When it comes to art exhibitions, the term ‘blockbuster’ is somewhat overused these days, but it surely must apply to Tate Britain’s offerings
The Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition ran until 15 January 2006 and was filled with accessible, beautifully executed paintings. It drew on works from the eponymous painters as well as gems from lesser known or even scarcely known artists such as Bonnard, Vuillard and Warrener.
Arranged more or less in chronological order, from the 1880s to the 1900s, the works on display marked the beginning of modern art, particularly in form and composition. Some are extremely well-known, such as several of the ballet scenes by Degas, but the visitor was encouraged to see the very modernist concepts that were introduced by the artist, such as the cutting off a figure at the edge of the canvas or the horse’s head divided by a pole in the foreground of his Jockeys before the Start. These innovations give an almost photographic feel and were much tut-tutted over at the time.
The subject matter too marked a move to the modern era. The centrepiece of the exhibition is undoubtedly Degas’ L’Absinthe. Incredibly this familiar work was exhibited in London for the first time since 1893 when it caused a tremendous stir, with its two main figures drawn from Parisian lowlife looking drab, despondent and decadent. A whole room was devoted to this and just one other painting, with facsimiles for the visitor to read which draw on the ‘shock-horror’ responses of the nineteenth century critics.
The exhibition also highlighted the cross-fertilization between England and France during this period, and although it seems mainly the English that have benefited from the ideas of French artists, the influence of the somewhat underrated Walter Sickert across the Channel is well illustrated. He is often criticized for his use of dark colours, but there is a wide variety of styles in evidence here and this exhibition surely enhanced his reputation.
You may well recall another ‘trio’ of painters at Tate Britain in 2005, Turner, Whistler and Monet. It seems an exhibition of more than one great master is not a pre-requisite of gallery exhibitions (there was an exhibition devoted entirely to Constable in 2007) but they have all shown successfully the influences across borders and between styles in exhibitions that are both informative and enlightening.
This exhibition really was a feast for the eyes.
Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec, London and Paris 1870 – 1910 ran at Tate Britain and sponsored by British Land Company PLC
Review of Toulouse Lautrec and Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge at the Courtauld, London UK 2011
Jeannette Nelson, Art Critic
For me, small is most definitely beautiful when it comes to art exhibitions. That’s not to say that I give the blockbusters of the National Gallery or the Tates a wide berth; on the contrary, the current exhibition of the art of Joan Miro at Tate Modern is one of the best days out in a gallery I’ve had for a long time. But perhaps that’s the point; it really needs a day out to do it justice, and it’s not helped by the fact that once you’ve bought your ticket you’re not allowed to leave for a breather and come back again. There really ought to be more thought given to this as the art would be appreciated all the more if it didn’t have to be swallowed in one gulp.
But back to the Courtauld, set in a wing of Somerset House. The temporary exhibitions are hung on the top floor and occupy a mere two rooms. Consequently, the number of artworks is limited but as befits such a prestigious institution, they are most judiciously chosen.
A few months ago I was bewitched by various depictions of Cezanne’s Card Players, and now it’s the turn of Toulouse-Lautrec to capture my imagination and the spirit of the Belle Epoque with his compositions of his friend Jane Avril.
I, like so many of my student friend in the sixties, had various posters of Jane Avril and other dancers from Paris’s Moulin Rouge adorning my walls. So I was expecting the work to be familiar and indeed it was. Some of you may also remember the Athena representations of Jane Avril and also of Mlle Eglantine’s troupe.
But the exhibition is more than just an evocation of the familiar. It shows up the strong bond between artist and subject, a fact borne out by the accompanying notes which tell of their friendship and also hint at the closeness which developed because they both had to endure a physical disability. The painter had dysfunctional legs, a condition that his family took a long time to come to terms with. Jane Avril, it is believed, suffered from St Vitus’ Dance, as it was called then, which caused involuntary movements of the limbs; she found that dancing could keep this under control and so took up the profession.
The real fascination of the exhibition lies in those works that are not of her as a professional but instead show her, in sketches and in fully painted works, as a rather solemn, gaunt young woman away from the stage. And the viewer is also struck by the striking modernity of Toulouse-Lautrec’s fin-de-siecle oeuvre, particularly in the effect achieved by simple lines and brush-strokes.
In the smaller of the two rooms are works by contemporary artists and more information about the professional and private life of Jane Avril. This complements Toulouse-Lautrec’s work well and helps make the whole exhibition easier to appreciate and enjoy. It runs until 18 September 2011 and the entrance ticket also includes the permanent works in the gallery, which include some stunning impressionist greats. It all makes for a delectable treat.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6 pm, last admission 5.30 pm
Admission Adult £6, concessions £4.50, free admission Mondays 10 am to 2 pm except public holidays, at all times for under 18s, full time UK students and unwaged. Information on Gallery Talks and Study Day see www.courtauld.ac.uk
See our review of blockbuster exhibition in 2006 Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
Photography Pintail Media