Archive for the 'London' Category

06
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curators: Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator of British Art 1850-1915 and James Finch, Assistant Curator of 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain, supported by Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art (Photography), Tate Modern.

 

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Woman Swimming' Nd

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Woman Swimming
Nd
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Barbara Lloyd and allocated to Tate 2009
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

I have written about the German-British photographer Bill Brandt in other postings on Art Blart: Bill Brandt at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid in 2021; and Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013. After viewing installation photographs of this exhibition at Tate Britain it seems a particularly sparse and limited representation of the great artists work.

Of interest are cabinets where we can see Brandt’s many photobooks and magazine spreads and observe the pairing of the images and their compositional rhymes, but some of these are facsimiles. We also notice the different cropping of the image Toppers (below) from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below).

For me, the most exciting experience is seeing the double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from Brandt’s book The English at Home (1936). I have never seen this before, nor many of the images the spread contains. It shows how the editors and photographer constructed the story they wanted to tell.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for the four press images. Installation images are courtesy of my friend and artist Drager Meurtant who took them at my request. Many thankx to him for his effort.

 

British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) was a leading photographer in the mid-20th century. This period of experimentation and rapid growth saw photography displayed in art galleries and seen by millions in illustrated magazines.

Brandt’s images of daily life merged documentary with art. He was inspired by many sources, from books such as Alice in Wonderland to the sculpture of Henry Moore and the film Citizen Kane.

This exhibition of works in Tate’s collection reveals how Brandt changed his practice throughout his career and crafted each photograph to capture the surreal beauty he saw in the everyday.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s Woman Swimming (modern mural enlargement, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

‘The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of the face.’

.
Bill Brandt

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photographs Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, below); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below); and Glenda Jackson (1971, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Louise Nevelson's Eye' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
1963
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt’s first job as a photographer was in the studio of Grete Kolliner, in Vienna. Greta taught Brandt to compose and light the scene and modify the image in the darkroom to create the desired effect. in the studio of Man Ray in Paris, he learned the surreal potential of manipulating and distorting these techniques.

In the 1950s and 60s Brandt represented artists by their eyes, including the sculptor Louise Nevelson. Her gaze avoids us, suggesting inner thought. The extreme close-up makes her features unfamiliar and strange; their textures and reflections take on the vastness of a landscape.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Pablo Picasso at "La Californie"' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Pablo Picasso at “La Californie”
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

After the Second World War, Brandt could travel again and he spent time on the north and south French coast. He photographed artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Picasso was 74 when Brandt photographed him in his villa on the Cote d’Azur, for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Brandt wrote a self-deprecating account of Picasso avoiding the sitting. The portrait turned out relatively conventionally, the close-up head and preoccupied gaze sharp against the soft-focus complexities of the cluttered room.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Glenda Jackson' 1971

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Glenda Jackson
1971
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, above); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, above); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left in the bottom image, Brandt’s photograph Glenda Jackson (1971, above) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at right, Brandt’s photograph Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place (1955, below) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Citizen Kane

Brandt saw Orson Welles revolutionary film Citizen Kane many times after its release in 1941. Its style was openly artificial. Theatrical lighting, deep focus and wide angles distorted figures, making familiar settings appear strange and surreal.

‘I’d never seen a film in which real rooms were used and you could see everything, the ceiling, the terrific perspective. I was very much inspired by it and I thought I must make photographs like that.’

In 1944, Brandt bought a simpler camera, the Kodak Wide Angle. This type of camera was used by auctioneers or the police for recording merchandise and evidence, because it could capture a whole room. He began a series of experimental interiors that changed his photographic style.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place
1955
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt photographed people in rooms with a Kodak Wide Angle camera. The lens was fixed and kept everything beyond four feet away in focus. Her profile is enlarged in contrast to the small, distant windows that appear sharp in the background.

Judith looms like Alice in Wonderland. Her pose creates a dreamlike effect and her eyes are in shadow. The formal interior recalls the beginning of Alice’s adventure. The empty chair adds to the uncanny atmosphere. A similar button-backed, seat featured in Alice Through the Looking Glass. It was a prop in many of Brandt’s photographs.

Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

Wall text

 

Kodak wide angle view camera / Bill Brandt. The camera is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Protar 1:18 8.5cm lens. This very rare Kodak wide angle view camera is very slim, and does not have bellows. The front accepts interchangeable panels should the user wish to fit other suitable lenses. There is a spring-back with a ground glass, two plate holders and a transport case. Bill Brandt used one of these cameras for photographs in his book “Wide Angle Nudes”. Format 6.5 x 8.5 inches (16.5 x 21.5cm) The wide angle lens has a very large depth of field, and the aperture of f45 eliminates the need to focus. The field of view is 110° or the equivalent to a rectilinear lens of 14 or 15 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Anonymous text. “Wide angle KODAK View Camera / Bill Brandt,” on the Antiq Photo website [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

What Brandt had bought was a rare Kodak Wide Angle Camera with Zeiss Protar Lens, used by police for recording crime scenes. The wide angle lens captured the whole scene while the small f45 aperture gave full depth-of-field. Essentially it was a fixed focus box camera allowing untrained coppers to get the shot on the generous full plate film. The lens was a Carl Zeiss Jena f18 Protar of 85mm focal length, giving a very wide 110 degree angle of view, equivalent to 15mm lens on 35mm format.

These cameras are extremely rare, perhaps only made for the police force, but John Rushton’s website has one and you can see all the details. It is an original design, as the pictures show, with curious features such as the small “feet” on the back which allows you to lay it on the ground to shoot vertically up.

Greg Neville. “Bill Brandt’s camera,” on the Greg Neville photography blog October 26, 2015 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

 

Today Tate Britain opens a free exhibition dedicated to celebrated British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983). 44 original photographs from across his career are displayed alongside the magazines and photobooks in which these images were most often seen. Entitled Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror, this is Tate’s first Brandt exhibition. It reveals the secrets of his artistry and the fascinating ways he staged and refined his photographs. Drawn from Tate’s collection, the show includes many recent acquisitions which reflect Tate’s ongoing commitment to strengthening its holdings of photography.

Bill Brandt was first known as a photojournalist, renowned in the 1930s for his observations of British life and later for his landscapes, portraits and nudes. But his images were always carefully crafted to ‘enter the mirror’, as he put it, employing formal experimentation and artistic interventions to evoke the surreal beauty he saw in everyday life. This exhibition celebrates his theatrical direction of people and setting, his mastery of composition and abstraction, and his dialogues with the work of other artists.

Although Brandt’s images can appear candid and spontaneous, he did not capture people unaware. He worked closely with those he photographed, directing and lighting them to cast ‘the spell that charges the commonplace with beauty’. He sometimes waited for hours to capture effects at specific times of day – as in Woman Swimming – and some of his most mysterious scenes were taken at night. Brandt developed his own film and printed his own photographs, giving him further opportunities to rebalance light and dark, and change the composition through cropping and enlarging. He even used ink and pencil to alter prints, for example introducing plumes of smoke onto Hail, Hell & Halifax. The series of Brandt’s nudes shown in the exhibition include some of his best-known and most evocative works, which further explore his interest in altered perspectives, surreal effects and abstract compositions.

As well as being an artist in his own right, Brandt took inspiration from many other artists and art forms. The exhibition explores some of these conversations between his photographs and other imagery, from Gustave Doré’s engravings of London to Henry Moore’s air raid shelter drawings to Orson Welles’ 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Brandt’s handmade photobook ‘A Dream’ – which is being exhibited for the first time – reveals further influences, such as John Tenniel’s surreal illustrations to Alice in Wonderland and the dramatic shadows of Expressionist cinema. Brandt also became famous for his portraits of artists, such as the actor Glenda Jackson at home in the early 1970s, and an arresting close-up of sculptor Louise Nevelson’s eye.

The exhibition at Tate Britain coincides with a group of newly opened photography displays at Tate Modern. These include a room of recently acquired photographs by Martha Rosler, two photographic series by Laura Aguilar and Lyle Ashton Harris, and a selection of photobooks documenting the war in Bosnia. There is also a display of images from Liz Johnson Artur’s series Time don’t run here, depicting the Black Lives Matter protests in London over the summer of 2020, which is accompanied by a new book about Artur from Tate Publishing.

Press release from the Tate Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition : Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris (1931, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris' 1931

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt often photographed the spectacle of horse races. These racegoers are dressed in fashionable clothing of the time – Brandt mischievously mischievously twins their ties, collars and bowler hats. The sophisticated air is further subverted by their anxious matching gestures as they watch the race.

The softly focused natural setting contrasts with the sharply suited figures. Brandt enhanced this by brightening details such as the pocket handkerchief, scratched away to expose white paper. This print has been rephotographed from an earlier print.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left, Brandt’s photograph Butcher in Notting Hill Gate (1930); and at right, Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair (c. 1930-1939, below)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair' c. 1930-1939

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair
c. 1930-1939
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

A lorry, bus and carriage pass prosperous old houses whose blank windows give nothing away. This later exhibition print is larger then the version in The English At Home, with greater contrast to stress shape and pattern. The traffic is cropped to divert less attention from the rhythm of the railings. Shadows have been added to the curved facades so they stand out adjacent the flat ones.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s photograph Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Hatter's window, Bond Street' c. 1931-1935

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Hatter’s window, Bond Street
c. 1931-1935
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Staging

Like many photographers in Britain in the 1930s, Brandt made his name documenting contemporary society for illustrated magazines. Inspired by the success of the book Paris by Night (1933) by Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï, who was an early influence, Brandt published groundbreaking photobooks The English At Home (1936) and A Night in London (1937).

Brandt did not seek to capture people unaware or catch a decisive moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it. He felt he could attempt a more meaningful kind of realism by engaging and gaining cooperation with those he photographed. The people in this room posed for him or were played by friends and family like a drawing he planned and sketched, staged and directed…

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at rear right, Brandt’s photograph A Billingsgate Porter (c. 1934)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’ (1936, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin' and a growin'' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’
1936
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Flower sellers were well-known figures from London life and literature during the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837-1910), most famously Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion (1913). The bright noon day sun casts strong shadows on the flower seller’s face and feet. The black dress and had, perhaps strengthened in the printing, give her a solid silhouette. Her feathered hat stands out against the white sign.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Housewife, Bethnal Green (1937, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Housewife, Bethnal Green' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Housewife, Bethnal Green
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This young woman posed from Brandt at her work, but like many people he photographed, her name was not recorded. Brandt retouched the print to enhance stains on the apron and the pavement, playing into some stereotypes about the hardship of working-class life in Bethnal Green, a lower income area. The title and location tell us that she is cleaning her own step and is not a domestic worker. Brandt has enhanced the gleam of her wedding ring, suggesting this is her married home.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing the cover and pages from Brandt’s photobook The English At Home (1936)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

The pictures of Brandt’s photobooks were carefully paired. He wrote that although he found the social contrast of the thirties ‘visually exciting… I never intended them for political propaganda.’ The 63 photographs in The English At Home were arranged to prompt visual and human comparisons, rather than political ones.

Cabinet text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

All Dressed up for the Show
All a blowin’ and a growin’
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Brandt’s titles often draw attention to conservations between the images; the men are ‘dressed up’ in buttonholes like those the flower seller trades. There are also compositional rhymes; the street sign in All a blowing’ and a growin’ mirrors he sign in All Dressed up for the Show.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'All Dressed up for the Show' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

All Dressed up for the Show
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

As an immigrant to Britain, Brandt was interested in other incomers to the city. In this pair, the Italian porter, Ernie Delmonte faces a street vendor whose name is not recorded. Many sailors and dockworkers from countries that Britain had colonised lived in Whitechapel. This man may have been a veteran of the First World War.

The vendor is selling lottery tickets. Brandt’s title refers to the name of a Whitechapel pub, commemorating Henry de Montfort, a medieval aristocrat who lost his sight in battle and lived as a poor man in the area. It chimes with the vendor’s imperious presence, despite the shabby suit.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Whitechapel Blind Beggar' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Billingsgate Porter' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Middle-class Tailors
Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

This pairing explores Brandt’s fascination with the language of clothes. Both photographs set high status garments in the working world of the trade. The untidy backgrounds of shop and workshop make visual and thematic connections. The ripple of silk in the jacket rhymes with the reflection in the vitrine. The dark and light heads of the tailors provide a surreally humorous echo of the dark and light top hats.

Cabinet text

NB. Notice the different cropping of the image Toppers from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, above) ~ Marcus

 

Bill Brandt. 'Toppers' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Brighton Beach
Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Beach' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Beach
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Belle' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’
Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from The English at Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In Brandt’s first book, The English at Home (1936), he juxtaposed the privileged and working classes, frequently using his friends and family as subjects. Pratt, the stern parlourmaid in the country house of one of the photographer’s wealthy uncles, was a particular favourite of Brandt’s, perhaps because she so thoroughly inhabited her role.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the cover of Bill Brandt’s photobook A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Homeless Girl
Footsteps Coming Closer

From A Night in London (1937)

Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Ride In A Handsom Cab
Admiralty Arch Almost Empty Of Traffic
From A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

(at right)

Unchanging London

which is

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Tooting Broadway Tube Station
1938
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing a 1950s Brandt nude
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1954
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Camden Hill, London' 1956

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Camden Hill, London
1956
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Interactive film of section 6 of Perspective of Nudes

Brandt’s book, Perspective of Nudes, published in 1961 (in the display case nearby) was divided into six sections. Throughout the book, images were paired so their compositions complemented each other. The last section can be viewed on this screen.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Taxo d'Aval, France' 1957, later print

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Taxo d’Aval, France
1957, later print
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, St. John’s Wood, London (installation view)
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In the 1950s, Brandt photographed in a more modern studio. The geometry of the paintings of his brother [in the background], Rolf, compliments the abstraction of the nudes. He experimented with distorting effects that were not dependent on the camera.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

One of Brandt’s best-known nudes is unusual in its intimacy and focus on the sitter’s face. This later variation removes grey and the figure is flattened into black and white shapes. These contrast with touches of texture around the nipple and eyebrow, and three dimensionality at the curves of the eyes, lips and breast.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

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United Kingdom
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Tate Britain website

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Season’s greetings from Art Blart 2022

December 2022

 

Monty Fresco (English, 1936-2013) 'Boy Brings Home Christmas Tree, Spitalfields Market, London' 1946

 

Monty Fresco (English, 1936-2013)
Boy Brings Home Christmas Tree, Spitalfields Market, London
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Season’s Greetings from Art Blart

Thank you to all Art Blart readers for their support in 2022!

Marcus

 

 

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19
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Frank Horvat. 50-65’ at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 30th October 2022

Curator: Virginia Chardin

 

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Muslim wedding, fiancé discovering his fiancée's face in a mirror, Pakistan' 1952

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Muslim wedding, fiancé discovering his fiancée’s face in a mirror, Pakistan
1952
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

Another male photographer, this time one who underlines the commonalities between his work as a photoreporter and his work for fashion. But other than a few transcendent images (the Givenchy Hat duo in particular) I find his work to be very stylised, of the 1950s era, and not particularly memorable.

Can you imagine the artist Susan Meiselas in her work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975) taking an image of a naked female and then naming the work for themselves, “self-portrait”, Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris (1956, below) even as the photographer is obscured with the camera machine up to his face recording with the male gaze and the gaze of the camera the body of a anonymous woman? Just a stripper?

I know Meiselas’ work is from a later generation when feminism was rising but the objectification of the female body in Horvat’s work is unsavoury, even as the press release says he ensured the “complicit, amused and moving participation of the young women.” (To be complicit means to be involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong)

From the look on the woman’s face, I don’t think so…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Thus, putting aside the notions of truth or deception in the representation of women, and in leaning instead on this concept that Griselda Pollock called the woman-as-image, it becomes possible to analyze the mechanisms of fetishism, voyeurism and objectification who form and inform the representation of women.”

.
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Representing Women: The Politics of representation of the self,” in Chair à canons. Photography, discourse, feminism, Paris, Textual, coll. “Photographic writing,” 2016, p. 234.

 

 

The Jeu de Paume pays tribute to the photographer Frank Horvat, who died on October 21, 2020 at the age of ninety-two, with an exhibition presented at the Château de Tours from June 17 to October 30, 2022. Accompanied by a monograph, it brings a renewed vision of the fiery activity of the photographer during his first fifteen years of career, from 1950 to 1965, a period during which he affirmed an extraordinary personality as author-reporter and fashion photographer.

Made from the archives kept by the author in his home-studio in Boulogne-Billancourt, the exhibition is based on period documents: vintage, publications, writings, in order to follow and explain the photographer’s approach, in the context of the evolution of the illustrated press at the time. He strives to discern the deep driving forces of the work and to bring out its strength and points of tension. He underlines the commonalities between his work as a photoreporter and his work for fashion. Fascination with beauty, the motif of the viewer-voyeur, attention to physical or amorous disorder, are some of the recurring themes of Frank Horvat, who appears above all as a photographer of the body and the intimate. It also reveals the melancholy facet of an independent and sometimes solitary author, living as an outsider despite his success as a fashion photographer.

 

 

 

The Jeu de Paume pays tribute to the photographer Frank Horvat, who died on October 21, 2020 at the age of ninety-two, with an exhibition presented at the Château de Tours from June 17 to October 30, 2022. Accompanied by a monograph, it brings a renewed vision of the fiery activity of the photographer during his first fifteen years of career, from 1950 to 1965, a period during which he asserted an extraordinary personality as author-reporter and fashion photographer.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India' 1953-1954

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India
1953-1954
vintage contact sheet

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Boxing fight between children, Cockney Borough of Lambeth, London, England' 1955

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Boxing fight between children, Cockney Borough of Lambeth, London, England
1955
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Prostitutes in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris' 1955

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Prostitutes in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris
1955
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

1/ The beginnings of a photo-reporter 1928-1954

Francesco Horvat was born on April 28, 1928 in Abbazia, Italy (today Opatija in Croatia). Around 1951, he decided to become photo-reporter, meets Henri Cartier-Bresson, buys a Leica then embarks on a trip to Pakistan and India from 1952 to 1954. His subjects earned him publications in the international press and one of his images is selected for the exhibition “The Family of Man”, presented at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1955.

 

2/ London and Realities 1954-1959

In 1954, he moved to London for a few months, where the English inspire him with humorous images, even frankly ironic. Initiating new formal experiences,he crops his images for close-up effects, hardens his prints by accentuating the grain of the image and works his layouts. Settled in Paris at the end of 1955, Francesco, who now signs Frank Horvat, establishes ongoing relationships with the French monthly Réalités, for which he produced a report on pimping, then in 1959 social subjects on the Parisian suburbs, London or the Borinage.

 

3/ Telephoto Paris 1956

His wanderings in Paris led Frank Horvat to acquire a telephoto lens that he tests on the urban landscape. Intrigued by the effects he obtained from it, he experimented with high views, overlooking monuments and crossroads where crowds and vehicles intermingle. He is interested in graphic games drawn by the signs, the urban furniture, the roofs and the ubiquitous typography of the town. These images earned him significant recognition by international photography journals.

 

4/ Shows and spectators 1956-1958

In 1956, the author manages to get behind the scenes the Sphinx striptease cabaret, place Pigalle, and ensures the complicit, amused and moving participation of the young women. This series earned him orders from Jours de France for an “Evenings in Paris” section. The book I like striptease, published in 1962 by Rencontre à Lausanne with an amazing layout by the graphic designer Jacques Plancherel, initiator of the magazine Die Woche, brings together images from these series.

 

5/ Fashion on the street 1957-1961

In 1957, William Klein introduced Frank Horvat to Jacques Moutin, the artistic director of the magazine Jardin desModes, who offers to transpose the style of his views Parisians in fashion images. Taken with a Leica, without artificial light, the freshness of his images is a sensation, and other magazines appeal to him for his free and natural way to pose his models. He becomes the representative of a “reportage style” in fashion.

 

6/ Successful fashion photographer and muses 1960-1964

This room brings together some of the iconic images and sophisticated shots made by the photographer for British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Most models represented are exceptional women who have experienced an unusual fate. Maggi Eckardt, Judy Dent, Simone d’Aillencourt, Benedetta Barzini, Deborah Dixon, Carol Lobravico, Vera Valdez, Iris Bianchi or China Machado are the heroines of this room. So many portraits of women only fashion images, these photographs demonstrate a collaborative complicity between the photographer and his models.

 

7/ A photographer’s world tour 1962-1963

In 1962, the German magazine Revue asked Frank Horvat to produce a report on large non-European cities. Staring games between men and women, fleeting intimacy between watched and watchers, the melancholy and solitude of bodies make this photographic essay one of the most personal of Frank Horvat. The gist of this report having never been published, the vintage prints presented in this room are therefore largely unpublished. Over there following years, Frank Horvat will hardly carry out any more reporting, apart from a few colour subjects for Réalités. This series thus ends his career as a photo-reporter for the press.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Strasbourg-Saint-Denis metro station, Paris
1956
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, traffic in front of Saint-Lazare station, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, traffic in front of Saint-Lazare station, Paris
1956
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, bus, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, bus, Paris
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Telephoto Paris, Christmas at Galeries Lafayette
1956
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'The Sphinx, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
The Sphinx, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Self-portrait with stripper, The Sphinx, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'The Lido, Paris' 1956

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
The Lido, Paris
1956
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

“If Horvat is a part, along with a few others, of a generation that has indeed renewed photography of fashion by desecrating the mannequin and mixing systematically life to artifice, he no doubt owes it to his training and his work as a photojournalist. This exhibition and this book, with largely unpublished content, focusing for the first time on its first fifteen years as a professional photographer who saw him go from fashionable reportage, precisely intend to reconcile the two sides of his work. On the one hand, his first works for the post-war European and then American press, in the lineage of its elders, Cartier-Bresson at the head, a time of trips that he himself called “the happiest period of his life”; on the other hand, fashion works and the intrusion of colour, which sometimes left him dissatisfied. However, in one case as in the other, the same attention, made of restraint, of empathy and a certain disenchanted sweetness, is brought to the world and, more particularly, to women and relations between the sexes, which are constants in his work – to which we will add, for fashion, a good dose of distance and humour.”

Quentin Bajac, “Foreword,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martiniere, 2022, p. 3.

 

The Jeu de Paume and the Château de Tours pay tribute to Frank Horvat who died on October 21, 2020. The exhibition focuses over his first fifteen years of work, during which he affirms an extraordinary personality of author-reporter and of a fashion photographer. Born in Italy in 1928, he started 1951 in Milan a career as a photojournalist which he pursues in Pakistan, India and England in the following years. His first images earned him numerous publications in the international press as well as participation in the famous “The Family of Man” exhibition presented at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1955.

Settled in Paris in 1955, he was quickly noticed by his telephoto photographs and his subjects on the Paris by night. Managing to capture close-up scenes of a rare intensity, he reveals himself as a photographer of the body and the intimate. This fascination will be found later in his images of fashion for Jardin des Modes, British Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar and in the hallucinatory vibrations of a world tour which he performed in 1962-1963, remained largely unknown. Game of glances, night shows, fragility of masks, complicity with the models, melancholy of the bodies and scintillation love troubles draw an introspective cartography of this photographer moved throughout his life by a inexhaustible quest for new experience.

Produced from the archives left by Horvat in his house-workshop in Boulogne-Billancourt, the exhibition includes over 170 vintage and modern prints. Accompanied publications and original documents, it provides a new light on the work of this major player in French and European photography and present, alongside emblematic images, sets of photographs less known or new. Are thus revealed the wealth and the singularity of a complex and multifaceted work, replaced in the context of the history of photography and the press illustrated post-war.

Exhibition curator: Virginia Chardin

 

“Photography, for me, was photo-reportage. My photos had to tell stories, like those that the editors of the Berliner Illustrierte, refugees in New York during the war, had taught editors to tell of Life, and that now all the magazines were trying to imitate. With a beginning, a middle, an end and a legend under each photo, so that readers still unaccustomed to this visual language can represent the world, whether magazines are sold and that their collaborators are adequately remunerated.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, Studio Frank Horvat archives.

 

“When I first set foot there, Paris was for me the capital of the world. From fashion of course, but also those of painting, letters, shows and especially – from my perspective – photojournalism, because it was Magnum headquarters. I remember this month of July 1951 as of a triumphal progression: I attended the first Givenchy collection, at Fath’s ball (Dior’s rival), I was received in the editorial offices of Paris-Match and Réalités (which even kept some of my photos), I made the portrait of Maxime de la Falaise, muse of the Parisian intelligentsia, in her boudoir Île Saint-Louis. I told myself that this escalation could only end up at the office on Place Saint-Philippe du Roule, where Cartier-Bresson, every Wednesday at 10 a.m., received young photographers, and where he would certainly have invited me to join his pleiad.

It was a cold shower. “Do you work in 6 × 6? The good God didn’t put your eyes on your stomach! And use flash? This is an arbitrary intervention! And in colour? I would do, if I could have my own palette, but I will never use the Kodak one!” He turned over the pile of my prints, the top of the photos down, so that the expressions of the faces do not distract him from the analysis of the compositions, examined them one after the other, pointed out their faults and concludes: “You have understood nothing. Go to the Louvre and study the compositions of Poussin”.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, Studio Frank Horvat archives.

 

“Following the advice of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Franco Horvat bought a Leica in Munich. He embarked in Trieste on a freighter bound for Karachi in the spring of 1952. This trip to Pakistan, which he will extend to India for two years following, allows him for the first time to give free rein to his imagination by looking for subjects to propose.

Most newspapers and agencies ask photographers to bring them complete reports, that is to say, successions of captioned images telling a story likely to be published on several pages. “The mould of the picture story imposed itself on all those who wanted to work for magazines, they could take advantage of it, a bit like the great filmmakers of Hollywood took advantage of box office constraints, or the Great Century playwrights of the rule of three units”. In Lahore, his intuition or his personal attractions lead him to the “red light district” of Hira Mandi (“market with diamonds”, in Urdu), place of prostitution but also of a annual party where exceptionally unveiled young girls and adorned dance and are exposed to the gaze of men, the latter obtaining at auction the right to converse with the families for a meeting or a marriage – a custom century against which the government is trying to fight. He also photographs opium and hashish smokers, a particular Muslim religious ceremony spectacular, and a wedding during which the fiancé discovers in a mirror the face of his bride. Formally, his images do not deviate from the framework imposed by the codes of the photojournalism of the time, but the choice of subjects reveals a intense fascination for the body and the intimate. The observed woman by men, the viewers themselves captured in their bewilderment, the play of looks between the two are motives that we will find in all of Horvat’s work. […]

Initially, Réalités commissioned a subject from him which going to fascinate him, on pimping in Paris. Remote or hidden behind the wheel of his car, he explores by night or day the streets and cafés of Pigalle, rue Saint-Denis, as well as the alleys of the Bois de Boulogne, in a sort of long tracking shot which is reminiscent of the world of cinema or the novel policeman. The magazine announces on the cover: “A document exceptional. Réalités denounces one of the biggest scandals in our time”. Frank Horvat’s archives keep period prints that he had made by Georges Fèvre, one of of the main printers of the Pictorial Service laboratory (Picto) created by Pierre Gassmann. The latter then has the exclusive Magnum prints and gathers around him many French and international authors. This report, which Anne by Mondenard and Michel Guerrin, authors of a book on this magazine, consider it “one of the most strong of Realities” testifying to the “tragic realism of Horvat”, is amazing. The theme of voyeurism captivates the photographer whom he follows for several weeks the thread of Paris by night: the Folies-Bergère, a premiere of the Lido to which assist Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot and Jean Cocteau, fairground booths for light shows, several boxes of striptease. In a masterful series on the Sphinx at Pigalle, the photographer manages to ensure, behind the scenes, the participation accomplice and moving strippers while leaving to their pathetic loneliness the spectators-voyeurs.”

Virginie Chardin, “Frank Horvat, the inner journey,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 13 and 17.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Tan Arnold at The Smoking Dog, Paris, for Jardin des Modes' 1957

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Tan Arnold at The Smoking Dog, Paris, for Jardin des Modes
1957
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancour

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Fashion at Les Invalides, Paris, pour Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Fashion at Les Invalides, Paris, pour Jardin des Modes
1958
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Givenchy Hat, Paris, for Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Givenchy Hat, Paris, for Jardin des Modes
1958
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat. 'Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes
1958
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Mode à Longchamp, Givenchy hat, Paris For Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Mode à Longchamp, Givenchy hat, Paris For Jardin des Modes
1958
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Monique Dutto at the Metro exit, Paris, for Jours de France' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Monique Dutto at the Metro exit, Paris, for Jours de France
1959
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Commuter train hall, Saint-Lazare station, for Réalités, Femina-Illustration' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Commuter train hall, Saint-Lazare station, for Réalités, Femina-Illustration
1959
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'City, London, England, for Realities' 1959

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
City, London, England, for Realities
1959
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

 

“As far as I am concerned, I had not yet realized that I lived “in the century of the body” – as it was to be called, forty years later, an exhibition of photographs, where one of the present images was going to be in the right place – and I had no intention of investigating this theme. But I had just moved to Paris, the orders were not legion and it was difficult for me to refuse that of a “men’s magazine” of New York, which offered two hundred dollars for a report on “Parisian life”.

On the sidewalks of Pigalle, the braided doormen addressed me expressions of welcome, quickly transformed into pouts disdainful as soon as I expressed the wish to photograph behind the scenes. At two o’clock in the morning, having wiped the refusals of all the establishments of the square and the alleys neighbours, I decided to go to great lengths. I slipped a five thousand franc note – of the time – in the hand of the doorman of the Sphynx, although the neon lights of this place were a slightly bald and the man’s uniform not brand new. That has been perhaps these imperfections that decided him to pocket the money and to let me enter, without further ceremony, into the sanctuary for strippers.

These young ladies gave me a rather warm welcome, perhaps because that the audience that night was so gloomy that the mere fact that a paparazzo takes care of them gave them a little feeling important. For my part, I machine-gunned hastily, as sensing that my luck would not last. Effectively, at after four or five spools, one of them said to me: “What are you paying for?” The demand was not unjustified, but I I couldn’t satisfy her. I turned a deaf ear and, without waiting for the others to join in, beat a retreat. The next day, while going through the contacts, I realized that “I had a story” […].”

Frank Horvat, Strip-tease, Paris, Galerie Nina Verny, 2001, n. p.

 

“[…] for now, his work is leading him to acquire a telephoto lens, which he tests on the urban landscape. Intrigued by the effects he obtains from it, he then abandons the motif of cabarets and of the night to experience many views taken in height, on foot, and overlooking monuments and crossroads where crowds and vehicles intermingle. He is interested in games graphics drawn by the signs, the signage, the street furniture, rooftops and the ubiquitous typography in the city. Positioning himself in the middle of the crowd, he captures close-ups of faces or bends down to child’s height. The objectives of long focal length put on the market are then the subject of a real infatuation. Frank Horvat shows a selection of his images to Romeo Martinez, the editor-in-chief of Camera magazine who, enthusiastic, decides to devote an important article to them and to exhibit them at the first Biennale of photography in Venice. This recognition will be crucial for the rest of his career, although the technique and use the telephoto lens only interested him for a short time. It earned him interviews and portfolios in magazines international photography exhibitions and to be exhibited alongside authors like Peter Keetman or William Klein. The same moment, as the exhibition “The Family of Man” arrives at Paris and that Frank Horvat surveys the city with his telephoto lens, published by Editions du Seuil, the book on New York by William Klein, who won the Nadar Prize the following year. It’s a real stylistic revolution in the world of photography, which coincides with the end of the golden age of humanist photography and the decline of photojournalism, and which marks the beginning of a new era of the press, in close correlation with the explosion of the society of consumption.”

Virginie Chardin, “Frank Horvat, the inner journey,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 18-21.

 

“Models who take stereotypical expressions bore me. I forced them to become what I call naively “real women”. It was a war against a lot of people; I went against the preconceived image of editors, models, makeup artists and hairstylists… and even against the necessity of having to represent a illusion. Certainly, I understand the desire for idealization that exists in fashion photography. But I wanted to realize my ideal and not that of an era. I wish that the models do not look like models. I had at first introduces passers-by, dogs, characters into the street. And then I tried to find the same truth in the studio, using white backgrounds. Sometimes I was wrong. This form of democratization of fashion has been favored by political actions. But I arrived at the right time.”

Frank Horvat, “Photographing the relationship”, interview by Muriel Berthou Crestey, October 19, 2013 (online: https://regard.hypotheses.org/1232)

 

“The greatest models of Horvat possess a beauty nonconformist, and their personality shines through the pages magazines. However, the woman in his photograph most famous remains an enigma. She stares at the lens, one eye visible under one flawless brow bone, the other obscured by the cascade of white silk flowers from her Givenchy hat. Unusually, it is not she who concentrates the attention of the other protagonists: around her, the men in top hats point their binoculars in the distance, to a horse race.”

Susanna Brown, “A beautiful chimera: Frank Horvat and fashion,” in Frank Horvat 50- 65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martinière, 2022, p. 38.

 

“This photo [“Hat Givenchy, Paris, for Jardin des Modes,” 1958] would become my [most] iconic image, that is to say the one most often associated with my name. Maybe that’s why she’s not among the ones I prefer, to the point that I’m almost annoyed when it’s designate as my masterpiece. Another reason for my reluctance is that it was not really my idea, but the one of the artistic director, who even made, before the session, a sketch, which I was supposed to get as close as I could. I have never liked being directed, to the point that the concept of an “artistic direction” seems to me a contradiction in the terms: can we direct art? On the other hand, I have to admit that Jacques Moutin did not lack good ideas, and that this one was excellent. I owe him a big part of the success of this image and the benefits it has earned me.”

Frank Horvat, A look at the 60s, Paris, Loft Publications, Cyel editions, 2012, ill. 37.

 

“Thus, putting aside the notions of truth or deception in the representation of women, and in leaning instead on this concept that Griselda Pollock called the woman-as-image, it becomes possible to analyze the mechanisms of fetishism, voyeurism and objectification who form and inform the representation of women.”

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Representing Women: The Politics of representation of the self,” in Chair à canons. Photography, discourse, feminism, Paris, Textual, coll. “Photographic writing,” 2016, p. 234.

 

Life had finally arrived on newsstands, imitated in everything the “free world” by magazines of the same format, such as Match in Paris, Stern in Hamburg and Epoca in Milan. We admired the Magnum photographers – Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Seymour and Bischof – both artists and adventurers. Far from a stopgap measure, photojournalism appeared to me as a way to reach my ideal from a creative activity to my desire to travel the world.”

Frank Horvat, “Pre-history,” in Frank Horvat. Please don’t smile, Berlin, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2015, p. 232.

 

“If I had to sum up the photogenicity of Paris in a few words, I would would say that it comes from its facets. We can realize that on any street corner, looking in any direction through a viewfinder: details accumulate in the frame and repeat themselves as in a game of mirrors, disparate but always granted between them […]. The effect can be enhanced by a focal length of telephoto lens, which crushes perspectives and tightens distances.”

Frank Horvat, “Cities and Languages,” in Frank Horvat, Paris-Londres, London-Paris, 1952-1962, Paris, Paris Museums, Carnavalet Museum, 1996, p. 6-7.

 

“The spectator is a recurring presence in the work of Frank Horvat, and we could interpret this male figure anonymous as a representation of the photographer himself. In his exploration of the dichotomy between manifest gaze and hidden gaze, he often uses reflective surfaces, exploiting the properties of the mirror which induce a disturbance of three-dimensional space and a fragmentation of the picture plane.”

Susanna Brown, “A beautiful chimera: Frank Horvat and fashion,” in Frank Horvat 50-65, Paris, Jeu de Paume / La Martiniere, p. 33.

 

“For the “continental” that I was, England in the 1950s was as exotic as India – my teenage dreams in less. Immigration and globalization not yet on the agenda, the male population was divided into two classes: those who wore a cap and who in the métro – the tube – read the Daily Mirror, and those who wore the bowler hat and read the Times (whose titles were inside, the first page being reserved for small advertisement). The social class of women was recognized less easily: most looked like faded flowers, wore little hats and knitted. The light of a sky of lead suited me almost better than that of the sheer sun, but I know my London pictures stayed closer caricature than miracle: I had neither the knowledge nor the imagination to superimpose on this universe another grid than that of an ironic look.

In Paris, where I transferred myself the following year, it was all contrary: the references jostled, to the point of seeming sometimes too easy. Montmartre stairs, children brandishing chopsticks, the street lamps in the fog and the fairgrounds inevitably reminded me of the movies of the 1930s, but also the so-called humanist photographers who were inspired by it and of which I did not share some tenderness. Other associations of ideas, however, were irresistible. The gaze of a passer-by as in The Flowers of Evil: “O you whom I had loved, oh you who knew it”. The ghosts of demolished houses, like in Malta Laurids Brigge: “…it wasn’t, so to speak, the first wall of the remaining houses, but the last wall of the old. We saw the inside. We could see on the different floors the walls where hangings had remained pasted, here and there the beginning of a floor or a ceiling…” And of course the Mirabeau d’Apollinaire bridge, the grand boulevards of novels by Balzac, the Quai des Orfèvres by Edgar Poe, coffee Flore de Sartre… To literary memories were added the seductions of shop windows, restaurant menus, posters theater, and of course and above all women, interviews and unapproachable behind car windows or disturbing by their availability on the sidewalks of rue Saint-Denis.

For me, these were not so much reporting themes, as I had found in India and England, only entries in the diary of my wonders, my desires, of my fears and my mistakes. As were, on other registers, the subjects of the images on the run from Cartier-Bresson and Boubat, for whom photojournalism was, in the end, only a pretext for their own quests – or simply a livelihood.”

Frank Horvat, “Autobiography,” undated manuscript, Boulogne-Billancourt, archives from Studio Frank Horvat.

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Simone d'Aillencourt with designer Hardy Friends drinking tea, British high fashion, London, England, for British Vogue' 1961

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Simone d’Aillencourt with designer Hardy Friends drinking tea, British high fashion, London, England, for British Vogue
1961
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon and Federico Fellini, Italian haute couture, for Harper's Bazaar, Rome, Italy' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon and Federico Fellini, Italian haute couture, for Harper’s Bazaar, Rome, Italy
1962
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Iris Bianchi and Agnès Varda, Paris, French haute couture, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Iris Bianchi and Agnès Varda, Paris, French haute couture, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Modern inkjet print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon on the steps of Piazza di Spagna, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon on the steps of Piazza di Spagna, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Deborah Dixon eating spaghetti with writer Antero Piletti, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Deborah Dixon eating spaghetti with writer Antero Piletti, Italian haute couture, Rome, Italy, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Christmas night, couple dancing in sailor bar, Calcutta, India' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Christmas night, couple dancing in sailor bar, Calcutta, India
1962
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Carol Lobravico au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, pour Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Carol Lobravico au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, pour Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Carol Lobravico et Iris Bianchi au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, for Harper's Bazaar' 1962

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Carol Lobravico et Iris Bianchi au café de Flore, haute couture française, Paris, for Harper’s Bazaar
1962
Gelatin silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Department store, Tokyo, Japan' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Department store, Tokyo, Japan
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Couple dancing in a gafeira (popular ball), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Couple dancing in a gafeira (popular ball), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1963
Modern silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) '15th anniversary celebration, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
15th anniversary celebration, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1963
Silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Entrance to Luna Park, Sydney, Australia' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Entrance to Luna Park, Sydney, Australia
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020) 'Lovers, Sydney, Australia' 1963

 

Frank Horvat (Italian, 1928-2020)
Lovers, Sydney, Australia
1963
Vintage silver print
© Studio Frank Horvat, Boulogne-Billancourt

 

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

 

Frank Horvat Photography, 1955

 

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

 

Frank Horvat Jardin des Modes, France, 1958

 

 

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25 avenue André Malraux, 37000 Tours
Phone: 02 47 70 88 46

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 2pm – 6pm
Closed on Monday

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09
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Spowers & Syme’ at the Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 16th July – 16th October 2022

A National Gallery Touring Exhibition

Curator: Dr Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax, Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery showing photographs of both Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme

 

Installation view of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery showing photographs of both Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme (below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

My friend and I travelled down the highway from Melbourne to Geelong especially to see this National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition – and my god, was it worth the journey!

I have always loved woodcuts and the Art Deco era so it was a great pleasure to see the work of two very talented artists from this period, who were “enthusiastic exponents of modern art in Melbourne during the 1930s and ’40s.” Modern art that would have challenged the conservative (male) art conventions of the day, much as modernist photographs by Max Dupain challenged the ongoing power of Pictorialist photography in 1930s Australia.

From viewing the exhibition it would seem to me that Eveline Syme has the sparer, more ascetic aesthetic. Her forms are more graphic, her lines more severe, her spaces more “blocky” (if I can use that word – in other words, more positive and negative space), her colour palette more restrained than in the work of Ethel Spowers. But her work possesses its own charm: a wonderful Japanese inspired landscape such as The factory (1933, below), with its mix of modernism and naturalism; silhouetted blue figures full of dynamism, movement in a swirling circular motif in Skating (1929, below); or the flattened perspective and 3 colour palette of Sydney tram line (1936, below) – all offer their own delicious enjoyment of the urban landscape.

But the star of the show is the work of the astonishing Ethel Spowers. Her work is luminous… containing such romanticism, fun, humour, movement, play, intricate design, bold colours, lyrical graphics… and emotion – that I literally went weak at the knees when viewing these stunningly beautiful art works. There is somethings so joyful about Spowers designs that instantly draws you in, that makes you smile, that made me cry! They really touched my heart…

Even now writing about them, they seem to me like stills from a dream, scenes out of a fairy tale: the pattern of the white gulls obscuring the plough; the rays of sunlight striking the ground behind The lonely farm; the mysterious stillness of The island of the dead; the arching leap over the rope in Fox and geese; the pyramid construction of Football; the delicacy of movement and line in Swings; and the butterfly-like canopies in Wet afternoon. I could go on and on about the joy these works brought me when looking at them, their vivaciousness, their intense, effervescent spirit. If you get a chance before the exhibition closes next weekend in Geelong please go to see them.

As you may have gathered I am totally in love with the work of Ethel Spowers. Thank you, thank you to the artist for making them, and thank you to the energy of the cosmos for allowing me to see them in person!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Geelong Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation images © Marcus Bunyan, Geelong Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia.

 

 

“Is it too great a truism to repeat that the best art is always the child of its own age?”

.
Eveline Syme

 

 

Celebrating the artistic friendship of Melbourne artists Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, the National Gallery Touring Exhibition Spowers and Syme will present the changing face of interwar Australia through the perspective of two pioneering modern women artists.

The exhibition offers rare insight into the unlikely collaboration between the daughters of rival media families. Studying together in Paris and later with avant-garde printmaker Claude Flight in London, Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme returned to the conservative art world of Australia – where they became enthusiastic exponents of modern art in Melbourne during the 1930s and ’40s.

Much-loved for their innovative approach to lino and woodcut techniques, Spowers and Syme showcases their dynamic approach through prints and drawings whose rhythmic patterns reflect the fast pace of the modern world through everyday observations of childhood themes, overseas travel and urban life.

Text from the Geelong Gallery website

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Photographer unknown. 'Portrait of Miss EL Spowers, a passenger on board the 'Orama'' 19 March 1935 (installation view)

 

Photographer unknown
Portrait of Miss EL Spowers, a passenger on board the ‘Orama’ (installation view)
19 March 1935
Fremantle
Reproduction courtesy of The West Australian, Perth
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Photographer unknown. 'Miss Eveline W. Syme, who is in charge of the library section of the Australian Red Cross Society, is seen displaying a typical parcel of books as sent out to hospitals, convalescent depots etc. This parcel contains about forty units, covering a wide range of literature' 13 May 1943 (installation view)

 

Photographer unknown
Miss Eveline W. Syme, who is in charge of the library section of the Australian Red Cross Society, is seen displaying a typical parcel of books as sent out to hospitals, convalescent depots etc. This parcel contains about forty units, covering a wide range of literature (installation view)
13 May 1943
Melbourne
Reproduction courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The gust of wind' 1931 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The gust of wind (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The gust of wind' 1931

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The gust of wind
1931
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Special edition' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Special edition (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Raised in Toorak society, Ethel Spowers was the second daughter of William Spewers, an Aotearoa New Zealand-born journalist and proprietor of The Argus and The Australasian newspapers. The Spowers family lived at Toorak House in St Georges Road. Eveline Syme was the first-born daughter of company director and pastoralist Joseph Syme, who was a partner in competing newspaper The Age until 1891. The Syme family lived at Rotherfield (now Sherwood Hall) in St Kilda. Eveline moved to Toorak in around 1927.

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Special edition' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Special edition
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river (installation view)
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A sense of place is important to all of us. For Spowers and Syme, Melbourne (Naarm) was their home and held a special place in their hearts. In the 1920s, Melbourne was an important city. Lively and busy, it was also very accessible to the river and beautiful landmarks. The Yarra River (Birrarung) winding gently through the city and the industrial landscape at Yallourn were worthy subjects to focus on. Spowers’ earlier work Melbourne from the river c 1924 (below) was created looking at the river and is framed by spindly trees.

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river (installation view)
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Banks of the Yarra' 1935 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Banks of the Yarra (installation view)
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Banks of the Yarra' 1935

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Banks of the Yarra
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The bay (installation views)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The bay
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

Geelong Gallery is delighted to present National Gallery of Australia Touring Exhibition, Spowers & Syme opening on Saturday 16 July 2022.

Celebrating the artistic friendship of Melbourne artists Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, the Know My Name touring exhibition presents the changing
face of interwar Australia through the perspective of two pioneering women artists.

The National Gallery’s Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings, Dr Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax hopes that Geelong and Victorian audiences will add the
names Spowers and Syme to their knowledge of ground-breaking women artists from the era including Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Dorrit Black and Grace Cossington Smith.

‘Spowers and Syme are often overlooked in Australian art history, yet during the 1930s they were recognised by peers as being among the most progressive artists working in Melbourne.’

‘Exhibiting in Australia and England, they championed key ideas from European modernism such as contemporary art reflecting the pace and vitality of life,’ said Noordhuis-Fairfax.

Much-loved for their dynamic approach to lino and woodcut prints, Spowers & Syme offers rare insights into the creative alliance between the daughters of rival media families from Melbourne-based newspapers The Argus and The Age. After studying art together in Paris and London, Spowers and Syme returned to the conservative art world of Australia where they became enthusiastic exponents of modern art during the 1930s and 1940s.

Geelong Galley Director & CEO, Jason Smith says ‘We look forward to sharing the important works of Spowers and Syme and exploring their contributions further through a number of public and education programs. Spowers & Syme will be further contextualised by modernist works by women artists in our Geelong permanent collection including a major survey of printmaker, Barbara Brash.

Press release from the Geelong Art Gallery

 

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Balloons' c. 1920

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Balloons
c. 1920
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Chris Montgomery 1993

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The factory' 1933 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The factory (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The factory' 1933

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The factory
1933
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Beginners' class' 1956

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Beginners’ class
1956
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1992

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Drawing for the linocut 'School is out'' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Drawing for the linocut ‘School is out’ (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Drawing in pen and black ink over pencil
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Chris Montgomery 1993
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

At the end of 1936 Spowers held her sixth and final solo exhibition. It was a survey of old favourites and new works, spanning a decade of imagination and experimentation. Among the twenty prints and six watercolours shown at Grosvenor Galleries in Sydney were five fresh linocuts: Kites, Football, School is out, Children’s hoops and Special edition. These works were a return to her most treasured themes: children and family.

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'School is out' 1936

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
School is out
1936
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme captured the joy and dynamism of movement in sport and play. Through colour, pattern and intersecting lines we see the speed and energy of children skipping, running, reaching to catch a ball and the pace of skaters circling the rink in the icy coldness. Who could forget the wonderful feeling of swinging as high as possible, looking down at the world?

Spowers’ images of children playing are reminiscent of her own childhood and have a whimsical charm about them. They capture the sense of wonder and curiosity seen in young children.

Linoleum (lino) was a floor covering that was invented in 1860. Imaginative artists discovered how effective it was for creating prints. With the right tools, it was easy to carve an image into it and make prints using coloured inks on the exposed surface.

Anonymous text. “Play and Games – Spowers & Syme: Primary School Learning Resource,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nd [Online] Cited 29/08/2022

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The bamboo blind' 1926

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The bamboo blind
1926
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Louise Spowers (1890-1947), painter and printmaker, was born on 11 July 1890 at South Yarra, Melbourne, second of six children of William George Lucas Spowers, a newspaper proprietor from New Zealand, and his London-born wife Annie Christina, née Westgarth. Allan Spowers was her only brother. She was educated at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Melbourne, and was a prefect in 1908. Wealthy and cultured, her family owned a mansion in St Georges Road, Toorak. Ethel continued to live there as an adult and maintained a studio above the stables.

After briefly attending art school in Paris, Miss Spowers undertook (1911-1917) the full course in drawing and painting at Melbourne’s National Gallery schools. Her first solo exhibition, held in 1920 at the Decoration Galleries in the city, showed fairy-tale drawings influenced by the work of Ida Outhwaite. In 1921-1924 Spowers worked and studied abroad, at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London, and the Académie Ranson, Paris. She exhibited (1921) with fellow Australian artist Mary Reynolds at the Macrae Gallery, London. Two further solo shows (1925 and 1927) at the New Gallery, Melbourne, confirmed her reputation as an illustrator of fairy tales, though by then she was also producing woodcuts and linocuts inspired by Japanese art and covering a broader range of subjects.

A dramatic change in Spowers’ style occurred in 1929 when she studied under Claude Flight (the leading exponent of the modernist linocut) at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, London. Her close friend Eveline Syme joined her there. Following further classes in 1931, during which Spowers absorbed modernist ideas of rhythmic design and composition from the principal Iain Macnab, she published an account of the Grosvenor School in the Recorder (Melbourne, 1932). In the 1930s her linocuts attracted critical attention for their bold, simplified forms, rhythmic sense of movement, distinctive use of colour and humorous observation of everyday life, particularly the world of children. They were regularly shown at the Redfern Gallery, London. The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum purchased a number of her linocuts.

Stimulated by Flight’s proselytising zeal for the medium, Spowers organised in 1930 an exhibition of linocuts by Australian artists, among them Syme and Dorrit Black, at Everyman’s Library and Bookshop, Melbourne. A founding member (1932-1938) of George Bell‘s Contemporary Group, Spowers defended the modernist movement against its detractors. In an article in the Australasian on 26 April 1930 she called on ‘all lovers of art to be tolerant to new ideas, and not to condemn without understanding’.

Frances Derham remembered Spowers as being ‘tall, slender and graceful’, with ‘a small head, dark hair and grey eyes’. A rare photograph of Spowers, published in the Bulletin (3 September 1925), revealed her fashionable appearance and reflective character. In the late 1930s she stopped practising as an artist due to ill health, but continued her voluntary work at the Children’s Hospital. She died of cancer on 5 May 1947 in East Melbourne and was buried with Anglican rites in Fawkner cemetery. Although she had destroyed many of her paintings in a bonfire, a memorial exhibition of her watercolours, line-drawings, wood-engravings and colour linocuts was held at George’s Gallery, Melbourne, in 1948. Her prints are held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, State galleries in Melbourne and Sydney, and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria.

Stephen Coppel. “Spowers, Ethel Louise (1890-1947),” in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16 , 2002, online in 2006 [Online] Cited 26/08/2022

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The Yarra at Warrandyte (installation views)
1931
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The Yarra at Warrandyte
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

Eveline Winifred Syme (1888-1961), painter and printmaker, was born on 26 October 1888 at Thames Ditton, Surrey, England, daughter of Joseph Cowen Syme, newspaper proprietor, and his wife Laura, née Blair. Ebenezer Syme was her grandfather. Eveline was raised in the family mansion at St Kilda, Melbourne. After leaving the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Melbourne, she voyaged to England and studied classics in 1907-1910 at Newnham College, Cambridge (B.A., M.A., 1930). Because the University of Cambridge did not then award degrees to women, she applied to the University of Melbourne for accreditation, but was only granted admission to third-year classics. She chose instead to complete a diploma of education (1914).

Syme’s artistic career was enhanced by her close friendship with Ethel Spowers. She studied painting at art schools in Paris in the early 1920s, notably under Maurice Denis and André Lhote, and held a solo exhibition, mainly of watercolours, at Queen’s Hall, Melbourne, in 1925. Her one-woman shows, at the Athenaeum Gallery (1928) and Everyman’s Library and Bookshop (1931), included linocuts and wood-engravings. While many of her watercolours and prints drew on her travels through England, Provence, France, and Tuscany, Italy, she also responded to the Australian landscape, particularly the countryside around Melbourne and Sydney, and at Port Arthur, Tasmania. Syme’s chance discovery of Claude Flight’s textbook, Lino-Cuts (London, 1927), inspired her to enrol (with Spowers) in his classes at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, London, in January 1929. In keeping with Flight’s modernist conception of the linocut, she began to produce prints incorporating bold colour and rhythmic design.

Returning to Melbourne in 1929 with an exhibition of contemporary wood-engravings from the Redfern Gallery, London, Syme became a cautious advocate of modern art. She published a perceptive account of Flight and his teaching in the Recorder (1929) and spoke on the radio about wood-engraving; she also wrote a pioneering essay on women artists in Victoria from 1857, which was published in the Centenary Gift Book (1934), edited by Frances Fraser and Nettie Palmer. Syme was a founding member (1932-1938) of George Bell‘s Contemporary Group. She regularly exhibited with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and with the Independent Group of Artists. Her linocuts, perhaps her most significant achievement, owed much to her collaboration with Spowers.

During the mid-1930s Syme was prominent in moves to establish a women’s residential college at the University of Melbourne. In 1936, as vice-president of the appeal committee, she donated the proceeds of her print retrospective (held at the gallery of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria) to the building fund. A foundation member (1936-1961) of the council of University Women’s College, she served as its president (1940-1947) and as a member of its finance committee. She was appointed to the first council of the National Gallery Society of Victoria in 1947 and sat on its executive-committee in 1948-1953. In addition, she was a member (1919) and president (1950-1951) of the Lyceum Club.

A tall, elegant and reserved woman, Syme had a ‘crisp, quick voice’ and a ‘rather abrupt manner’. She died on 6 June 1961 at Richmond and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Brighton cemetery. In her will she left her books and £5000 to University Women’s College. Edith Alsop’s portrait (1932) of Syme is held by University College. Syme’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, State galleries in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria.

Stephen Coppel. “Syme, Eveline Winifred (1888-1961),” in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16 , 2002, online in 2006 [Online] Cited 26/08/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery showing at top left, Spowers The timber crane (1926, below); at top right, Spowers The plough (1928, below); at bottom left, Spowers The works, Yallourn (1933, below); and at bottom right, Spowers The lonely farm (1933, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The timber crane' 1926 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The timber crane (installation view)
1926
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The plough' 1928 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The plough (installation view)
1928
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The plough' 1928

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The plough
1928
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Linocut
15.7 x 34.8cm (printed image)
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Bulla Bridge' 1934

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Bulla Bridge
1934
Wood engraving
10.1 x 14.7cm (printed image)
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The lonely farm' 1933 (installation view)

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The lonely farm' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The lonely farm (installation views)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Harvest' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Harvest (installation view)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Harvest' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Harvest
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932 (installation view)

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The joke (installation views)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The joke
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The island of the dead' 1927 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The island of the dead (installation view)
1927
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from seven blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1995
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In January 1927 Spowers and Syme holidayed in Iutruwita / Tasmania. After they visited the penal settlement at Port Arthur, Spowers produced this view of the nearby cemetery of Point Puer. Following this trip, Syme made a monochrome wood-engraving, The ruins, Port Arthur c. 1927

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The island of the dead' 1927

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The island of the dead
1927
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from seven blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1995

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Skating' 1929 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Skating (installation view)
1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

When Syme joined Spowers at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in January 1929 she made the two-block linocut Skating, which summarises Claude Flight’s teachings on how a composition ‘builds into a geometrical pattern of opposing rhythms’. Her design is simplified, using the repetition of intersecting lines and curves to suggest action. Although the skaters are frozen mid-turn, the print is filled with light and movement, with Syme’s humorous suggestion of novice efforts captured in awkwardly angled arms and legs.

Wall text

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Skating' 1929

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Skating
1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Fox and geese' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Fox and geese (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Fox and geese' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Fox and geese
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Football' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Football (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1982
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Tug of war' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Tug of war (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Tug of war' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Tug of war
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were lifelong friends who inspired and encouraged each another in their artistic pursuits. They were pioneers in printmaking and modern art and their careers reflected the changing circumstances of women after World War 1. Spowers and Syme were among a core group of progressive Australian artists who travelled widely and studied with avant-garde artists. They were at the forefront of Modernism in Australia.

Both women grew up in Melbourne in very comfortable circumstances. Their fathers ran rival newspapers, so their families had many common interests. Spowers’ father was involved with The Argus and The Australasian, while Syme’s father helped run The Age. Both families were dedicated to many causes and generous in their efforts to help others. They also supported war efforts and the Red Cross.

Spowers was the second child of six siblings and her home life was filled with rich and varied creative experiences. Her family lived in a large home in inner Melbourne called Toorak House, a graceful mansion with large gardens to play in and explore. Syme was also one of six siblings and lived nearby in a large house in St Kilda called Rotherfield.

Spowers and Syme studied and travelled together in Australia and overseas. Both were inspired by the artist Claude Flight who taught them at the Grosvenor School in London. He encouraged his students to capture the joy of movement through colour and rhythmic line and the new method of colour linocut printing. Spowers and Syme became strong supporters of being brave as artists, prepared to experiment and promote new ways of doing and seeing.

Throughout their lives the two friends advocated for important causes. Spowers’ focus was always on the welfare of children through her involvement in kindergarten education and volunteering at the local children’s hospital. Syme was particularly dedicated to the advancement of women’s university education.

Anonymous text. “About the Artists – Spowers & Syme: Primary School Learning Resource,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nd [Online] Cited 29/09/2022

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'San Domenico, Siena' 1931 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'San Domenico, Siena' 1931 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
San Domenico, Siena (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

An inveterate traveller, Syme produced drawings and watercolours of landscape views from her trips around Victoria, her voyages to England via Colombo, and her travels through Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and the United States of America. In addition to exhibiting her watercolours, Syme often used these compositions as the basis for subsequent prints and oil paintings.

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Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Hong Kong harbour' 1934 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Hong Kong harbour' 1934 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Hong Kong harbour (installation views)
1934
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Swings' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Swings (installation view)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Swings' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Swings
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Sydney tram line (installation views)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Powers and Syme were associated with numerous art and social group, which established intersecting circles of connection and opportunity in Melbourne and Sydney. During the 1930s they both exhibited in Sydney with other progressive artists at Dorrit Black’s Modern Art Centre and with the Contemporary Group co-founded by Thea Proctor. This print is based on an earlier watercolour by Syme, drawn after staying with Spowers’ sister at Double Bay in 1932.

Wall text

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Sydney tram line
1936
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
© Estate of Eveline Syme

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Still life' 1925 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Still life (installation view)
1925
Melbourne
Wood-engraving, printed in black ink, from one block
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1981
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The noisy parrot' 1926 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The noisy parrot (installation view)
1926
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 2015
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The noisy parrot' 1926

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The noisy parrot
1926
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 2015

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Wet afternoon' 1930 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Wet afternoon (installation view)
1930
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In July 1930 Claude Flight included this print in British lino-cuts, the second annual exhibition held at the Redfern Gallery in London. Impressions were acquired by the Victoria & Albert museum and the British Museum. Wet afternoon was exhibited again in September at the annual exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria at Melbourne Town Hall and in the first exhibition of linocuts in Australia held in December at Everyman’s Lending Library in the centre of avant-garde Melbourne.

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Wet afternoon' 1930

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Wet afternoon
1930
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Prints, pigments & poison

The vibrant works by Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, printed on smooth Japanese gampi papers from 1927 to 1950, demanded special consideration during conservation preparation from the Spowers & Syme exhibition. Andrea Wise, Senior Conservator, Paper, explains the process and details the green pigment with the toxic backstory. …

The typical palette in Spowers & Syme works feature carbon black, yellow and brown ochres, ultramarine, cobalt and cerulean blues, emerald green and two organic lake pigments – alizarin crimson and a distinct lilac. Lake pigments are made by attaching a dye to a base material such as alumina, making a dyestuff into a workable particulate pigment. This process can also extend more expensive dyestuffs, making them cheaper to use. Bound with oil to create printer’s inks, this limited palette was then overprinted to achieve a wider range of colours.

Emerald green commonly recurs throughout the works. A highly toxic vivid green, invented in the 19th century, it was still commercially available until the early 1960s. Many historical pigments are toxic, based on arsenic, mercury and lead.

Today we are increasingly aware of the health and safety issues related to work of art, but this was not always the case. Emerald green belongs to a group of copper acetoarsenate pigments that were extensively used for many household goods including furniture and wallpapers. A similar pigment, Scheele’s green, was used on the wallpaper in Napoleon’s apartments on St Helena and has been suggested as the cause of his death. Large amounts of arsenic (100 times that of a living person) were found on Napoleon’s hair and scalp after he had died. While poisoning theories still abound, it has been confirmed through other medical cases from the period that arsenic dust and fumes would be circulated in damp Victorian rooms sealed tight against the drafts that were thought to promote ill health.

Anonymous text. “Prints, pigments & poison,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nov 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 30/08/2022

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Children's Hoops' 1935

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Children’s Hoops
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Bank holiday' 1935 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Bank holiday (installation view)
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from six blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Bank holiday' 1935

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Bank holiday
1935
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The Junior Red Cross works in every land' 1941 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The Junior Red Cross works in every land (installation view)
Linocut, printed in colour, from six blocks
Reproduced in Joan and Daryl Lindsay
The story of the Red Cross Melbourne, 1941
National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Powers made one final linocut print around 1941 for inclusion in a published history of the Australian Red Cross Society compiled by Joan and Daryl Lindsay. The Spowers family had a long philanthropic connection with this cause, and Eveline Syme became the first chairperson of the Red Cross Society Picture Library. Reproduced as a lithographic illustration, the long narrow composition is based on the picnicking families in Spowers’ earlier linocut Bank holiday 1935 (see above).

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Cuthbert and the dogs' c. 1947 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Cuthbert and the dogs (installation view)
c. 1947
Digest Juvenile Productions, Melbourne
National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-1930s, Spowers stopped printmaking and began a series of short stories for children. During the last decade of her life, she wrote and illustrated at least seven books. Their charm drew on stories the Spowers siblings wrote together as children, yet these were cautionary tales in which youthful characters were often reformed by the results of their actions. Of these, only Cuthbert and the dogs was published.

Wall text

 

Grosvenor School of Modern Art

This progressive private school was established in 1925 by Scottish wood-engraver Iain Macnab at 33 Warwick Square in Pimlico. Formerly the London studio and house of Scottish portraitist James Rannie Swinton, the ground-floor interior was repurposed into studios for tuition in drawing, painting and composition, with the basement set up for lithography, etching and block printing. With no entrance examinations or fixed terms, students could attend classes at any time by purchasing a book of fifteen tickets, with each ticket permitting entry to a two-hour session.

Merchant hand-selected a small team of similarly anti-academic staff, including Claude Flight. For five years Flight taught weekly afternoon classes on colour linocuts. He emphasised that art must capture the vitality of the machine age and taught his students a new way of seeing that analysed the activities of urban life and condensed these into dynamic compositions bursting with rhythm and energy.

 

Frank Weitzel (New Zealand, 1905 - England 1932) 'Slum street' c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Frank Weitzel (New Zealand, 1905 – England 1932)
Slum street (installation view)
c. 1929
Sydney
Linocut, printed in black ink, from one block
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1993
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The son of German immigrants, Weitzel has a volatile upbringing in Aotearoa New Zealand where his father interned as an enemy alien. At the age of 16, Wentzel emigrated with his mother to the united States of America, where he studied sculpture in California. After travels through Europe, he relocated to Sydney in 1928 were he produced a series of linocuts in response to the city and was invited by Dorrit Black to exhibit with the Group of Seven. Black arranged for Wentzel to meet Claude Flight in London in 1930; Flight included his prints in the annual linocut exhibitions at Redfern Gallery in 1930 and 1931.

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Frank Weitzel was known mainly as a sculptor but in his studio over Grubb’s butcher shop at Circular Quay, he worked in the tradition of the artist-craftsman, producing linocut batik shawls and wall-hangings, lamp shades, book-ends etc. He also played violin in the Conservatorium Orchestra and designed a modern room (with Henry Pynor) at the Burdekin House Exhibition in 1929. In 1931, looking for work in London he sought out David Garnett, a publisher and member of the Bloomsbury Group of artist-craftsman. While Garnett was not interested in Weitzel’s drawings for publication, he became an admirer of his sculpture and invited Weitzel to care-take his property ‘Hilton Hall’ and commissioned him to do heads of children. Weitzel came to be praised also by Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, Paul Nash and Duncan Grant. Garnett describes Weitzel in his autobiography as “small, thin, with frizzy hair which stood piled up on his head, blue-eyed, with a beaky nose. I guessed he was not eating enough… He was proletarian, rather helpless, very eager about art and also about communism”. At around this time Weitzel wrote to Colin Simpson back in Australia, “Now I am working on a show of my own which is being arranged for me by some terrific money bags”. The exhibition was never held. Weitzel contracted tetanus apparently from minerals which got under his finger nails while digging for clay for his sculptures. He died on the 22 February 1932 at the age of 26. A posthumous exhibition was organised by Dorrit Black at the Modern Art Centre, 56 Margaret Street, Sydney, on the 7 June 1933- opened by another supporter of modernism, the artist John D. Moore. The works had been brought back to Sydney by Weitzel’s sister Mary, who had travelled to England to collect them. This small show (41 works) included illustrations to a poem by Weitzel, poster designs for the Empire Marketing Board, Underground Railways, Shell Motor Spirit, Barclay’s Lager and the Predential Insurance Company, as well as sculpture, drawings and linocuts which had been exhibited with Grosvenor School artists in London.

Anonymous text. “Frank Weitzel (1905-1932),” on the Christie’s website Nd [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004) 'Fixing the wires' 1932 (installation view)

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004)
Fixing the wires (installation view)
1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of the artist 1990
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In December 1929, at the age of 18, Tschudi enrolled at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art where she studied under Claude Flight for six months. She also studied in Paris with progressive teachers including André Lhote. Flight was a lifelong supporter of Tschudi and using Fixing the wires as an empale in his 1934 textbook on linocut techniques nothing that ‘the most important point to consider … is the arrangement whereby each colour block is considered as a space-filling whole, as well as part of the final composition made up of the superimposition of all the colour harmonies’.

Wall text

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004) 'Fixing the wires' 1932

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004)
Fixing the wires
1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of the artist 1990

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955) 'Brooklands' c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955)
Brooklands (installation view)
c. 1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

At the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London, Claude Flight taught his students the art of the modern colour linocut. He emphasised the importance of composition, building his images of urban life out of simplified form and pattern. Flight’s own practice drew on an exciting mix of avant-garde ideas: from the abstraction of British Vorticism to the dynamism of Italian Futurism to the bold geometric energy of Art Deco and the Arts and Crafts Movement’s emphasis on the handmade.

Wall text

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955) 'Brooklands' c. 1929

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955)
Brooklands
c. 1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'Speedway' 1934 (installation view)

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
Speedway (installation view)
1934
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Andrews first studied art by correspondence while working as a welder at an airbase in bristol during the First World War. After meeting her mentor Cyril Power in Bury St Edmonds, they moved to London to study art before Andrews joined the Grosvenor School of Modern Art as a school secretary. Like Flight, Andrews and Power believed that art should reflect the spirit of the time. Andrews showed her work in joint exhibitions with Power at Redfern Gallery, and often explored the them of manual about. She left London in 1938 and emigrated to Canada with her husband Walter Morgan in 1947, where she eventually established a practice as artist and teacher.

Wall text

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'Speedway' 1934

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
Speedway
1934
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Cyril E Power (English, 1872-1951) 'Skaters' c. 1932 and Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930 (installation view)

 

Cyril E Power (English, 1872-1951)
Skaters (installation view)
c. 1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch (installation view)
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930 (installation view)

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch (installation view)
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

George Bell (Australian, 1876-1966) 'The departure' 1931 (installation view)

 

George Bell (Australian, 1876-1966)
The departure (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Mrs B Niven 1988
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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Australia 3220
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18
Sep
22

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘The sun does not move’ 2017-2022

September 2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Women in orange' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Women in orange
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

This posting offers a selection of photographs from my new ninety-eight image sequence The sun does not move (2017-2022). To see the whole extended conversation please visit my website. The text below illuminates the rationale for the work…

 

Two students were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. “It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”

 

The photographs in this sequence meditate on the idea that it is the mind of the viewer that constructs the spaces and meanings of these images. It is MIND that moves. The title of this sequence the sun does not move is attributed to Italian polymath Galileo Galilei.

The photographs are not a contemporary dissection of some archaic concept or hidden historical moment. They just are. Why do I make them? Because I feel impelled to be creative, to explore the spiritual in liminal spaces that I find across the earth. Ultimately, I make them for myself, to illuminate the journey that this soul is on.

With wonder and affection and empathy and feeling for the spaces placed before it. As clear as light is for the ‘mind’s eye’.

With thankx to the few “fellow travellers” for their advice and friendship.

Marcus

 

98 images
© Marcus Bunyan

VIEW THE WHOLE SEQUENCE ON MY WEBSITE (preferably on a desktop computer)

 

 

“To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.”

.
Teilhard de Chardin, Seeing 1947

 

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a digital colour 16″ x 20″ print costs $1,000 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see the Store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Brick pattern' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Brick pattern
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Sliver' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Sliver
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Bus depot' South London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Bus depot
South London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Gare du Nord' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Gare du Nord
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Blue / White' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Blue/White
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Tomb effigy' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Tomb effigy
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Float' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Float
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Scar' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Scar
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Couple in light' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Couple in light
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The crossing' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The crossing
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Equilibrium' Tuileries, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Equilibrium
Tuileries, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Leaving' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Leaving
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The sun does not move, it's your mind that moves...' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The sun does not move, it’s your mind that moves…
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Crystallize' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Crystallize
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Hand in hand' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Hand in hand
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'We might be otherwise – we might be all' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
We might be otherwise – we might be all
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Every kind of pleasure' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Every kind of pleasure
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Eiffel Tower II' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Eiffel Tower II
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Profusion' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Profusion
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Ancient and modern' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Ancient and modern
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Two black holes' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two black holes
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The Wheel of Time' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The Wheel of Time
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Modernisation' Montparnasse, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Modernisation
Montparnasse, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The light whose smile kindles the universe' Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The light whose smile kindles the universe
Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The unknown thought I' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The unknown thought I
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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10
Jul
22

Exhibition: ‘Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek’ at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 25th March – 28th August, 2022

Curators: Ludger Derenthal, Head of the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek, and Ralph Goertz, IKS – Institut für Kun-stdokumentation

A special exhibition of the Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation

 

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool IIA' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool IIA
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

 

Twist of life

I am always fascinated by the journey that artists travel with their practice: where, when and why they started (what was their jumping off point, or point of departure): what were their concerns when they first started making art, what was the path they took, and how did they are arrive at their mature style.

With its blend of old and new – historical photographs by other artists that relate to the German artist Candida Höfer’s mature practice, and photographs from zoological gardens and hitherto little-known series from Höfer’s early work (such as photographs from her Liverpool series) that are archaeological evidence on the path to her current photographs – this intelligently curated and beautifully displayed exhibition investigates the narrative trajectory of discovery that any artist worth their salt takes during the development of their practice.

In Höfer’s art, her earliest photographs are classic black and white socio-documentary, urban landscape images that seek to map out the relationship between human and city, the topographical lay of the land if you like. For example, Höfer’s intensely personal views of Liverpool are full of fractures and half-seen occurrences in the urban landscape, observed with swift assurance by an inquiring mind, caught on the run. A woman peers in the window of a shop (Liverpool IIA, 1968 above), people queue to board a bus (Liverpool VII, 1968 below), men chat in a dingy bar (Liverpool VI, 1968 below), and a man is caught mid-stride legging it across the road while others what not so patiently at a bus stop (Liverpool XXII, 1968 below). Moving closer to the same bus stop (the same buildings in the background), Höfer captures a man standing looking for his bus in the middle of the street oblivious of the photographer (Liverpool III, 1968 below). This documentation of a fractured society continues in her series Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany)(1972-1979).

“Images of Turks at work or leisure in the parks, homes, markets, shops, and bars of 1970s West German cities populate Candida Höfer’s large, multiformat series entitled Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany, 1972-79). Höfer’s interactions with minority subjects in these images – by turns genial, jarring, and solemn – illuminate the complicated social and cultural milieu of 1970s West Germany… in Türken in Deutschland, Höfer explores the presence of Turkish migrants in 1970s Germany and how that presence was alternately erased and revealed in relationships with the dominant German culture…

Höfer’s Türken in Deutschland defies neat categorization: the images do not gawk at squalid living conditions or exotic cultural practices, or even feature dramatic expressions of emotion that might make particular images appear to symbolize larger issues. Instead, they express the frankness and intimacy of family snapshots, as well as an interest in new aesthetic mediums of the postwar avant-garde.”1

.
While both bodies of work predate Höfer’s “participation in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s groundbreaking photography course at the Kunstakademie”2, Türken in Deutschland by four years, there are already hints of her later mature style in photographs such as Kino Weidengasse Köln I (1977, below) with its cool frontality and observational, emotional reticence. But what Höfer’s early work possesses – and what I like so much and what has been lost in her mature practice – is that subtle, ironic, twist of life, twist of the knife (point of view) in which the artist focuses on the story and experiences of people living their life in the city.

Höfer is justly famous for her impartial, immaculate and still, large-scale interior views of architectural buildings – the artist frequently focusing “on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture… interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture,” working with light and space to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space through a “consistently calm and questioning archival gaze” – but what happened to the people in these people-less places, what happened to the sideways glance at life that initially inspired the artist, that propelled her forward into the world, that now no longer exists in the cold void of the building. Do I feel the aura of the space as the artist wishes, or do I miss the rupture, the wound, the punctum of dis/order that is the essence of fragmented memory, the essentialness of pattern/randomness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Amy A. DaPonte. “Candida Höfer’s Türken in Deutschland as “Counter-publicity”,” in Art Journal 75, no. 4 (Winter 2016) published online January 6, 2017 [Online] Cited 10/07/2022
  2. “In fact, Bernd Becher invited Höfer to join his course after seeing the Türken in Deutschland slide show at the spring 1976 student exhibition at the Kunstakademie. The common desire of scholars to see this project as a slavish pursuit of the Bechers’ methods is clear in Astrid Ihle’s writings. Ihle describes black-and-white prints from the Türken in Deutschland series as primarily occupied with photographing “the order of things” – that is, with the “detached, cool view of an ethnologist” that defines the Bechers’ photographic “objectivity.” Ihle thus bends history to make a cohesive set of pictures taken in 1974, 1975, and 1976 examples of a method Höfer would encounter after starting the Bechers’ first photography course in fall 1976. Ihle, “Photography as Contemporary Document: Comments on the Conceptions of the Documentary in Germany after 1945,” in Art of Two Germanys: Cold War Cultures, ed. Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann, exh. cat. (New York: Abrams, 2009), 186-205.”
    Footnote 7 in Amy A. DaPonte. “Candida Höfer’s Türken in Deutschland as “Counter-publicity”,” in Art Journal 75, no. 4 (Winter 2016) published online January 6, 2017 [Online] Cited 10/07/2022

.
Many thankx to the Museum für Fotografie for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Candida Höfer explores built spaces in her photography. Her world-famous interiors focus on libraries, museums, restaurants, theatres, and other public spaces, allowing us to experience architecture in a new way. In comparison with photographic interiors from the Kunst-bibliothek’s Photography Collection, which is over 150 years old, a dialogue develops between applied photography and artistic work.

With approximately 90 works, the exhibition at Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie opens up a broad cross-section of Candida Höfer’s photographs from 1980 to the immediate present. The long tradition of her architectural photographs, however, also extends deep into the classical canon of this field of work. In dialogue with pendants and counter-images from the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection, Höfer’s particular approach to her pictorial motifs is revealed in a particularly impressive way.

 

Communicative function of constructed spaces

Spaces with communicative functions are paradoxically shown without the people frequenting them: Candida Höfer demonstrates the qualities or deficiencies of the spaces that enable human exchange in terms of the architecture itself, in terms of the atmosphere she specifically captures in each case, in terms of the perspective and the framing she chooses. She does not focus on the thematic groups serially; the respective locations determine the image format as well as the size of the prints. Yet the compilation of the groups offers a variety of possibilities for comparison that impressively confirm the photographer’s longstanding and sustained interest in the specific locations.

 

Images in dialogue

Some thematic groups exemplify the visually stimulating dialogue of the images: Facades, windows and doors open and close the view into or out of rooms. The dialogue between the pictures unfolds in a particularly attractive way in the photographs of Berlin’s Museumsinsel. While the razor-sharp, large-format contact prints by the Königlich Preußische Messbildanstalt still show the monumental staircase with Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s frescoes, Ryuji Miyamoto in 2000 captures the transitory state of the still ruinous building before the start of interior construction, and Candida Höfer in 2009 shows its completion.

Previously unpublished are Höfer’s colour photographs from her Liverpool series of 1968, from which a thread of development can be drawn to her images of the guest rooms in cafés, hotels, spas, and waiting rooms after 1980. They are brought into conversation with the more journalistically conceived street scenes of Willy Römer and Bernard Larsson, Dirk Alvermann’s images of Spanish bar scenes from around 1960, and Helga Paris’s photographs of Berlin pubs from the mid-1970s from the Photography Collection.

 

The photographer Candida Höfer

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) has devoted herself ever more and more intensively to architectural photography since her studies with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy towards the end of the 1970s. She has concentrated on this important genre without, however, acting on behalf of architects and art historians as photographers of earlier generations did. She sees her work as artistic photography, and photographing interiors was self-determinedly chosen by her as her main field of activity. She herself set the framework for it: “I photograph in public and semi-public spaces from different eras. This are spaces that are accessible to everyone, places of encounter, communication, knowledge, relaxation, recreation. They are spas, hotels, waiting rooms, museums, libraries, universities, banks, churches and, since a few years, zoological gardens.”

Text from the Museum für Fotografie website Nd [Online] Cited 07/07/2022

 

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool XXII' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool XXII
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool III' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool III
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool VI' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool VI
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool VII' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool VII
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool VIII' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool VIII
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Liverpool XXVII' 1968

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Liverpool XXVII
1968
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 35.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Weidengasse Köln' 1975

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Weidengasse Köln
1975
From the Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany) series (1972-1979)
Gelatin silver print
36.7 x 42.6cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Weidengasse Köln IV' 1978

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Weidengasse Köln IV
1978
From the Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany) series (1972-1979)
Gelatin silver print
36.2 x 44.1cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Kino Weidengasse Köln I' 1977

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Kino Weidengasse Köln I
1977
From the Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany) series (1972-1979)
Gelatin silver print
43.2 x 36.9cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at left, Architectural Record Shoe shop, Milwaukee (c. 1910, below); showing at centre back, Candida Höfer’s Bolschoi Teatr Moskwa II (2017, below); at third right, Reiner Leist’s September 24, 1996 (1996, below); and at second right, Florence Henri’s Parisian Window (1929, below)

 

Architectural Record. 'Shoe shop, Milwaukee' c. 1910

 

Architectural Record
Shoe shop, Milwaukee
c. 1910
Gelatin silver paper
18.3 x 22.8 cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library New Haven CT I' 2002

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library New Haven CT I
2002
Colour paper
155 x 189cm

 

 

Above all Candida Höfer is famous for her large-scale interior views of libraries devoid of people… The artist frequently focuses on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture. Apart from libraries she also worked on museums or operas. She is interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture. Her photos are always determined by a cool sobriety. This is what they have in common with the photographs of the Bechers. However, Höfer always works with the light and the space present in each situation. She strives to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space.

Anonymous text from the Becher Class at the Städel Museum website [Online] Cited 27/12/2021

 

Reiner Leist (German-American, b. 1964) 'September 24, 1996' 1996

 

Reiner Leist (German-American, b. 1964)
September 24, 1996
1996
Gelatin silver paper
161.5 x 121.5cm

 

 Florence Henri (French born America, 1893-1982) 'Parisian Window' 1929

 

Florence Henri (French born America, 1893-1982)
Parisian Window
1929
Gelatin silver paper
37.3 x 27.5cm

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912) 'Temple, Mount Abu, Rajasthan' c. 1875

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912)
Temple, Mount Abu, Rajasthan
c. 1875
Albumen print
22.4 x 28.1cm

 

Fratelli Alinari (founded 1852) 'Statue Gallery, Vatican Museums' c. 1880

 

Fratelli Alinari (founded 1852)
Statue Gallery, Vatican Museums
c. 1880
Albumen print
32 x 41.6cm

This photograph is not in the exhibition, but two others from the series are… unfortunately no reproductions of those are available.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) '3 rue de L'Arbalète, Paris' 1901

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
3 rue de L’Arbalète, Paris
1901
Albumen print
21.7 x 17.4cm

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Boutique empire, 21 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris' 1902

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Boutique empire, 21 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris
1902
Albumen print
21.8 x 17.6cm

 

Frederick Henry Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'An Open Door (Ely Cathedral)' c. 1903

 

Frederick Henry Evans (British, 1853-1943)
An Open Door (Ely Cathedral)
c. 1903
Platinum print
25.8 x 17.4cm

 

Frederick Henry Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'Westminster Abbey, London' 1911

 

Frederick Henry Evans (British, 1853-1943)
Westminster Abbey, London
1911
Platinum print
24.3 x 18.7cm

 

Bruno Reiffenstein (Austrian, 1869-1951) 'Villa colony' Wien-Grinzing c. 1913

 

Bruno Reiffenstein (Austrian, 1869-1951)
Villa colony
Wien-Grinzing c. 1913
Gelatin silver paper
16.2 x 21.7cm

This photograph is not in the exhibition, but two others from the series are… unfortunately no reproductions of those are available.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Kurmittelhaus Wenningstedt I' 1979

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Kurmittelhaus Wenningstedt I
1979
Colour paper
40 x 52.4cm

 

Dirk Alvermann (German, 1937-2013) 'Street café, Spain' 1957-1962

 

Dirk Alvermann (German, 1937-2013)
Street café, Spain
1957-1962
Gelatin silver paper
20.3 x 28.5cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Wartesaal Düsseldorf III' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Wartesaal Düsseldorf III
1981
Colour paper
40 x 49.3cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Cafe Seeterasse Bad Salzuflen III' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Cafe Seeterasse Bad Salzuflen III
1981
Colour paper
39.8 x 50.3cm

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912) 'Inside view, Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu' 1870-1880

 

Samuel Bourne (British, 1834-1912)
Inside view, Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
1870-1880
Albumen print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Museum A. Koenig Bonn IV' 1985

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Museum A. Koenig Bonn IV
1985
Colour paper
63 x 81cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Institut für Versicherungsrecht der Universität zu Köln I' (Institute for Insurance Law at the University of Cologne I) 1989

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Institut für Versicherungsrecht der Universität zu Köln I
Institute for Insurance Law at the University of Cologne I
1989
Colour paper
63 x 81cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation views of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing photographs from Höfer’s Zoologischer Gärten series
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Zoologischer Garten London III' 1992

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Zoologischer Garten London III
1992
Colour paper
50 x 66.5cm

 

Unknown photographer 'Hagenbecks Tierpark, Hamburg' 1906

 

Unknown photographer
Hagenbecks Tierpark, Hamburg
1906
Gelatine dry plate reprint
12.9 x 17.9cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Zoologischer Garten Paris II' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Zoologischer Garten Paris II
1997
Colour paper
48 x 60cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Zoologischer Garten Hannover IV' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Zoologischer Garten Hannover IV
1997
Colour paper
50 x 60cm

 

 

Candida Höfer explores built spaces in her photography. Her world-famous interiors focus on libraries, museums, restaurants, theatres, and other public spaces, allowing us to experience architecture in a new way. In comparison with photographic interiors from the Kunst-bibliothek’s Photography Collection, which is over 150 years old, a dialogue develops between applied photography and artistic work. The total of around 200 works – which also include photographs from zoological gardens and hitherto little-known series from Höfer’s early work, as well as their rarely or never before shown counterparts from the Photography Collection – invite visitors to take a new look at Höfer’s work and the Photography Collection, but also at the medium of photography itself.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) has devoted herself ever more and more intensively to architectural photography since her studies with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy towards the end of the 1970s. She has concentrated on this important genre without, however, acting on be-half of architects and art historians as photographers of earlier generations did. She sees her work as artistic photography, and photographing interiors was self-determinedly chosen by her as her main field of activity. She herself set the framework for it: “I photograph in public and semi-public spaces from different eras. This are spaces that are accessible to everyone, places of encounter, communication, knowledge, relaxation, recreation. They are spas, hotels, waiting rooms, museums, libraries, universities, banks, churches and, since a few years, zoological gardens.”

This list does not claim to be exhaustive; it refers above all to the communicative functions of the spaces, which, however, are paradoxically shown without the people frequenting them: Candida Höfer demonstrates the qualities or deficiencies of the spaces that enable human exchange in terms of the architecture itself, in terms of the atmosphere she specifically captures in each case, in terms of the perspective and the framing she chooses. She does not focus on the thematic groups serially; the respective locations determine the image format as well as the size of the prints. Yet the compilation of the groups offers a variety of possibilities for comparison that impressively confirm the photographer’s longstanding and sustained interest in the specific locations.

With approximately 90 works, the exhibition at Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie opens up a broad cross-section of Candida Höfer’s photographs from 1980 to the immediate present. The long tradition of her architectural photographs, however, also extends deep into the classical canon of this field of work. In dialogue with pendants and counter-images from the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection, Höfer’s particular approach to her pictorial motifs is revealed in a particularly impressive way.

For the Photography Collection, architectural photographs formed the basis of its collecting activities. Designed as an exemplary collection, it was intended to convey to a broad public the special structural qualities of cur-rent and historical architecture as precisely and vividly as possible in photographic images in large quantities. The names of the photographers are not known in most cases of the many tens of thousands of prints in the collection. However, inventories and image comparisons have made it possible to identify groups of works by important representatives of the field, such as Eugène Atget, Frank Cousins, Samuel Bourne, Fratelli Alinari, Max Krajewsky, Emil Leitner, Felix Alexander Oppenheim, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Karl Hugo Schmölz. In recent years, archives of the Schinkel and Stüler photographer Hillert Ibbeken, the Munich architectural photographer Sigrid Neubert and the Stuttgart industrial photographer Ludwig Windstosser have been added. The Museum für Fotografie dedicated comprehensive retrospectives to the latter two.

Some thematic groups exemplify the visually stimulating dialogue of the images: Facades, windows and doors open and close the view into or out of rooms. Candida Höfer presents the theme in an exemplary manner with two photographs of the Dutch embassy in Berlin. These are joined by a window picture of the classical avant-garde by Florence Henri or the large-format view from a high-rise onto the landscape of buildings of southern Manhattan by Reiner Leist from 1996. The dialogue between the pictures unfolds in a particularly attractive way in the photographs of Berlin’s Museumsinsel. While the razor-sharp, large-format contact prints by the Königlich Preußische Messbildanstalt still show the monumental stair-case with Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s frescoes, Ryuji Miyamoto in 2000 captures the transitory state of the still ruinous building before the start of interior construction, and Candida Höfer in 2009 shows its completion. Previously unpublished are Höfer’s colour photographs from her Liverpool series of 1968, from which a thread of development can be drawn to her images of the guest rooms in cafés, hotels, spas, and waiting rooms after 1980. They are brought into conversation with the more journalistically conceived street scenes of Willy Römer and Bernard Larsson, Dirk Alvermann’s images of Spanish bar scenes from around 1960, and Helga Paris’s photographs of Berlin pubs from the mid-1970s from the Photography Collection.

Press release from the Museum für Fotografie

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Rodin Museum Philadelphia II' 2000

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Rodin Museum Philadelphia II
2000
Colour paper
88 x 88cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at right, Höfer’s Teylers Museum Harlem II (2003, below)
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Teylers Museum Haarlem II' 2003

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Teylers Museum Haarlem II
2003
Colour paper
186.3 x 155cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven V' 2003

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven V
2003
Colour paper
103.5 x 87.7cm

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Hôtel du Marquis de Lagrange, 4 et 6 rue de Braque, Paris' 1901

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Hôtel du Marquis de Lagrange, 4 et 6 rue de Braque, Paris
1901
Albumen print
21.4 x 16.2cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven VI' 2003

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven VI
2003
Colour paper
103.5 x 87.7cm

 

Unknown photographer (Ernst Wasmuth Verlag) '12 rue de Turin, Brussels' 1899

 

Unknown photographer (Ernst Wasmuth Verlag)
12 rue de Turin, Brussels
1899
Albumen print
24.5 x 33.7cm

 

Sigrid Neubert (German, 1927-2018) 'Inner space, BMW Museum, Munich' 1972-1973

 

Sigrid Neubert (German, 1927-2018)
Inner space, BMW Museum, Munich
1972-1973
Gelatin silver paper
22.1 x 15.9cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Palacio de Monserrat Sintra I' 2006

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Palacio de Monserrat Sintra I
2006
Colour paper
254.4 x 205cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at left, Höfer’s Batalha Monastery I (2006); and at second left, Palacio de Monserrat Sintra I (2006, above)
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Königlich Preußische Messbildanstalt (Royal Prussian Metrology Institute) 'Stair case, Berlin' c. 1890

 

Königlich Preußische Messbildanstalt (Royal Prussian Metrology Institute)
Stair case, Berlin
c. 1890
Gelatin silver paper
38.5 x 38.6cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Rossiskaya gosudarstvennaya biblioteka Moskwa II' (Russian State Library Moscow II) 2017

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Rossiskaya gosudarstvennaya biblioteka Moskwa II
Russian State Library Moscow II
2017
Colour paper
184 x 216.5cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at centre, Höfer’s Bolshoi Teatr Moskwa II (2017, below)
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at centre, Höfer’s Bolshoi Teatr Moskwa II (2017, below); and at right, Höfer’s Malkasten Düsseldorf I (2011)
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Albert Vennemann (1885-1965) 'Auditorium, Capitol cinema, Berlin' 1926

 

Albert Vennemann (1885-1965)
Auditorium, Capitol cinema, Berlin
1926
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021) 'Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin' 1999

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021)
Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin
1999
Gelatin silver paper
23.9 x 30.3cm

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021) 'Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin' 1998

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021)
Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin
1998
Gelatin silver paper
23.9 x 30.3cm

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021) 'Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin' 1998

 

Hillert Ibbeken (German, 1935-2021)
Rotunda, Altes Museum, Berlin
1998
Gelatin silver paper
30.3 x 23.9cm

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Bolshoi Teatr Moskwa II' 2017

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Bolshoi Teatr Moskwa II
2017
Colour paper
180 x 261cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek' at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Image and Space. Candida Höfer in Dialogue with the Photography Collection of the Kunstbibliothek at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin showing at left, Höfer’s Neues Museum Berlin XL (2009)
© IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Candida Höfer, Portrait, © IKS-Medienarchiv

 

Candida Höfer, Portrait, © IKS-Medienarchiv

 

 

Museum für Fotografie
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin

Opening hours:
Tuesday + Wednesday 11am – 7pm
Thursday 11am – 8pm
Friday – Sunday 11am – 7pm

Museum für Fotografie website

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19
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Walter Sickert’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 18th September 2022

Curators: The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain).

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Red Shop (or The October Sun)' c. 1888

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Red Shop (or The October Sun)
c. 1888
Oil on canvas
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museums Service

 

 

I believe that Walter Sickert is an interesting and boundary pushing artist – but I remain ambivalent as to whether I like this attention seeking European modernist, this “self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative” with his penchant for working-class urban culture and its “dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs,” its opium dens, street gangs and prostitutes, its black fogs and murders.

On the one hand I like the chthonic [relating to or inhabiting the underworld] darkness of his paintings, and their earthiness and essentialness, for Sickert is a chthonic deity [from Greek khthōn ‘earth’] grounded in the earth. His self-portraits appear as dark, almost eyeless creatures metastasizing from the Stygian gloom like a London pea souper fog – black fog, black dog examinations of the inner self interpreted as performances of identity. His paintings of the ghouls in the galleries at theatres are masterful in their use of colour, light and form – soaring to the heavens or buried like children in a mine, as in The Gallery at the Old Mogul (1906, below).

I am much less certain about other elements of his painting, such as the objectification of women in the numerous nudes, laid out for the viewers delectation. As Jonathan Jones observes,

“These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.”1

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Francis Bacon would of course agree with him, but there is an essential difference… Bacon was a male dissecting male bodies; in Sickert’s fantasy world of murder and voyeurism, it is the male gaze looking at a disempowered and dismembered female body and his paintings “are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.” While the nude paintings can be seen as essential and earthy challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” –  the energy which emanates from these paintings is perverse, like a butcher selling putrid meat which gives off a fecund but malodorous smell. According to Australian artist Elizabeth Gertsakis, there is a deep psychopathology present in Sickert’s work: “there are no ‘souls’ in Sickert’s art, nor is there redemption. There is despair, degeneracy and a kind biblical vengeance without the costume-play of the Testaments.”2

Finally, the late photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s which would have astounded at the time of their creation, today feel frozen and stilted – the beginning of pastiche painting which lives on in the contemporary portraiture of Australia’s Archibald prize for example, where “we see the usual clumsily drawn figures; the usual ‘kooky’ whimsy; the usual ham-fisted, photo-based ‘realism’ (always the last bastion for the conceptually limited painter!). All of them dead in the water before they are even unwrapped for the scrutiny of the dull-eyed panel. Before they have even left the easel, in fact.”3 As Steve Cox observes, portrait ‘Painting’ become portrait ‘Illustration’ blossomed into its full-blown, grotesque, nadir.

Nevertheless, there are moments of sublime ecstasy in some of Sickert’s realist, narrative elegies: the red dress of Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892, below); the “dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe” with its background “enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets” in The Fair at Night (c. 1902-1903, below); the gold decoration of the arch in The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice (c. 1901-1906, below); and the poignancy of the emaciated figure that is Aubrey Beardsley (1894, below), a haunting appearance suggested by the deftest and most skilful application of paint in search of a soul that you are ever likely to see.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

1/ Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

2/ Elizabeth Gertsakis in conversation with Marcus Bunyan 19/06/2022

3/ Steve Cox. “Thoughts on the Anti-Art Event, the Archibald Prize,” on Facebook May 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Discover the boundary-pushing paintings by one of Britain’s most influential artists

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

 

 

This sense of a narrative runs against the grain of what has come to be construed as ‘modern’ in modern art. But Sickert insisted that ‘All the great draughtsmen tell a story’.16 He maintained that no country could have a great school of painting when the unfortunate artist was confined ‘to the choice between the noble site as displayed in the picture-postcard, or the quite nice young person, in what Henry James has called a wilderness of chintz’.17 He was a self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative and an obsession with facture [i.e. the quality of the execution of a painting; an artist’s characteristic handling of the paint]. (He called it ‘the cooking side of painting’.18) He did not believe in severing subject and treatment:

“Is it not possible that this antithesis is meaningless, and that the two things are one, and that an idea does not exist apart from its exact expression? … The real subject of a picture or a drawing … and all the world of pathos, of poetry, of sentiment that it succeeds in conveying, is conveyed by means of the plastic facts expressed … If the subject of a picture could be stated in words there had been no need to paint it.”

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It is in this sense – rather than in any quibbling as to the recorded details of Emily Dimmock’s murder in 1907 – that Sickert’s paintings are not illustrations. They cannot be decanted into words. And they do not use the available ‘language’ of illustration for sensational events, evident in the depictions of the Camden Town Murder in such publications as the Illustrated Police Budget and News.20 But their subject matters.

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Walter Sickert, ‘The Language of Art’, New Age, 28 July 1910, quoted in Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or The Artist as Craftsman: Being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, Macmillan, London 1947, p. 89 in Lisa Tickner. “Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime,” on the Tate website Nd [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)
1907
Oil on canvas
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-portrait' c. 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-portrait
c. 1896
Oil on canvas
Leeds Art Gallery
© Bridgeman images

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers' c. 1913-1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers
c. 1913-1915
Oil on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Walter Sickert | Trailer | Tate

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 below; at and right, The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror c. 1888-1889 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall' 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall
1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo: James Mann

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror' c. 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror
c. 1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Edgar Degas’ The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable” 1876, below; and at right, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 above

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) 'The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "Robert le Diable"' 1876

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable”
1876
Height: 76.6cm (30.1 in)
Width: 81.3cm (32 in)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Gallery of the Old Bedford 1894-1895 below; at second left, Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul 1906-1907 below; and at fourth left, The Gallery at the Old Mogul 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gallery of the Old Bedford' 1894-1895

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gallery of the Old Bedford
1894-1895
Oil on canvas
Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1947

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
63.7 x 76.6cm
Birmingham Museums Trust
Purchased 1949

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Gallery at the Old Mogul' 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Gallery at the Old Mogul
1906
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 67cm

 

 

Walter Sickert’s The Gallery at the Old Mogul is thought to be one of the earliest paintings in the world of a cinematic performance. Early press descriptions prove that the original title of the picture was Cinematograph and shows a film screening of a Western.

Before the existence of purpose built cinemas, films were often shown in music halls as part of the evening’s entertainment. ‘The Old Mogul’ was the original name for the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane, remodelled and renamed in the 1870s, and variously known as ‘the Mogul Tavern’, ‘the Old Mo’, and ‘the Old Middlesex’. The present work was painted soon after Sickert’s return to London in 1906, at a time when Sickert was rediscovering his fascination for music-hall subjects. ‘I have started many beautiful music-hall pictures. I go to the Mogul Tavern every night, Sickert wrote to Jacques-Émile Blanche in 1906. Related works of the same subject include Noctes Ambrosianae painted in the same year and four related drawings in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool and Aberdeen Art Gallery. …

Sickert’s inspiration for depicting new forms of entertainment such as cinema performances stemmed partly from French artists, including Degas’ depictions of Parisian Café Concerts and theatres. Sickert, however, was one of the first artists to examine scenes of popular entertainment in a British art context. Unlike Degas, the focus is less on the performance – or in this case screening – and more on the relationship of the audience to the show. This method was developed in Sickert’s earliest entertainment works such as the Old Bedford Gallery pictures of the 1890s [above], which like the present work choose to focus on the audience from behind, inviting the viewer to feel at once a part of the spectacle and yet distant from the subjects. This tool was partly borrowed by Sickert from French Impressionist works such as Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, where the viewer is made to feel like they are ordering a drink at a bar but is unable to witness the full transaction. Sickert’s ability to create this ambiguity allows the onlooker to invent narratives for the scene, and is one of the reasons he remarked to Virginia Woolf, ‘I have always been a literary painter’ (V. Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London, 1934, p. 26). While Sickert’s work may not have the sentiment or caricature of Charles Dickens’ (as loosely suggested by Woolf in 1934), it often manages to give the impression that you are viewing a moment in time, a snapshot that leaves one guessing as to what has just happened or what will happen next.

It is of no surprise therefore, that in later years Sickert began increasingly to adapt compositions directly from photographs. Yet unlike a photograph, The Gallery at the Old Mogul seems full of movement. Sickert maintains the ability not to simply depict but to create dramatic atmosphere through low tones and a liquid handling of paint reminiscent of Whistler and indeed of a cinematic performance. The Gallery at the Old Mogul successfully predicted not only the importance of film on everyday cultural life but on many subsequent art movements such as the Cubist works of Braque and Picasso between 1907-1914.

Jon Fauer. “First painting of a Movie Theater: Sickert’s “The Gallery at the Old Mogul”,” on the Film and Digital Times website 16/06/2016 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Pit at the Old Bedford' 1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Pit at the Old Bedford
1889
Oil on canvas
34.5 x 30.0cm
Fondation Bemberg

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford
c. 1890
Oil on panel
14 1/2 x 9 1/4 ins (37 x 23.5cms)
Private collection, UK

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gaîté Montparnasse' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gaîté Montparnasse
c. 1907
Oil paint on canvas
612 × 508 mm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil Fund, 1958

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford 1892 below; and at right, Brighton Pierrots 1915 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford' 1892

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
1892
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 765 × 638 mm
Frame: 915 × 787 × 69 mm
Tate
Purchased 1976

 

 

Minnie Cunningham was a popular performer at the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. Sickert went there regularly and made dozens of sketches capturing the effects of light and movement on the stage and in the auditorium. Here, Sickert paints from the point of view of an audience member. He first exhibited it with the subtitle ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years’, a quote from one of Cunningham’s songs. Sickert painted the ordinary life he saw around him.

Gallery label, September 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Brighton Pierrots' 1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Brighton Pierrots
1915
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1996

 

 

This week, Tate Britain opened London’s biggest retrospective of Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years. A master of self-invention and theatricality, Sickert took a radically modern approach to painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. This major exhibition features over 150 of his works from over 70 public and private collections, from scenes of rowdy music halls to ground-breaking nudes and narrative subjects. Spanning Sickert’s six-decade career, it uncovers the people, places and subjects that inspired him and explores his legacy as one of Britain’s most distinctive, provocative, and influential artists.

Highlights include 10 of Sickert’s iconic self-portraits, from the start of his career to his final years. For the first time, these portraits are brought together from collections across the UK and internationally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada. The variety of different personas adopted by Sickert over the years are shown together – a legacy of his early life as an actor – and how his complex personality evolved on the canvas throughout his career.

Sickert’s interest in the stage is also reflected in one of his favourite artistic subjects: the music hall. His dramatic images of performers and audiences, often captured together from unusual and spectacular angles, evoked the energy of working-class city nightlife. The exhibition examines Sickert’s British and French music hall subjects together through over 30 atmospheric paintings and drawings of halls in London and Paris, including The Old Bedford 1894-1895, Gaité Montparnasse 1907 and Théâtre de Montmartre c. 1906 as well as depictions of famous performers such as Minnie Cunningham and Little Dot Hetherington. Although these subjects were deemed inappropriate by much of the British art world at the time, they took inspiration from the café-concert subjects of celebrated French artists such as Edouard Manet and the ballet subjects of Edgar Degas, a close friend and major influence on Sickert after they met in Paris in the 1880s.

The exhibition is the first to explore the impact of another of Sickert’s key influences, from his time as an assistant in the studio of renowned American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Paintings by both artists, including Whistler’s A Shop 1884-1890 and Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe 1886-1888 have been brought together, as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert himself, to reveal how the young artist was inspired by his mentor’s atmospheric tonal style and urban subjects. The show examines how Sickert went on to create series of works that experimented with how changing light transformed the facades of famous buildings in some of his favourite cities, including Dieppe and Venice.

Sickert revolutionised the traditional genres of painting in ways that changed the course of British art. His nudes were admired in France but disapproved of in Britain, where they were considered immoral because of their unidealised bodies, contemporary settings and voyeuristic framings. They drew on the influence of artists such as Bonnard and Degas and paved the way for later painters like Lucian Freud. The Camden Town Murder series further transformed Sickert’s nude subjects into narrative paintings by juxtaposing two figures in a claustrophobic interior, while his other domestic scenes such as Ennui 1914 and Off To the Pub 1911 continued this exploration of conflicted emotions and complex modern relationships.

In his final years, his work took on a new and ground-breaking form in larger, brighter paintings based on news photographs and popular culture, including images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Peggy Ashcroft in a production Romeo and Juliet. This pioneering approach to photography was an important precursor to Francis Bacon’s use of source material and to pop art’s transformation of images from the media, once again revealing Sickert’s role at the forefront of developments in British art.

Walter Sickert is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Paris. The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain). It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at centre in the bottom photograph, The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 below; and at right, Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Mantelpiece' c. 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Mantelpiece
c. 1906-1907
Oil paint on canvas
762 x 508 mm
Southampton City Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library

 

 

The art historian Wendy Baron has identified the theme of the mantelpiece still life as an offshoot of Walter Sickert’s paintings of interiors with figures, although Sands may also have been aware of Edouard Vuillard’s painting, The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée) 1905 (fig.1). Large decorative fire surrounds in marble or wood became fashionable during the Victorian period, emphasising the open fire as the focus of a room with its symbolic notions of the domestic hearth and home. By the early twentieth century these mantelpieces, usually surmounted by a large overmantel mirror and a shelf broad enough to accommodate an array of ornaments, were a standard feature in most homes, as can be seen in the dingy and claustrophobic interior of Sickert’s famous painting, Ennui c. 1914 (Tate N03846). They were a feature instantly recognisable as characteristic of their time and appear in a number of paintings of Camden Town interiors by Sickert and his circle such as The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 (fig.2) by Sickert, and Spencer Gore’s Conversation Piece and Self-Portrait c. 1910 (private collection). Artists developing a more self-consciously abstract style used the mantelpiece and the inevitable shelf of clutter as a subject, even in Duncan Grant’s and Vanessa Bell’s paintings of the same mantelpiece in Bell’s house at 46 Gordon Square, The Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01328, fig.3) and Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01133, fig.4), where, however, it holds a piece of hand-made Bloomsbury decoration.

Nicola Moorby. “Ethel Sands: Flowers in a Jug ?1920s,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context July 2003 [Online] Cited 09/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Girl at a Window, Little Rachel' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Girl at a Window, Little Rachel
1907
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 765 × 665 × 75 mm
Tate

 

 

This is one of six paintings and numerous drawings of Sickert’s frame-maker’s 13-year-old daughter, known affectionately as ‘Little Rachel’. Sickert described the series as a ‘set of studies of Illumination’. The scene outside the window is Mornington Crescent Gardens, Camden. The girl’s gaze is turned away from both the artist and the view. The closed window may suggest the future that was expected of her at the time, a future inside the home, as a wife and mother.

Gallery label, October 2020

 

This painting is dominated by the French window of Sickert’s north-facing front room at 6 Mornington Crescent. Light falls softly on the dim figure of the red-haired girl, seen looking across Mornington Crescent Gardens. Rachel, the daughter of his frame maker, features in five known oil paintings by Sickert.

 

There are five other known oils of the same sitter: Girl at a Looking-Glass, Little Rachel (fig.1);3 Little Rachel (National Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane),4 a head and shoulders portrait, probably seated on Sickert’s bed; Little Rachel (private collection),5 a three-quarter-length portrait of the sitter half turned, with light falling on her face; and Little Rachel (Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery),6 an oil study in profile. In all these works she wears the same blouse as in Tate’s picture. There are several drawings of Rachel, some of which relate to these paintings, but none of them is a study for Tate’s oil.7

According to Sickert’s title for one of these oils and one of the drawings, the sitter was the daughter of his frame maker. Using information supplied by Agnew’s, the art historian Wendy Baron records that Rachel’s surname was Siderman, and that she died in 1963 aged 70. …

In Girl at a Window, Little Rachel, Sickert shows his sitter standing by the French windows of his north-facing, first-floor front room at 6 Mornington Crescent, London NW1, which he kept in 1907, just a few doors away from his friend Spencer Gore who lived at number 31. The room was rented, as Sickert wrote in a letter of 1907 to Nan Hudson addressed from Mornington Crescent, ‘I rather hope that when I come back in the autumn I may take the floor above my lodgings here as a room-studio and do the interiors I love’.11 The 1907 Kelly’s Camden and Kentish Town Directory lists the householder as ‘Mrs George Jones Jr’, who was presumably Sickert’s landlady. Mornington Crescent was only one of Sickert’s addresses, and at this time he also had another studio in Fitzroy Street. Following his return to London in 1905 Sickert had continued the practice he followed in Dieppe of keeping several studios at once, which probably sometimes doubled as living accommodation. The art critic Clive Bell recalled Sickert at a somewhat later period ‘showing us his “studios” – “my drawing studio” “my etching studio” etc. The operation involved chartering a cab and visiting a series of small rooms in different parts of London.’

Robert Upstone. “Walter Richard Sickert: Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context May 2009 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 below; and at centre, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nude Stretching: La Coiffure' 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nude Stretching: La Coiffure
1905-1906
Pastel
71 x 55cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre' About 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre
About 1906
Oil on canvas
644 x 541 mm
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

 

 

Female nude reclining on a bed which has brass bedsteads. Le Lit de Cuivre translates to ‘copper bed’. There are several versions of this painting in existence. Sickert had begun to draw nudes on metal bedsteads in Dieppe in 1902 and on his return from Venice in 1904 he began to paint the subject. He continued to do so in London often working from drawings made in France eg. “Le Lit de Fer”. In many of his post-Venetian paintings of the nude, Sickert broke away from a horizontal planar emphasis by placing the bed in a diagonal recession or even at right angles to the surface. This work shows how Sickert had begun to develop a broken, crusty touch in the paint work.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 40.7cm
Manchester Art Gallery
Bequeathed by Mrs Mary Cicely Tatlock, 1980

 

 

Dark, shadowy view of a bedroom seen through an open doorway. A wooden chair is in the foreground, in what is probably the hallway, to the left of the open door. A dressing table and chair are just distinguishable beneath the filtered pink half-light coming through the horizontal slats of the blind that covers the window at the back of the room. The items of furniture are so indistinct as to make it conceivable that there is a person sitting on the chair, although there is no one there. The bedroom is that of Sickert’s own lodgings at 6 Mornington Crescent. His landlady had told Sickert that she suspected the previous tenant might have been Jack the Ripper, the famous murderer.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 above; and at second left, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, Jack Ashore 1912-1913 below; at second right, The Iron Bedstead c. 1908 below; and at right, Mornington Crescent Nude c. 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack Ashore' 1912-1913

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack Ashore
1912-1913
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 368 × 298 mm
Frame: 568 × 494 × 92 mm
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Wilson Gift through the Art Fund 2006

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Iron Bedstead' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Iron Bedstead
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
39.5 x 50cm
Earl and Countess of Harewood

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mornington Crescent Nude' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mornington Crescent Nude
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 50.8cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from Mrs Maurice Hill

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

 

 

But the question is what Sickert is staging in his own theatre, that dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs where men and women are at stalemate. The aesthetic origins are clear enough. Sickert – half Danish, student of Whistler, friend of Degas, admirer of Bonnard – continually aspires to European modernism. The debts are everywhere visible in the show. The most famous painting here, Ennui, pays direct homage to Degas’s drinkers stalled over their absinthe in Paris cafes with more than just its French title.

Five feet high, it is an immense snapshot of suicidal boredom. The glassy-eyed man lolls over his half-empty pint at the table; the woman leans on the chest of drawers, staring straight at the imprisoning walls. Next to her is a case of stuffed birds, trapped in a bell jar of their own. “It is all over with them,” wrote Virginia Woolf, imagining that innumerable dull days had crushed them like “an avalanche of rubbish.”

But the scene is conspicuously staged (to be reprised four more times), and eagle-eyed visitors will recognise the same models in other paintings. Hubby, as he was called, seems to have been an acquaintance of Sickert who had fallen on hard times; Marie was his cleaning lady. He has these working people pose again and again.

Hubby is just edging out of the scene on the way to the pub, just arriving, or terminally slumped. He reappears, with his sleeves menacingly rolled, over a naked woman on a bed in one of the so-called Camden Town nudes. Tate Britain has not shied away from showing a whole gallery of these paintings, which are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.

The relationship between the prone and naked woman and the clothed man, seated or standing, is disturbing enough. But in at least one painting, the notorious L’Affaire de Camden Town [below], the female body looks beaten like a heap of purpling meat in the gloom, and she is either shielding herself from the man above her, or she is already dead.

Sickert so often fudged (or simply fumbled) human anatomy that the question is how hard he worked to achieve this dark ambiguity. The title of this particular work refers to the murder of a woman named Emily Dimmock in Camden Town in 1907. Sickert’s paintings are a queasy conflation of crime scene, studio setup and social history, and he liked to confuse things further with deflecting titles. One picture is called What Shall We Do for the Rent? [above]

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

And the centre of this exhibition is a no-holds-barred display of Sickert’s nudes. Against the dark walls of the gallery, in fierce yet subtle lighting, the women are laid out. Their bodies are spread, exhibited, arranged, “like a patient etherised upon a table”, to quote TS Eliot. One model lies with her legs hanging over the bed, her arms spread out. She could be the dead Christ. Another is washing, but as she bends in a doorway we can’t see her head, only her naked body.

L’Affaire de Camden Town [below] takes it to another level. In this 1909 painting, a man stands over an inert female form on a bed. But it is worse than that. She is not so much a continuous figure as a collection of ruddy, moist forms like meat in a butcher’s window. The male onlooker could be a killer contemplating his handiwork – which is exactly what Sickert’s title implies. For this is one of a series of paintings that allude to the murder of Emily Elizabeth Dimmock in Camden, London, in 1907. Sickert became fascinated by this murder. If he really is responsible for sketches of a man with a knife over a woman’s body in the Ripper letters of 1888, his Camden Town Murder paintings eerily echo them.

In The Camden Town Murder, or What Shall We Do for the Rent?, [above] the man sits in despair while the nude on the iron bed has her face turned from us. She may be crying or he may have just throttled her. The stiffness of her arm and awkwardly placed hand suggests the latter. In a drawing called Persuasion a bald, bearded man appears to strangle a woman before our eyes.

These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.

Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Affaire de Camden Town' 1909

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Affaire de Camden Town
1909
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

[Liam] Scarlett sees Sickert as a self-styled enigma. In society he was an entertaining, ambitious parvenu, flaunting his connections with royalty, his inclusion in aristocratic circles; professionally, however, he worked as a recluse, renting studios in the dingiest slums of London. He was a painter of secrets, coding visual puzzles into his canvases, giving them wilfully ambiguous titles. And even in an era where everybody was enthralled by crime, he was peculiarly obsessed, fascinated by the prostitutes in the streets around his studios, by the men who used them, and especially by the men who killed them. …

Sickert produced the Camden Town Murder paintings, a series of four, in 1908. They were inspired by the murder the previous year of a prostitute, Emily Dimmock, and present variations on the same unsettling image: a naked woman, sprawled limply over a bed next to a fully clothed man who may or may not be her killer.

The atmosphere in the paintings is both brutal and ambiguous; Scarlett describes it as “seething”, and as he researched deeper into Sickert’s work he saw it echoed many times. In the Camden Town Nude series (1905-1912) the women look like victims, even when they’re alive, their faces obliterated by a slash or blur of paint, their bodies laid out for the artist’s dissecting gaze. Sickert’s mentor, Degas, also played with a queasy element of voyeurism, but Sickert makes the threat overt. Scarlett, who has collected books about the artist, points to a white brushstroke in one of the paintings that makes a “dagger-like approach to the woman’s genital area”.

Even in the paintings where no male aggression is implied, age and poverty make harsh assaults on Sickert’s nudes, their flesh drained of colour, curdled, clotted and veiny, sometimes covered with sores.

Judith Mackrell. “Walter Sickert and the dance of death,” on The Guardian website Mon 19 Mar 2012 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'La Hollandaise' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
La Hollandaise
c. 1906
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased 1983

 

 

 

‘The naked and the Nude’

As with much of Sickert’s work it is not entirely clear what effect the artist intended to create. When viewed in the context of Sickert’s views on the nude, the treatment of the body in La Hollandaise can be read, not as disturbing, but as painterly. In Sickert’s opinion paintings should always show ‘someone, somewhere’.11 He firmly outlined his beliefs in an article in the New Age, July 1910, entitled ‘The naked and the Nude’, in which he condemned art school practice which taught students to draw idealised, ‘lifeless’ nudes without reference to the real world. Instead, he articulated, the focus should be placed on drawing the clothed figure, or at least figures set within a real environment in which context their nakedness made some sense. He concluded:

Perhaps the chief source of pleasure in the aspect of a nude is that it is in the nature of a gleam – a gleam of light and warmth and life. And that it should appear thus, it should be set in surroundings of drapery or other contrasting surfaces.12

.
In La Hollandaise the mottled appearance of the skin is a study of the effects of colour and light on the body, and certain areas such as the left breast are elegantly and delicately painted. It is certain, however, that Sickert was aware of the complex multiplicity of the image, and despite intending the painting to be an aesthetic treatment of the body, he was by no means innocent of its provocative and disturbing possibilities.

Sickert went on to exploit these possibilities even further in his most notorious set of works, the Camden Town Murder paintings, 1908-1909. These pictures, which referred to the recent local murder of a prostitute, caused a sensation when exhibited at the first Camden Town Group exhibition in June 1911. Once again, the ubiquitous iron bedstead featured as the central focal point around which Sickert organised a figural tableau. Unlike his earlier series, however, the artist now paired an unclothed female with a fully dressed male which greatly altered the context of the nude in an interior. In paintings such as The Camden Town Murder or What Shall We Do About the Rent? c.1908 (fig.3)13 [above] and L’Affaire de Camden Town 1909 (fig.4),14 [above] the inclusion of a clothed male protagonist introduces an implied narrative of violence and sex. Although not as extreme or overt, these sordid undercurrents are present in La Hollandaise.

 

‘La Hollandaise’

The art historian Richard Shone has suggested that the title may have been inspired by one of the minor incidental female characters in the novels of Honoré de Balzac. Sarah Gobseck, a prostitute who appears in several of the stories of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, is familiarly known as ‘la belle Hollandaise’. This ‘magnificent creature’ is purported to be the grand-niece of a Dutch money-lender who leads an immoral and wanton life and is eventually murdered by one of her clients. The title of the painting, therefore, is possibly intended to project connotations of prostitution, or, less specifically, to be representative of a generic grim realism. In Balzac’s Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau (published 1838), the character is described as ‘one of those mad-cap women who care nothing as to where the money comes from, or how it is obtained … she never thought of the morrow, for her the future was after dinner, and the end of the month eternity, even if she had bills to pay’,15 a statement which may have appealed to Sickert as reminiscent of his own imprudent character.

The title of La Hollandaise translates as ‘The Dutch Girl’ and may reflect a sense of seriality when linked to other works of this period. It is one of a number of paintings by Sickert with similarly continental titles, for example La Jolie Veneitienne 1903-1904 (private collection),16 La Belle Sicilienne c. 1905 (David Fullen),17 La Belle Rousse c. 1905 (private collection),18 Les Petites Belges 1906 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),19 and The Belgian Cocotte 1906 (Arts Council Collection, London).20 Furthermore, as Wendy Baron has noted, the foreshortened figure and crossed placement of limbs recalls Sickert’s earlier group of Venetian nudes, for example, Conversations 1903-1904 (private collection).21 Sickert himself was a cosmopolitan character, equally at home in London, Dieppe or Venice. Despite reducing the means of identifying one model from another to a label indicating their nationality, he was not actually interested in analysing cultural difference. Rather his titles reflect the sameness of his approach. His interest lay in finding models from within a certain class of woman and painting them in a variety of poses, both nude and clothed, against an interior that was uniformly dingy and unprepossessing. Essentially, Sickert believed, the experience of urban existence was the same wherever he went.

Nicola Moorby. “La Hollandaise c. 1906,” on the Tate website March 2007 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

11. Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p. 131, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 377.
12. Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p. 277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 263.
13. Baron 2006, no. 348.
14. Baron 2006, no. 354.
15. Honoré de Balzac, Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau, 1838.
16. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 206.
17. Reproduced ibid., no. 240.
18. Baron 2006, no. 235; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.123, p. 158.
19. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 261.
20. Reproduced ibid., no. 265.
21. Wendy Baron, ‘The Process of Invention. Interrelated or Interdependent: Sickert’s Drawings and Paintings of Intimate Figure Subjects’, in Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 2007, p. 35, reproduced fig.13, p. 31; Baron 2006, no. 217.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nuit d'Été' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nuit d’Été
c. 1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 670 × 570 mm
Private collection, courtesy of Offer Waterman, London

 

 

Walter Sickert exhibition guide

Walter Richard Sickert’s approach to art making was distinctive, provocative and influential. He was a master of self-invention and theatricality, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. Spanning his six-decade career, this exhibition uncovers the people, places and events that inspired him. Born in Munich, Germany in 1860, Sickert moved with his family to England when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, introducing him to the work of prominent French and British artists, but Sickert initially pursued a career as an actor. He switched to art in 1882, studying briefly at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, before becoming a pupil of American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert became a central figure of the British artistic avant-garde, as both a painter and a critic.

Sickert created important artistic links between Britain and France, and he spent significant periods of his working life in France. He was a founding member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the more traditional Royal Academy, and the leader of the Camden Town Group of artists who were influenced by post-impressionism.

[Artists associated with the Camden Town Group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles. The group is named after the seedy district of north London where Walter Sickert had lived in the 1890s (and again from 1907). Sickert’s series of Camden Town nudes and his paintings of alienated couples in interiors, such as Ennui, are his outstanding contribution to Camden Town art.]

Sickert’s innovative painting techniques and subject matter always kept him at the forefront of developments in British art. Sickert said: ‘The plastic arts [visual arts] are gross arts, dealing joyously with gross material facts.’ It was Sickert’s embrace of this materiality – both in his handling of paint and in the exploration of the lives of ordinary people and places – that was ground-breaking in his time. These ideas would go on to inspire generations of younger artists, as well as prominent contemporary painters who cite him as an influence.

 

1. Sickert’s Identities

This room brings together self-portraits Sickert produced throughout his career. Looking at the works, we can see the wide range of techniques and source material Sickert used and the varied ways he presented himself publicly. Having trained as an actor, Sickert could skilfully adopt different personas in his self-portraits, depending on his preoccupations at the time. As well as examinations of the inner self, these works can be interpreted as performances of identity. Early self-portraits feature strong lighting which creates an intense, dramatic effect. Later paintings show the established artist in his studio, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He presents himself as an artist, actor, and even as biblical characters. His later portraits are often based on photographs taken by his wife, Thérèse Lessore.

 

2. The Apprenticeship Years: from Whistler to Degas

After a brief spell at the Slade School of Fine Art, Sickert began his artistic career in 1882 at James Abott McNeill Whistler’s studio, as an assistant helping to print etching plates. Sickert’s own etchings at the time were close in style to Whistler’s, often representing urban scenes with a deliberate economy of line. He was also influenced by Whistler’s small oil panels, painted from life.

Displayed in this room are panels by both Sickert and Whistler, depicting shopfronts in Dieppe and London. They show that Dieppe was an important location for Sickert from his earliest days as an artist. We can also see how Sickert adopted Whistler’s tonal approach to painting, which he learned preparing Whistler’s palette before sketching trips.

The later works in this room show a shift in Sickert’s approach. French artist Edgar Degas became his mentor in 1885, inspiring him to plan his compositions with preliminary drawings and to use bolder colours.

 

3. The Music Hall: Artifices of the Stage

Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.

 

4. Beyond Portraiture

Sickert took up portrait painting in the hope of using it to earn a regular income and to raise his profile. However, most of his portraits were not specially commissioned so did not benefit him financially. His sitters, many of them well-known personalities, show the extent of his connections within cultural circles and high society in both England and France. Sickert’s portraits depict a range of characters, such as the emaciated figure of the artist Aubrey Beardsley (1894) and the glamorous singer Elizabeth Swinton (Mrs Swinton 1905-1906).

Sickert’s informal portraits, painted in London and Venice, are perhaps closer to genre paintings than portraits. Rather than showing individuals’ characters and inner lives, Sickert painted more generic figures or ‘types’ of people, in carefully observed interiors. Often, these surroundings are equally as important as the figures in suggesting a narrative and an emotional connection between sitter and setting.

 

5A. The Urban Environment: Venice and Dieppe

In 1899 Sickert wrote: ‘I see my line. Not portraits. Picturesque work.’

Landscape paintings were among Sickert’s most successful works, especially views of Dieppe and Venice for which he found a ready market through his dealers in Paris. Sickert frequently returned to favourite painting locations such as Dieppe (where he lived between 1898 and 1905) and Venice (which he visited regularly from 1895). He repeatedly painted their buildings and streets, developing source material he had sketched on the spot into finished paintings in his studio. He often focused on the facades of two famous buildings: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and the church of St Jacques in Dieppe, where he explored the effect of light on the architecture at different times of day. This approach of looking at the effects of shifting light probably drew inspiration from French impressionist Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series. In Dieppe, Sickert remained interested in the human aspect of the urban scene, often including scenes of everyday life in the foreground of his paintings. Here he was inspired by French artist Camille Pissarro’s views of Dieppe.

 

5B. The Urban Environment: Dieppe, London and Paris

Sickert’s street scenes evolved from small formats that were relatively dark, to bigger paintings that were brighter and more colourful. He was influenced by developments in modern art such as French impressionism, the vivid colours of fauvism, and the bold outlines and symbolism of the Nabis group of French artists. Viewing these works as more commercially attractive, Sickert’s French dealers encouraged this change.

In 1902, Sickert painted a group of large-scale works for Dieppe’s Hôtel de la Plage, as well as capturing the vibrancy of Dieppe street life in other works. He only rarely painted Paris and London views, but these included several atmospheric night scenes, displayed here.

 

6. The Nude

In 1910 Sickert published an article in The New Age titled, ‘The naked and the Nude’. In Sickert’s view, academic ‘Nude’ paintings were so artificial in setting and in form, that they bore little resemblance to the naked human figure.

In the years preceding the text, he had been producing works which challenged such traditions. Inspired by French artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edgar Degas, who aimed to connect the long-established genre of nude painting with modern urban life, Sickert painted urban working-class women in contemporary settings, presenting them as naked rather than as an idealised nude. Sickert was also interested in the aesthetic qualities afforded by painting nudes in interior settings, like the patterns created on flesh by light streaming from a window.

Sickert first exhibited his nudes in Paris in 1905, where they were well-received. But in Britain, critics strongly objected to their subject matter when they were first shown in 1911. A naked woman in a dimly-lit room, with crumpled sheets on an iron bedstead, suggested poverty and prostitution to the British press. By painting realistic female bodies in everyday interiors, Sickert created a major innovation in British paintings of the nude. His work has gone on to influence later British painters, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, in their treatment of the nude. However, in recent years, critics and viewers have asked if Sickert’s paintings objectify women, questioning the power dynamics between model and artist, and within the scenes depicted.

 

The Camden Town Murder Series

From painting a single nude, Sickert soon began to explore different ways of posing two figures in an interior. Works set in Venice and London (seen earlier in this room) depict semi-naked and clothed women in conversation, seated on a bed. Sickert then developed a series of paintings depicting a clothed man and naked woman. He posed his models in the same dingy rooms in Camden Town where he had painted his nudes, using many of the same props such as the iron bedstead. These paintings have become known as the Camden Town Murder series.

The Camden Town Murder was the name given to a real event: the murder of Emily Dimmock in Camden in 1907. The murder attracted huge press attention. Sickert took advantage of the interest and controversy raised by giving some of his paintings titles that allude to the murder. He also reworked them and gave them alternative titles. This allowed the viewer to imagine different narratives and relationships between the figures. Sickert was interested in the emotional connection between the figures in their different configurations, rather than any kind of illustration of Dimmock’s murder. The series has long intrigued audiences because of the ambiguity between title and subject matter. For Sickert, these works furthered his exploration of narrative painting. However, some people are critical of the potential for violence they see within the scenes.

 

Sickert’s Models

Like most artists of his generation, Sickert worked with models, some of whom would become close friends or lovers. More often, the relationship was professional, with the model being paid for their work. We know the identity of some of his models: Augustine Villain in Dieppe, Carolina d’Acqua and La Giuseppina in Venice, Blanche and Adeline in Paris, Hubby and Marie in London. Others are unknown.

 

7. Modern Conversation Pieces

Sickert’s fascination with narrative painting led to him radically reinventing the ‘conversation piece’. These group portraits in informal settings were originally popularised by William Hogarth and other 18th-century British artists. Also drawing on contemporary French paintings of figures in interiors, Sickert created a uniquely British style for the 20th century. Arranging stage sets in his studio, Sickert aimed to depict everyday life in the modern city. He painted figures showing conflicting emotions, appearing to be in tense relationships, heightened by claustrophobic environments. The same subject matter appears in multiple paintings, with alternating combinations of figures and different titles. Sickert leaves the narratives behind such works unfixed and open for us to interpret – he felt their visual content and materiality were more important than written descriptions.

 

8. Transposition: The Final Years

From his initial interest in music halls, Sickert’s fascination with popular culture continued throughout the 1930s. He began to paint on a larger scale and use a brighter colour palette. Scenes from the theatre and stories in the popular press dominated his output. He would use black and white photographs as visual sources, which he translated into vivid colour on the canvas. Sickert was fascinated by how black and white photography’s flattened perspectives and stark tonal contrasts resulted in simplified forms. He retained these elements, creating almost abstract effects in his finished paintings.

Sickert also produced a series of works based on Victorian engravings, which he entitled ‘Echoes’. In contrast, his theatrical scenes were based on photographs taken himself or by his assistants during rehearsals, or on press cuttings. Here, he featured his favourite performers, such as Peggy Ashcroft and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, whom he painted repeatedly. He also used press-cuttings as the source for images of royalty or historic events such as Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1932. Sickert’s use of photography is now recognised as a significant precursor of subsequent developments in art. Pop art’s transposition of found popular images is indebted to Sickert, as is the use of photography as source material by late 20th-century artists, such as Francis Bacon.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Trapeze' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Trapeze
1920
Oil on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Hôtel Royal, Dieppe' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Hôtel Royal, Dieppe
1894
Oil o