moomins and her sparsely written adult fiction, Vikings and Norse mythology, my fascination with Nowlegien Black Metal and the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, the recent RSA travel awards depictions of Antarctica by Frances Walker, the vonlenska folk styled falsettos of Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, to the modern gothic Frankenstein esc classic ghost story set in Svalbard written by Michelle Paver ‘Dark Matter’. Generally culture from that part of the world tends to draw my attention. I don’t know why -maybe it’s my northern roots showing themselves. Either way the Norwegian artist Peder Balke, whom I hadn’t heard of until recently really caught my eye. In defense of my ignorance I don’t think he particularly well known outside his own country. 

North Cape (probably 1840s) by Peder Balke
Peder Balke (1804-1887) is one of the most innovative and original artists at the moment the Romantic era gave way to the Modern. In order to depict the sublime landscapes of his native Norway, he invented a highly experimental technique. For this, he was greatly criticized during his lifetime, and eventually forgotten. In retrospect being shunned by the elite for starting to develop your own experimental style is something of an artistic badge of honor.

The Trolltindene Range (1845) by Peder Balke
By 1832, the 28-year-old Peder Balke was already noted for his indefatigable walking tours of Southern Norway in search of landscape motifs. That year his horizons expanded as a ship carried him due north along the rugged coast high above the Arctic Circle, beyond the North Cape to the border of Russia. It was further than any Norwegian artist before him had traveled for his art. Balke repeatedly returns to a few landscape motifs like the Northern Cape and he usually relies on a surprisingly simple compositional formulae; for the most part, his pictures consist of horizontal strata rising up the picture plane one atop another to represent various combinations of sea, shore, cliff, mountain ranges and sky. In some pictures the horizontal strata are intersected by a single, resonant vertical – a lighthouse or a jagged peak – charged with symbolic import. Depiction of given motif slowly became for Balke a forum for experimentation with colour, light effects and paint-handling techniques.

Balke’s earlier works executed between the 1840’s and 1850’s are very competent Scandinavian landscapes what really got my inner painter excited was his 1860’s onwards work. The depicted landscapes become whiter, starker and more minimalistic with cold seascapes and epic mountain ranges. This bleaker subject matter is also mirrored in his painting style which becomes more impressionist and the canvases less ‘finished’. Paint has often been rubbed back leaving nothing behind but the white ground primer layer and often exposing the texture of the wooden board beneath. It’s a painting technique that seems to become Balke’s signature style.

Mount Stetind in Fog (1864) by Peder Balke
North Cape (1860s) by Peder Balke

One of many 'North Cape's (pictured above) this is representative of his process. Here, thinned washes of paint flow across the ground prime layer until, it seems, they draw fourth the scene inherent in the flow of the medium.
Sun Breaking Through Clouds at Vardøhus by Peder Balke

Some of the bleak expressionism qualities of Balke's work bring to mind The Scream fellow Norwigian artist Edvard Munch. I can't help wondering if there isn't a little influence.

Rembrandt: The Late Works - National Gallery

This exhibition really knocked me of my feet. I know that’s what all these blockbuster style exhibitions promotions promise, but it’s the first time in awhile that one of theses high profile shows has really blown me away! Obviously I’m familiar with Rembrandt and his later works. For the uninitiated basically during his later days Rembrandt’s painting style became more expressive - much to the horror of the established art elite at the time - and his works became much less fancifully, more expressive and more personally introspective. Rembrandt had always been an incredible painter but it this surprise burst of creativity and experimentation so late in his career that’s really cemented his position as one of histories greats. Not unlike Turner (and Balke) its this later more expressive style that present day art historians now recognize as one of Modern Arts early milestones giving birth to Impressionism and the likes.

Self-Portrait (1669) at the Age of 63
Seeing so many Rembrandt’s in one place is truly a humbling experience. To my eye what makes his portraits really stand out is that they seem almost sculpted rather than painted due to his use of tone and Illuminance high-lights, the faces really seem to bulge right out of the canvases. Its worth noting that this exhibition is really well hung the walls are colored a murky dark grey/mauve the ambient room lighting is dim with each individual frame is lit via focused spotlights. This has the over-all effect of really causing the faces to burst out the frames emerging from the dusky shadows. The gallery lighting also really helps the golden jewelry. I’d never quite appreciated how the decorative gold ornaments on Rembrandts sitters really do glisten, and again this effect is aided by the gallery spotlights. The sitters are often dressed up in all the pomp you expect from seventeenth century aristocratic Dutch merchants and if anything Rembrandt proves himself as the painter of gold and light. The ornate jewelry isn’t necessarily painted in fine detail but in thick swabs and chunks of oil paint the overall effect means the glistening highlights almost look like liquid mercury dripping over the sitters –a painting effect aided by the darkened gallery space and powerful lighting arrangements. It’s worth mentioning that a small downside of this hanging arrangement is that it causes some of the higher hung larger paintings to reflect the spotlights off the glossy painting surface making them hard to view from certain angles. Whilst talking about the way Rembrandt thickly applies gold its worth mentioning that he has a tendency of thickly applying paint to the bulbous features of his sitters faces this makes the noses and wrinkles really stand out. It’s these textural details that I think give his portraits their more sculptural qualities. Not to say Rembrandt is all about thick textures, highlights and dark tones. Where it really counts Rembrandt knows how to deftly niggle out fine details around eyes and lips and draw you (the viewer) in. Its a display of pure draftsmanship and its this majesty that really gives Rembrandt’s paintings a dramatic punch.

Some of the works seem to possess an Illuminant golden glow of their own
 in the gallery space.

Thematically the paintings in ‘The Late Works’ are separated through seven rooms and each rooms paintings are hung in series by a theme. For instance Room One ‘Self-Scrutiny; Rembrandt considers the his own ageing features’ contains several different Rembrandt self portraits spanning two decades of the later period, where-as Room Four holds ‘Artistic Conventions; Rembrandt brings new energy to traditional painting formats’ this room contains a series of paintings where Rembrandt pushes the boundaries of traditional approaches to iconography and portraiture with his own vision. For instance in the portrait of Margaretha de Geer wife of Jacob Trip Rembrandt honored the advancing age of the wealthy Dordrecht merchant and his wife by using what resembles a delicate, almost Impressionistic touch to expresses their physical frailty. 

I quite like this thematic hanging arrangement, as apposed to say a chromatic hanging arrangement. This way you get to see how old Rembrandt develops a single theme over the course of several decades this for instance being most obvious in depictions of himself.

I also had a little moment of civic pride seeing a painting normally kept in Glasgow's own Kelvingrove Museum. A Man in Armour (1655) was hung in Room Six 'Contemplation' and really stood out as one of the best paintings in that particular section (see image bellow)!

Harmenszoon van Rijn, A Man in Armour (1655)

Lucretia (1664)

Self Portrait (1658) (Frick Collection)
Seriously though look at the gold, these photo's don't do the paintings justice. Rembrandt’s, like the king of bling! 

The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis' (1661-62) (cut-down)
The exhibition also includes The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis' (1661-62), originally Rembrandt’s largest and most prestigious painting. Owned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, the painting has been at the National museum of Art in Stockholm for more than 150 years, leaving Sweden only twice in that time, in 1925 and 1969. Both of those occasions were for showings at the Rijksmuseum. So, this very famous painting is basically one of the many reasons why this exhibition is very special.

Summing up, this a fantastic exhibition well worth seeing! 


Saturday, 31 January 2015

There and Back Again: Part I


There and Back Again: Part I

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling throughout late November and December during this time I visited Manchester, London and spent Christmas in Brazil returning in early January. Thanks to these travels I got to see some fantastic museums and art galleries. So, I thought I’d start this year by doing a write-up about some of the cultural highlights I’ve seen in the last two months.

The key places I visited were Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum Manchester Central Library, the National Football Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, the Display Gallery, National Gallery in London and the Tate.
Whilst In Brazil I had a chance to see Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art), Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and Museus Castro Maya.

To be honest this late Christmas cultural review got a little bloated so I’ve decided to split it into three parts. Like what Peter Jackson did with his awful Hobbit blockbuster film trilogy… This first section will cover my highlights of Manchester the second post which features my trip to London I intend to have finished by February 18th and the third section covering my experiences in Brazil (fingers crossed) will be out at the very end of February or March 1st.

Manchester Art Gallery and The Sensory War 1914-2014
Manchester Art Gallery:
First off, I’d highly recommend Manchester Art Gallery it’s got some really good stuff on display I even got a take a sneaky look at Euan Uglow’s, The Quarry,  Pignano (1979) and Francis Bacon, Head VI (1948) two of my favorite painters which were in the middle of being taken down (I think they’d been left hanging from the recent ‘Radical Figures: Post-war British Figurative Painting’ exhibition that had just ended. I consider seeing these paintings an early Christmas treat.

Post-war artists aside Manchester Art Gallery has some great historic art collections especially it's Pre-Raphaelite paintings. There's also some good 18th Century art on display featuring classics' like Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. From a curatorial stance the way the galleries are hung is quite interesting as well. In the historical galleries contemporary art pieces have been mixed in and juxtaposed against the more traditional work in a way that, for the most part, doesn’t feel forced or clichéd.

A good example of this curatorial philosophy in action is the positioning of their recent acquisition the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry’s work. The piece in question, titled Jane Austen in E17 (2009), is a beautifully executed large ceramic vase inspired in shape by Chinese porcelain, decorated with detailed drawings of elaborately dressed Georgian ladies taking tea and conversing. The genteel figures reflecting Perry’s interest in the feminine and his knowledge of historic dress. They refer to the ideal view of British culture portrayed in popular costume dramas of Jane Austen's novels. Grayson Perry’s work is notably surrounded by 18th Century and Early 19th portrait paintings featuring figures and personalities that could easily be straight of a Jane Austen costume drama.

Jane Austen in E17 (2009) by Grayson Perry

Elsewhere this modus operandi is continued in the exceptional 17th and 18th century Dutch and Flemish collection ‘Home, Land and Sea Art in the Netherlands 1600-1800’. In this gallery space there are over 50 Dutch and Flemish paintings from Manchester’s collection which includes exquisite paintings of everyday life, portraiture, landscapes, seascapes, and still life. A major part of the show is the juxtaposition of these Old Master paintings with contemporary work. On one wall the still lifes are mixed together in a salon-style hang with five modern day works key of which are Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row, Texas series (2011), Gavin Turk’s two bronze painted gnawed apple cores Ergo Sum (2008) and artistic duo Rob and Nick Carter’s homage to Ambrosius Bosschaert Transforming Still Life Painting (2009-12).

Gallery space view, Dutch Masters mixed with Mat Collishaw and Rob/Nick Carter's work.

Gallery space view, Notice the wall to the left is hung label free in order to allow overall aesthetics to speak for themselves.
Rob and Nick Carter’s input is certainly the most attention grabbing of the contemporary art on display. Working with the Moving Picture Company the artistic duo replicated and animated Bosschaert’s flower painting currently hung in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. The result is a three-hour film which was also three years in the making that animates Bosschaert’s original painting Vase with Flowers in a Window (1618). Watch closely for long enough and you can observe little insects fly in and out the frame, a snail working its way up the vase, flowers moving in the breeze and the light in the background gradually turns to dusk! It’s notable that this exhibition is co-curated by Philippa Stephenson the new Curator of European Art at Glasgow Museums.

These are actually painted bronze sculptures. Modern still lifes, these everyday, chewed apples made of bronze have been turned from the discarded into the treasured.

Massed Shipping Anchored in the Foreground: A View of Rotterdam Beyond (1706) by Jan Claesz. Rietschoof
Last Meal on Death Row, Texas (Paul Nuncio) (2011) by Matt Collishaw

The Sensory War 1914-2014:
Moving on from the permanent display galleries is Manchester Art Gallery art galleries big temporary exhibition at the moment entitled ‘The Sensory War 1914-2014’. This major group exhibition marking the Centenary of the First World War explores how artists have communicated the impact of military conflict on the body, mind, environment and human senses between 1914 and 2014. It brings together work from a range of leading artists including Henry Lamb, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash, Otto Dix, Nancy Spero, Richard Mosse, Omer Fast and features works by the hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima) which were created in the 1970s and are being shown outside Japan for the first time. The exhibition is spread across two floors of the gallery and is divided into seven themes, each visceral in their focus and ideas: they take titles such as Bombing, Burning and Distant War and Chemical War and Toxic Imagination. Giving these themes substance and gravity are works like The Separation Line by artist Katie Davies, which documents the funeral processions through Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, and delicate drawings of disabled soldiers recovering in hospital by French artist Rosine Cahen.

One work I found most haunting though was a picture by Nina Berman from the photographic series Marine Wedding that was first exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2010, and is considered an iconic work on the Iraq war. The wedding portrait featuring a Marine and his young bride is so harrowing because the uniformed serviceman Tyler Ziegel is disfigured beyond all recognition. A sense of foreboding extrudes from this print even before you learn that their marriage does not end well. The photograph is displayed amongst several other portraits of disabled veterans (another standout of which is Dawn Halfaker, 2006 by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) and if nothing else demands a gut-wrenching response that you wont forget.

Marine Wedding (2010) by Nina Berman

Dawn Halfaker (2006) by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Elsewhere there are some old classics like the Paul Nash and the German Expressionist Otto Dix. I was really glad finally see some work by Paul Nash in the flesh. I’ve always liked his work and I think there has sometimes been a tendency to overlook his landscapes lumping him in with the other popular Surrealists of the same era. The Nash painting on display is Wounded at Passchendaele (1920) that depicts stretcher-bearers as they carry wounded through a poisonous Landscape filled with the bleak colours of gangrene and mustard gas.

Acetylene Welder (1917) by Christopher (C.R.W) Nevinson
There's was actually quite a few Nevinson paintings and drawings on display but it was his etchings I really loved! Just a little social context, those are female welders depicted in the picture above.

Other striking works amongst many at the show where the etching and drypoint Der Kreig - Sommschlact (Fleeing wounded Man, Battle of the Somme, 1916) by Otto Dix, some beautiful Lithographs by C.R.W Nevinson and Simon Norfolk's photograph of a destroyed Taliban Tank (2001-2) that appears to resemble the spine of an ancient carcass from some long extinct leviathan against a barren landscape. The picture has a surreal quality to which calls into mind the broken war-torn landscapes of the aforementioned Paul Nash to which Norfolk’s photography could almost be a modern riposte.

Track of destroyed Taliban tank at Farm Hada military base near Jalalabad (2001-02) by Simon Norfolk

Wounded at Passchendaele (1920) by Paul Nash

Manchester Museum:
After Manchester Art Gallery I visited the Manchester Museum which is the UK's largest university museum. The museums first collections were assembled by the Manchester Society of Natural History formed in 1821 with the purchase of John Leigh Philips natural history collection. Its well worth seeking out, its displays of Archaeology and Anthropology are fantastic and that’s before you get to Stan, a reproduction cast of a fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex acquired by the museum in 2004.  

Manchester Museum also boast live displays of species such snakes and exotic frogs the spice things up as well. I was particularly gripped by how the museum displayed its collections. In some sections the illuminated Wunderkammer like cabinets of curiosities are separated into various lose themes such as: ‘Experience’, ‘Right wildlife’, ‘Disasters’ and ‘Resources’. For instance the Resources section has old taxidermied animals scrabbling humorously for natural resources. 

The Experience display case.
Experience display case, two close-ups (above)
Inside the Experience display case: A preserved Snake & Octopus specimens.
Manchester Museum has live snakes and other animals too!
Funnily enough at the time of my visit the Disasters section was ironically cordoned of for 
repair work.

(Above) The Disasters section was apparently cordoned off.
(Left) A taxidermied bird of pray in the Resources section display case.

Manchester also has huge amount of Egyptology stuff the size of their Egyptology display is something that could put some well funded National Gallery collections to shame. Because it’s a university museum the displays here are only essentially the public face of the cutting edge research going on behind the scenes. I’ve been curious about the Egyptology department in Manchester ever since June 2013. This is because at this time I read that an Egyptian mummy from my own local Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland was transported to The University of Manchester for investigation by members of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology’s Bio Bank team. The resulting investigation made worldwide headlines.

Me with Stan the T-Rex.
So in short, if you go Manchester Museum and ONLY want to see dinosaurs and Egyptian stuff, it would be worth it just for that!

And finally....
Other attractions I visited in Manchester but don’t have time to discuss in this blog are Manchester Central Library that’s just had a amazing refurbishment, the National Football Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. Worth mentioning -I have absolutely no interest in football but the recently completed National Football Museum is a masterpiece of modern day interactive exhibition design which worked to such effect that even I couldn’t help but get carried away and enthralled by some of the interactive display!

My next post in two weeks time on the 15th of February will be discussing Turner at the Tate, The Display Gallery, Peder Balke and Rembrandts Late Works at the National Gallery of London.


I case no one got the Blog title, I read J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit over Christmas while I was traveling!