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‘Yevonde: Life and Colour’

This exhibition has recently transferred from the National Portrait Gallery to The Laing. Before visiting, I knew nothing about Yevonde, but I came away with a real appreciation for her life and work. She was a photographer who developed her practice in the period between the two World Wars, and who was a pioneer of the use of colour photography. There were several strands running through the exhibition that stood out to me.

The exhibition did a good job of helping me to understand how colour photography initially developed. It was a simple process involving taking multiple simultaneous images effectively through multiple cameras, with coloured filters in front of each one. These could then be developed using coloured inks and composited to create a colour image. It’s a simple and logical process, but one that was entirely new to me.

Yevonde developed a distinctive style for her colour photography:

If we are going to have colour photography, for heaven’s sake, let’s have a riot of colour.

My colour perception is pretty poor, but even so, the Vivex photography combined with Yevonde’s compositions seemed stunning vivid on the gallery walls, almost hyperreal. This is perhaps most celebrated in her work photographing women dressed as goddesses.

The exhibition included a small goddess-inspired dressing up corner, and during my visit, this was occupied by a woman who seemed to be having the time of her life, alone in front of the mirror. More power to her.

I was interested in Yevonde’s feminism, which was well represented in the exhibition. Most of the human subjects featured in her work were female, and it was suggested that much of her early interested in photography was driven by a desire to be independent.

The duties of a wife with a separate career have yet to be defined, and although complete unselfishness, has always been considered a sure foundation for domestic happiness, I am not convinced.

The curators placed one of the largest of Yevonde’s self-portraits alongside this quotation:

This is not the story of a woman’s life, but the story of a photographer that happens to be a woman.

Almost exactly a year ago, I enjoyed the Design Museum’s exhibition on Surrealism. I was therefore interested to see in this exhibition the interaction between Yevonde’s photography, and colour photography more generally, and surrealism. It is surely no accident that the often bright colour of surrealist work came about just as colour photography was beginning to make a splash.

All things considered, I thought this was a great exhibition. I learned things from it and gained new insights and perspectives on the art featured. It was well worth a visit.

Yevonde: Life and Colour continues at The Laing until 20 April.

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I’ve been to see ‘Longing for Nature’

Whenever I’m at Schiphol, provided I’m in the non-Schengen zone, I try to make time to pop into the tiny branch of the Rijksmuseum. The current exhibition is ‘Longing for Nature’, and I thought it made quite a nice partner to the ‘Essence of Nature’ exhibition I saw at The Laing earlier this summer.

Whereas ‘Essence of Nature’ was about the changing artistic representations of nature, ‘Longing for Nature’ is about the shifting relationship between humankind and the natural world. The exhibition focuses on the 19th century, which was a period of immense change in this relationship. The exhibition posits that, in the early 19th century, nature was considered indestructible and immutable. The Industrial Revolution clearly challenged that perception.

I think that’s a hard case to demonstrate with such a small exhibition. Yet, I was struck by this painting: Orchard at Eemnes by Richard Roland Holst. From ‘Essence of Nature’ I’d learned about how art moved from aiming to be photorealistic in the pre-Raphaelite era to being more about character and atmosphere later on. Seeing this in the context of ‘Longing for Nature’ made me realise that the latter is filtering the scene through the human experience.

Just as popular perception shifts from nature being immutable to humans having an impact, we also started to consider nature in art through the human experience, rather than appreciating its essential quality. That surely can’t be coincidental.

‘Longing for Nature’ doesn’t have a publicly advertised end date but is on now at Rijksmuseum Schiphol.

‘Essence of Nature’ continues at The Laing until 14 October.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, Travel, , , , , .

I’ve been to see ‘Essence of Nature’

This exhibition aims to show three different approaches to representing nature through painting.

It opens with pre-Raphaelite paintings, showing their highly detailed, almost photo-realistic approach to capturing the world. We move through rustic naturalistic paintings, which are still fairly realistic in style but concentrate more on character and atmosphere than fine detail. And we close with paintings by British Impressionists, who forwent the realistic to concentrate almost entirely on the wider experience of the places featured.

To give you an idea of my level of ignorance, before I went to this exhibition, I couldn’t have told you anything about the Pre-Raphaelite ideals or their approach to representing the world. I therefore felt educated by this exhibition: it was very well-curated, combining clear text with a plethora of well-chosen paintings which underlined each of the points the text made.

As you’d expect, some paintings struck me and others didn’t. I usually enjoy more abstract works, and was particularly taken with Samuel John Peploe’s On the Brittany Coast and Moses Adams’s Harbour Scene at Night, Runswick.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition.

‘Essence of Nature’ continues at The Laing until 14 October.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

I’ve been to visit ‘Visions of Ancient Egypt’

When I decided to post every day in 2023, I didn’t expect to be on my third Egypt-themed post by March. Yet, last year’s centenary of the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb has sparked a renewed fascination in all things ancient Egypt, and so after Hieroglyphs and a coffin, I’ve been to see some art.

This exhibition by the Sainsbury Centre explores artistic responses to ancient Egypt, including all sorts of objects from paintings to pottery, and dresses to neon lights.

The first pair of objects in the exhibition make a clear statement of intent for the exhibition as a whole. Joshua Reynolds’s 1759 oil painting, Kitty fisher as Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl (to demonstrate her wealth) shows Cleopatra as we hear about her in Western myth: an extravagant, white seductress. Using the same medium in 1992, Chris Offil paints Cleopatra as a black African queen, shorn of the imposed Western myth.

This exhibition taught me how much of what we imagine to be ‘ancient Egyptian’ is anything but: much of it is actually reflective of other cultures. Before this exhibition, I didn’t know how much of ‘Egyptian’ style was actually Roman, the Romans having conquered Egypt in 30BC and Roman objects having been misattributed to ancient Egypt. Wedgwood, who pioneered ‘Egyptian’ designs in pottery, was actually (unknowingly) working from Roman artefacts–and never actually visited Egypt himself.

Before I visited this exhibition, I think I vaguely knew that The Times had an exclusive deal with Howard Carter for the photographs of his excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It’s the sort of thing newspapers like to celebrate. But I hadn’t previously understood that this exclusivity applied even within Egypt, depriving Egyptians of coverage of one of the most significant archeological findings in their country’s history… hardly something to be proud of in retrospect.

This exhibition features several watercolour paintings by Howard Carter, recording decorations that he uncovered during excavations, necessary in his early career as photography wasn’t an option. I had no idea that he was a talented artist, and I’d never really considered the necessity for archeologists to be able to paint and draw.

The exhibition closed with David Hockney’s 1961 Egyptian Head Disappearing Into Descending Clouds. This was an inspired choice. I wandered through the doors and tried to ponder exactly how I’d think of ancient Egypt in the future, given that all of my existing pre-conceptions had been blown away.

This was an exhibition that taught me things, corrected my misconceptions, and made me think: more than either of the other Egyptian things I’ve seen this year. I thought it was excellent.

Visions of Ancient Egypt continues at The Laing until 29 April.

A quick note about the photos in this post. The one at the bottom is a picture I’ve ‘borrowed’ from the David Hockney Foundation. The one at the top is a photo I took during the exhibition, before I realised that photography was banned… oops. I’m ummed and ahhed about whether I should include it given that I shouldn’t have taken it, but decided that it was such a great piece of curation that it deserved celebrating. Sorry, if you think I shouldn’t have done that.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , .

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