Posts Tagged ‘Henry Moore

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. For him, to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

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

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

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

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

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

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

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20
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography at NGV Australia, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 30th July 2017

 

Individual art works from the NGV collection (in artist alphabetical order) appearing in Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia

 

” … from an air guitar to Being and nothingness … “

 

Part 1 of this bumper posting. More to follow.

My hand is progressing slowly. A return to part-time work in the next couple of weeks, for which I will be grateful. It has been tough road dealing with this injury.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking lion' c. 1840

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking lion
Lion qui marche
c. 1840, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking tiger' c. 1841

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking tiger
Tigre qui marche
c. 1841, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973) 'Invocation' 1938

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973)
Invocation
1938
Tempera on plywood
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with funds donated by Ian Hicks AM and Dorothy Hicks, 2006

 

 

Invocation is one of a series of paintings, which John Armstrong begun in the 1930’s as a direct statement against the rise of Fascism in Europe. John Armstrong observed Fascism in Italy at first hand and became an active left wing campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He was commissioned as an official war artist, designing a cover for a leaflet in the 1945 election campaign and contributed occasional articles and poetry to left wing journals. In his painting Victory, he imagined the result of a nuclear holocaust, which attracted the attention at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1958.

Text from the Leicester Galleries website

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927) 'Eclipse' 1911, printed 1956- early 1970s

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927)
Eclipse
1911, printed 1956- early 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

 

Surrogates and the Surreal

Atget’s photograph Pendant l’éclipse (During the eclipse) was featured on the cover of the seventh issue of the Parisian Surrealists’ publication La Révolution surréaliste, with the caption Les Dernières Conversions (The last converts), in June 1926. The picture was uncredited, as were the two additional photographs reproduced inside. Although Atget firmly resisted the association, his work – in particular his photographs of shop windows, mannequins, and the street fairs around Paris – had captured the attention of artists with decidedly avant-garde inclinations, such as Man Ray and Tristan Tzara. Man Ray lived on the same street as Atget, and the young American photographer Berenice Abbott (working as Man Ray’s studio assistant) learned of the French photographer and made his acquaintance in the mid-1920s – a relationship that ultimately brought the contents of Atget’s studio at the time of his death (in 1927) to The Museum of Modern Art almost forty years later.

Text from Art Blart posting Eugène Atget: “Documents pour artistes” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947) 'Siesta' 1900

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947)
Siesta
La Sieste
1900
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1949

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98) 'Low tide at Trouville' 1894

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98)
Low tide at Trouville
Trouville, Mareé basse
1894
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1939

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99) 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99)
Self-portrait
1955
Melbourne, Victoria
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

Striking in its candour, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been frequently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context. Modest in scale, Brack’s image is conceived in a complex yet subtle colour scheme, applied with clarity and precision. ~ Geoffrey Smith

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997) 'Milk float and horse' c. 1950

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997)
Milk float and horse
no. 45F from the Model home farm series 1921-61
c. 1950
Painted lead alloy
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by Miss Lucy Kerley and her nephew John Kerley, 1982

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635) 'The firing squad' 1633

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635)
The firing squad
L’Arquebusade
Plate 12 from Les Misères et les malheurs de la guerre
(The miseries and misfortunes of war) series
1633
Etching, 2nd of 3 states
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1950

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932) 'Nahant, Massachusetts' 1965

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932)
Nahant, Massachusetts
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1977

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75) 'The rainbow' late 1880s

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75)
The rainbow
L’Arc-en-ciel
late 1880s
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1913

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Marshall Claxton’s painting An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859) belongs to a clutch of works, both fine and popular, both pictorial and literary, that for an Australasian audience are perhaps the most resonant of the many products of Victorian culture. Emigration, a social and political phenomenon for mid-nineteenth-century Britain, and the essential lubricant of British imperialism, inspired a profusion of paintings, prints, novels, plays, poems, essays and letters that speak eloquently about the realities and myths of Victorian Britain and its role in the world, engaging concepts of the family, womanhood, the artist’s role and function and, indeed, the meaning of life. ~ Pamela Gerrish Nunn

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
Teacup ballet
1935, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'The sleeper' 1939, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
The sleeper
1939, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 4/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952) 'Kalóqutsuis - Qágyuhl' 1914, printed 1915

 

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952)
Kalóqutsuis – Qágyuhl
1914, printed 1915
Photogravure
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ms Christine Godden, 1991

 

 

Not only was he one of the greatest ethnographic photographers of all time (as well as being an ethnographer recording more than 10,000 songs on a primitive wax cylinder, and writing down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages) … he was also an aesthetic photographer. Looking at his photographs you can feel that he adhered to the principles of the nature and appreciation of beauty situated within the environment of the Native American cultures and peoples. He had a connection to the people and to the places he was photographing…

Curtis created a body of work unparrallleled in the annals of photography – an ethnographic study of an extant civilisation before it vanished (or so they thought at the time). Such a project stretched over thirty years, producing 45-50 thousand negatives “many of them on glass and some as large as fourteen by seventeen inches” of which 2,200 original photographs appeared in his magnum opus, The North American Indian…

While all great photographers have both technical skill and creative ability it is the dedication of this artist to his task over so many years that sets him apart. That dedication is critically coupled with his innate ability to capture the “spirit” of the Native American cultures and peoples, their humanity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987) 'Building the bridge' 1929

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987)
Building the bridge
1929
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67) 'A girl is carried away under arrest' 1961-63

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67)
A girl is carried away under arrest
from the Youth against the Bomb series
1961-63
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1971

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992) 'Bondi' 1939

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
Bondi
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.3 × 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974) 'The blue nude' c. 1934

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974)
The blue nude
c. 1934
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Lina Bryans, 1969

 

 

His contribution to art in Australia was, however, as a painter who introduced Post-Impressionist principles and challenged the notion that art was an imitation of nature.

Frater’s oeuvre developed between 1915 and 1920 towards a simplification of design, an interplay of massed lights and shadows, and sonorous low-keyed colour that reflected his interest in the classical seventeenth century painters in interaction with the analytical tonal theory of Max Meldrum. Notable examples of his predominantly figure and portrait paintings are ‘The artist’s wife reading’ (1915) and ‘Portrait of artist’s wife’ (1919). An experimental Colourist phase followed in the next decade. His first solo exhibition was held in May 1923 at the Athenaeum, Melbourne, and he exhibited with the Twenty Melbourne Painters from the late 1920s, and the Contemporary Group of Melbourne in the 1930s.

His approach in the 1930s was markedly indebted to Cézanne, especially in the portraits which predominated until his retirement… Frater gave aggressive leadership to the small group of modernists in the 1920s. His example, teaching, lecturing and crusty style of polemic did much to disrupt the academic style as the arbiter of pictorial values and to pioneer a change of taste in the community.

Text from the Australian Dictionary of Biography website

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 - 1910) 'Gorilla carrying off a woman' 1887

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 – 1910)
Gorilla carrying off a woman
Gorille enlevant une femme
1887
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of the artist, 1907

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Hillcrest, New York' 1970, printed c. 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Hillcrest, New York
1970, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Mount Rushmore' 1969, printed c. 1977

 

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Mount Rushmore
1969, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

 

The ‘tourist gaze’

As Grundberg notes, Friedlander’s terse depiction shows both the sight and the tourists themselves, being brought into existence through the effects of looking, reflecting, framing and imaging. These, he adds, are all linked to the general project of culturally appropriating the natural world. ‘Natural site has become acculturated sight’ (Grundberg 1990: 15).

As the image makes clear, the ‘sight’ or the ‘site’ is a ‘seeing’ without a subject, for it pre-exists the arrival and activity of any individual tourist-photographer, who, once located there, is framed as much as framing. The sight is not so much an object to be viewers an already structured condition of seeing, a situation which places the sightseer even as he or she freely choose to look or shoot.

The effects of photography’s presence in the tourist system merely completed a process under way before photography’s birth. As tourists, even at the moment of photographing, even if touring cameraless, we are not so much looking as looking at images, or looking for images. Tourism provides us less with experience than with events to be seen, Or rather, events to look at. The privileging of the visual grants us separation from our own experience… We look on or look in through the distancing arrangements of the camera or through eyes educated to see with the same ontological remoteness. The world of the tourist is ‘over there’, in the past-present, in the exotic-ordinary. It is framed off, the object of imaging or description, in some spectacular distance, or set back as performance (Greenwood in Smith 1989).

Peter Osborne. Traveling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture. Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 81-82.

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75) 'Eidos' 1947

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75)
Eidos
1947
Stone, synthetic polymer paint
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Samuel E. Wills Bequest to commemorate the retirement of Dr E. Westbrook, Director of Arts for Victoria, 1981

 

 

Eidos a Greek term meaning “form” “essence”, “type” or “species”. The early Greek concept of form precedes attested philosophical usage and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision, sight, and appearance. The words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Eidos (though not idea) is already attested in texts of the Homeric era, the earliest Greek literature. This transliteration and the translation tradition of German and Latin lead to the expression “theory of Ideas.” The word is however not the English “idea,” which is a mental concept only.

The meaning of the term εἶδος (eidos), “visible form”, and related terms μορφή (morphē), “shape”, and φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, remained stable over the centuries until the beginning of philosophy, when they became equivocal, acquiring additional specialised philosophic meanings. (Theory of Forms Wikipedia)

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940) 'Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street' 1917

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940)
Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street
1917
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- ) 'Reclining figure' 1975

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- )
Reclining figure
1975
Etching and liftground etching, ed. 38/75
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Margaret Toll, 2006

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936) 'Woman resting' c. 1904

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936)
Woman resting
La Femme couchée
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1905

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920) 'Cast of artist's hands' 1920

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920)
Cast of artist’s hands
1920
plaster
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Marcelle Osins, 1994

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died) 'Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham' c. 1871

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died)
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c. 1871
Albumen silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

 

 

The best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me, Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c. 1879). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a posting on the NGV exhibition Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes.

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934) 'No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)' 1880s

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934)
No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)
1880s
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2004

 

 

Kimbei Kusakabe arrived in Yokohama in 1856 and became Felice Beato’s pupil, hand-coloring his photographs until 1863. In 1881, he opened his own studio and promptly became one of the most prosperous and influential photographers of his generation, rivalling the Western artists that had until then dominated the market. With his coloured portraits, everyday scenes and landscapes, he is the purveyor of souvenir images for Westerners visiting Japan. Kimbei Kusakabe depicted men in serene social and economic contexts while women – his favourite subjects – were represented in romantic portraits as well as domestic and cultural scenes. The young mysterious and submissive geisha was particularly appealing to Western audiences and the Japanese photographer helped establish their visual identity as icons of feminine beauty and social etiquette. Kimbei Kusakabe’s rare images are a rich resource for the comprehension of a Japan that has now disappeared. (Text from The Red List website)

Kusakabe Kimbei worked with Felice Beato and Baron Raimund von Stillfried as a photographic colourist and assistant before opening his own workshop in Yokohama in 1881, in the Benten-dōri quarter, and from 1889 operating in the Honmachi quarter. He also opened a branch in the Ginza quarter of Tokyo. Around 1885, he acquired the negatives of Felice Beato and of Stillfried, as well as those of Uchida Kuichi. Kusakabe also acquired some of Ueno Hikoma’s negatives of Nagasaki. He stopped working as a photographer in 1912-1913. (Wikipedia)

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Towards Los Angeles, California
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86) 'Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon' 1941, printed c. 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86)
Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon
1941, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992) Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985) 'Boy asleep by the beach' 1976

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992)
Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985)
Boy asleep by the beach
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945) 'No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)' 1977-78

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945)
No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)
from the Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland series
1977-78, printed 1979
Gelatin silver photograph, coloured pencils and fibretipped pen, ed. 1/5
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

 

This was a very hands on process, an observation confirmed by artist Ruth Maddison. “The process was like hand watering your garden, an intense exchange and engagement with the object. When I started I was completely untrained, but I loved the process. I just experimented in order to understand what medium does what on what paper surface. There was the beauty of its object and its physicality. I just loved the object.” Her series Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977/78, below), photographed over Christmas Day and several days afterwards, evidences this magical transformation. Vernacular photographs of a typical Australia Christmas holiday become something else, transformed into beautiful, atypical representations of family, friendship, celebration and life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan commenting on the National Gallery of Australia exhibition Colour My World: Handcoloured Australia Photography.

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954) 'Reclining nude on a pink couch' 1919

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954)
Reclining nude on a pink couch
Nu couché sur canapé rose
1919
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1952

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920) 'Nude resting' c. 1916-19

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920)
Nude resting
c. 1916-19
Pencil on buff paper; laid down
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1948

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States) 'Helsinki' 1927, printed 1973

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States)
Helsinki
1927, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1991

 

 

In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates: http://www.mdaa.com.au/people/moore-05.php. Accessed 17.06.2006
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

From a posting on the exhibition The Photograph and Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986) 'Reclining figure distorted - Sectional line' 1979

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986)
Reclining figure distorted – Sectional line
1979
Chalk, charcoal, wax crayon, ballpoint pen and watercolour over pencil
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ginny Green, Sandra Bardas OAM family, Vicki Vidor OAM and Bindy Koadlow in memory of their parents Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2014

 

William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917) 'Startled tigers, dish' c. 1880

 

William De Morgan & Co., London (manufacturer, England 1872-1911)
William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917)
Startled tigers, dish
c. 1880
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1980

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93) '(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)' c. 1947

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93)
(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)
Illustration to Flinders Lane: recollections of Alfred Felton by Russell Grimwade. Melbourne University Press,Carlton, 1947
c. 1947
Wood-engraving on Japanese paper, proof
National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

“What interested me I think were the English wood engravers. I would have seen them in reproductions in books … I think it appealed to me as an artistic expression because it was done so directly with the hand. I know that when a painter is painting the hand is connected with the brain. But with wood engraving it seemed to me it was almost more so. And I got very worked up about it, but I had no way of learning … I know how I got started. Eric Thake was the man who said to me, “I’ll show you how to use your tool.”‘

from Anne Ryan, ‘Australian etchings and engravings 1880s-1930s from the Gallery’s collection’, AGNSW, Sydney 2007

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000) 'Lover's walk in the corn, summer, England' 1964

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000)
Lover’s walk in the corn, summer, England
1964
Oil and toy mouse on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Fingal Pastoral Property Limited, Fellow, 1997

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941) 'Seeing' 1989

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941)
Seeing
1989
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1996

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88) 'No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)' 1957

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88)
No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)
1957
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2003

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55) 'Cat show, London' 1953

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55)
Cat show, London
1953
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the KODAK (Australasia) Pty Ltd Fund, 1975

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964) 'Itinerant basket makers' 1929

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964)
Itinerant basket makers
from the People of the Twentieth Century project
1929, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Nomadism

In the literature on nomadism, there is considerable disagreement over the range of societies that should be designated as “nomadic,” but there is some consensus that at least three categories of mobile peoples should be recognised. The first category, to which many wish to restrict the term “nomadic,” is that of pastoral nomads… The second broad category of nomads is that of hunter-gatherers, whose mode of subsistence sets them apart from both pastoralists and sedentary farmers…

The third basic category is that of Gypsies, itinerant basket-makers, tinkers, weavers, mimes, magicians, musicians, horse dealers, nostrum traders, carnival people, circus performers, and so on. Characterised the variously as “service nomads,” “economic nomads,” “commercial nomads,” “craftsman nomads,” “non-food producing nomads,” “floating industrial populations,” “peripatetic tribes,” “peripatetic peoples” or plain “peripatetics,” these are spatially mobile peoples who primarily exploit resources in the social environment. They exploit what Berland and Salo call a distinct peripatetic niche: “the regular demand for specialised goods and/or services that more sedentary or pastoral communities cannot, or will not, support on a permanent basis.”

Ronald Bogue. Deleuze’s Way: Essays in Transverse Ethics and Aesthetics. London and New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 114-115.

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969) 'A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969)
A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90) 'Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel' 1940

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90)
Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel
1940
Hand-coloured gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mary Lipshut through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910) 'No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)' c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910)
No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)
c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of The Herald & Weekly Times Limited, Fellow, 2001

 

 

“There are two employments which I have mentioned among those of domestic servants because they would be so classed by us, but which in Japan rank among the trades. The jinrikisha man and the groom belong, as a rule, to a certain class at the bottom of the social ladder, and no samurai would think of entering either of these occupations, except under stress of severest poverty. The bettōs, or grooms, are a hereditary class and a regular guild, and have a reputation, among both Japanese and foreigners, as a betting, gambling, cheating, good-for-nothing lot. An honest bettō is a rare phenomenon.”

Alice Mabel Bacon. Japanese Girls and Women. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press, 1891, p. 319.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- ) 'Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount' 1993

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- )
Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount
1993
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 8/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2009

 

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s famous series Theaters is represented in the exhibition by the work Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount (1993) where  Sugimoto “photographs auditoriums of American movie theaters, and drive-in movies, during showings. The exposure time used for the photograph corresponds with the projection time of the film. This allows him to save the duration of the entire film in a single shot. What remains visible of the film’s time-compressed, individual images is the bright screen of the movie theater, which illuminates the architecture of the space. That its content retreats into the background makes the actual film a piece of information, manifesting itself in the (movie theater) space. As a result, instead of a content-related event, film presents itself here as the relationship between time and spatial perception.”3

If we think of the camera lens as being fully open, like an eye without blinking, for the duration of the length of the film then the shutter of the lens has to be set on “B” for Bulb which allows for long exposure times under the direct control of the photographer. “The term bulb is a reference to old-style pneumatically actuated shutters; squeezing an air bulb would open the shutter and releasing the bulb would close it… It appears that when instantaneous shutters were introduced, they included a B setting so that the familiar bulb behaviour could be duplicated with a cable release.”4 In other words light waves, reflecting from the surface of objects, are controlled by the photographer over an indefinite period (not the short “snap” of the freeze frame / the decisive moment), accumulating light from thousands of years in the past through the lens of the camera onto the focal plane, coalescing into a single image, controlled and constructed by the photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a review of the NGV exhibition Light Works (2012)

3. Kellein, Thomas and Sugimoto, Hiroshi. Time Exposed. Thames & Hudson, First edition, 1995, p. 91, quoted on the Media Art Net website. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.
4. Anon. “Bulb (photography),” on the Wikipedia website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906) 'Thyrsis' 1914

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906)
Thyrsis
1914
Bronze, patina
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1915

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s) 'No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)' 1856

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s)
No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)
1856
Daguerreotype leather, wood, silk, gilt metal and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Market Square was a town square located in the centre of Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Consisting of eight acres (2.9 hectares) of land, the area was reserved by Governor Sir George Gipps as a town square during the initial surveying of Geelong. The area later became a produce market, before being progressively built upon. Today the Market Square Shopping Centre occupies the site, having been opened in 1985 by the City of Geelong…

A clock tower was built in the centre of the square in 1856. It was the idea of the second mayor of Geelong James Austin, who offered to pay for a clock tower in Geelong to mark his term as mayor. The clock was featured in The Illustrated London News in March 1855. Components for the clock arrived in Geelong on November 13, 1855 from England, but the location for the clock had yet to be decided. Suggestions of high ground at top of Moorabool, Yarra or Gheringhap Streets were put forward at the time, the indecision lasting into early 1856. In July 1857 a decision was made, and the foundation stone was finally laid in the Market Square…

The clock tower remained until October 1923 when it was demolished to make way for the CML Building. There was a public outcry, and no one was willing to demolish it. However, it was deemed too impractical to move intact, and was brought down by steel cables attached to traction engine. The site of the clock tower is marked by a plaque in the Market Square Shopping Centre.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943) 'Horned hound' 1991

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943)
Horned hound
1991
Polaroid photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1992

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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21
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 25th October 2015

Linbury Galleries

 

 

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth

 

Sculptor Barbara Hepworth

 

 

A national treasure. An old soul.

My favourite period of Hepworth’s is the 1940s-1950s, when she found her true voice as an artist. Working with wood, inspired by the landscape, she carved into the space of form / the form of space. She was a master of inner space. The sculptures with string are like harps, they resonate with the energy of life, sea, rock, wind and become … oracles, evidencing some deep inner knowledge. My god, what an artist. Underrated by some but to those that know, a magical voice of becoming.

Marcus

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

 

 

Barbara Hepworth banner

 

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World exhibition banner

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Discs in Echelon' 1935

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Discs in Echelon
1935
Padouk wood
311 x 491 x 225mm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Doves (Group)' 1927

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Doves (Group)
1927
Parian marble
Manchester Art Gallery
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Large and Small Form' 1934

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Large and Small Form
1934
White alabaster
250 x 450 x 240mm
The Pier Arts Centre Collection, Orkney
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Mother and Child' 1934

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Mother and Child
1934
Cumberland alabaster
230 x 455 x 189mm, 11.1 kg
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1993© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Pelagos' 1946

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Pelagos
1946
Elm and strings on oak
430 x 460 x 385mm
Tate
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

 

Pelagos (‘sea’ in Greek) was inspired by a view of the bay at St Ives in Cornwall, where two arms of land enfold the sea on either side. The hollowed-out wood has a spiral formation resembling a shell, a wave or the roll of a hill. Hepworth wanted the taut strings to express ‘the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills’. She moved to Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson in 1939, and produced some of her finest sculpture in its wild landscape.

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Oval Sculpture (No. 2)' 1943, cast 1958

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Oval Sculpture (No. 2)
1943, cast 1958
Plaster on wooden base
293 x 400 x 255mm
Tate
Presented by the artist 1967

 

 

In the 1930s Barbara Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicholson were members of the London-based avant-garde. Shortly before the outbreak of war they moved to Cornwall with their children. Running a nursery school and living in cramped conditions reduced Hepworth’s output of sculpture to a minimum. In 1943, the family moved to larger accommodation with studio space. Hepworth’s abstract forms, which seem akin to caves and shells, were affected by the Cornish landscape. Her response to nature was not romantic or mystical but more firmly based on actual observation. Circles and spheres had dominated her work. These were replaced by ovals which gave her sculptures two centres rather than one, complicating their interior form.

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (6)' 1943

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Sculpture with Colour (Deep Blue and Red) (6)
1943
© The Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Red in Tension' 1941

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Red in Tension
1941
Pencil and gouache on paper
254 x 355mm
Private collection
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Group I (Concourse) February 4 1951' 1951

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Group I (Concourse) February 4 1951
1951
Serravezza marble
248 x 505 x 295mm, 19 kg
Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

 

Tate Britain will open the first London museum retrospective for five decades of the work of Barbara Hepworth, one of Britain’s greatest artists. Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) was a leading figure of the international modern art movement in the 1930s, and one of the most successful sculptors in the world during the 1950s and 1960s. This major retrospective opens on 24 June 2015 and will emphasise Hepworth’s often overlooked prominence in the international art world. It will highlight the different contexts and spaces in which Hepworth presented her work, from the studio to the landscape.

The exhibition will feature over 70 works by Hepworth from major carvings and bronzes to less-familiar works and those by other artists. It opens with Hepworth’s earliest surviving carvings from the 1920s alongside works by predecessors and peers artists from Jacob Epstein to Henry Moore. The selection reveals how her work related to a wider culture of wood and stone carving between the wars when Hepworth studied at Leeds Art School and at the Royal College of Art.

Hepworth and her second husband Ben Nicholson made works in dialogue and photographed their studio in Hampstead, London in order to reinforce the idea of a common practice integrated into a way of life. Major carvings like Kneeling Figure, 1932 (rosewood) and Large and Small Form, 1934 (alabaster) will be shown with paintings, prints and drawings by Nicholson, and rarely seen works by Hepworth including textiles, drawings, collages and photograms. Archival photographs will show the two artists and their works in the studio demonstrating their integrated life of art and craft.

In the later 1930s, Hepworth made more purely abstract work as part of an international movement disseminated through magazines and exhibitions. A display of the majority of Hepworth’s surviving carvings of this period will include Discs in Echelon 1935 (padouk wood) and Single Form 1937 (lignum vitae) which will be seen in conjunction with the journals in which they featured alongside the work of artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Piet Mondrian.

In the mid-1940s, Hepworth, in St Ives, Cornwall, began making sculptures in wood that expressed her response to her new surroundings. These will be set alongside her two-dimensional work: the abstract works on paper of the early 1940s and her figurative ‘hospital drawings’ of 1947-48, both expressing utopian ideals. A selection of photographs and film  will consider the different ways in which Hepworth’s sculpture was presented or imagined – in landscape, in a gallery, in the garden and on stage – and the impact such variant stagings have on the work’s interpretation.

One room will reunite four large carvings in the sumptuous African hardwood guarea, made in 1954-5, which are probably the highpoint of Hepworth’s carving career. In the post-war period, Hepworth’s sculpture became a prominent part of the international art scene. This will be evoked through a focus on her retrospective at the Kröller-Müller Museum in 1965 and the display of bronzes that inaugurated the Museum’s reconstructed Rietveld Pavilion.

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World is curated by Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain and Chris Stephens, Lead Curator, Modern British Art and Head of Displays with Assistant Curator Inga Fraser and Sophie Bowness, the artist’s granddaughter. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. It will tour to the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo in the Netherlands from November 2015 to April 2016 and to the Arp Museum, Rolandseck in Germany from May to August 2016.

Press release from the Tate Britain website

 

Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain

Barbara Hepworth helped to reshape sculpture in post-war Britain, experimenting with abstract forms and piercing holes through her works to play with light and shade. Alastair Sooke takes a look at Tate Britain’s remarkable retrospective which displays magnificent bronzes and intimate, personal carvings.

 

Barbara Hepworth – Figures in a Landscape (1953) – extract

Narrated by future Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis, ‘Figures in a Landscape’ offers a poetic portrait of sculptor Barbara Hepworth and the otherworldly Cornwall landscapes that inspired her work. Priaulx Rainier’s haunting score beautifully complements the extraordinary works of art, placed in the Cornish spaces that influenced them. Hepworth had been commissioned to design sculptures for the Festival of Britain two years before this film, and remains one of Britain’s most celebrated sculptors – she was made a Dame in 1965. She died during a fire at her St. Ives studio in 1975. (Alex Davidson)

 

Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture Garden | TateShots

Barbara Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios, now the Hepworth Museum, from 1949 until her death in 1975.

TateShots travelled to St Ives to explore the studio and its gardens, where Hepworth’s sculptures are seen in the environment for which they were created. ‘Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic’, wrote Hepworth; ‘here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space’. The film includes archival footage from an interview with the artist from 1973.

 

 

Who is Barbara Hepworth?

3 June 2015

 

Who is she?

Barbara Hepworth was a British sculptor, who was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1903. She was a leading figure in the international art scene throughout a career spanning five decades.

 

Who were her peers?

Hepworth studied at Leeds school of Art from 1920-1921 alongside fellow Yorkshire-born artist Henry Moore. Both students continued their studies in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Both became leading practitioners of the avant-garde method of Direct Carving (working directly in to the chosen material) avoiding the more traditional process of making preparatory models and maquettes from which a craftsman would produce the finished work.

From 1924 Hepworth spent two years in Italy, and in 1925 married her first husband, the artist John Skeaping, in Florence; their marriage was to last until 1931.

From 1932, she lived with the painter Ben Nicholson and, for a number of years, the two artists made work in close proximity to each other, developing a way of working that was almost like a collaboration. They spent periods of time travelling throughout Europe, and it was here that Hepworth met Georges Braque and Piet Mondrian, and visited the studios of Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp and Sophie Taueber-Arp. The experience was a hugely exciting one for Hepworth, for she not only found herself in the studios of some of Europe’s most influential artists, which helped her to approach her own career with renewed vigour and clarity, but also found there mutual respect. The School of Paris had a lasting effect on both Hepworth and Nicholson as they became key figures in an international network of abstract artists.

By now married and with triplets as well as a son from her first marriage, when war broke out in 1939, Hepworth and Nicholson moved to St Ives. Though she didn’t know it, the seaside town would remain her home for their rest of her life, and after the war she and Nicholson became a hub for a generation of younger emerging British artists such as Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost – who was Hepworth’s studio assistant for a time. As she had found, the wild beauty of the surrounding terrain offered a counter to the disruption and destruction of the war. And, like her, those artists made paintings and sculptures inspired by the place and the forces and their experience of nature.

Though concerned with form and abstraction, Hepworth’s art was primarily about relationships: not merely between two forms presented side-by-side, but between the human figure and the landscape, colour and texture, and most importantly between people at an individual and social level.

 

What’s her legacy?

Barbara Hepworth’s name is still intertwined with the history and culture of St Ives and her studio and sculpture Garden remain one of the town’s most popular destinations. In the town where Hepworth was born, as well as housing a rich archive of the artist’s work and serving as a platform for contemporary artists working today, The Hepworth Wakefield also pays lasting homage to an artist who spoke frequently of the effect her surroundings had on her formative years.

The whole of this Yorkshire background means more to me as the years have passed. I draw on these early experiences not only visually in texture and contour, but humanly. The importance of man in landscape was stressed by the seeming contradiction of the industrial town springing out of the inner beauty of the country.

In her lifetime, however, she was also a major international figure, showing her work in exhibitions around the globe. As a woman in a largely male-dominated art-world, Hepworth took an active role in the way her work was presented. She was particular about documentation of her works, and collaborated closely with others. She established innovative ways to push the boundaries of her technique and thematic investigations and sustained a career that saw her mount a retrospective at Kröller-Müller Museum in 1965, represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1950 and won first prize at the São Paulo Bienal in 1959. She has influenced countless artists, designers, architects and performers such as Linder Sterling, Peter Jensen and Rebecca Warren citing her as an influential figure in their own creative practice.

Hepworth is known first and foremost as a sculptor, but she also worked in other mediums – and was very interested in documenting her own work through photography. The landscape around St Ives became part of the way her works were presented in the media; St Ives Bay, Godrevy Lighthouse and The Island all become compositional tools for those documenting her works, creating an additional dialogue between the forms and their surroundings.

From 1947-1949, during an illness her daughter suffered, Hepworth produced a series of drawings and paintings based on her time observing doctors and surgeons at St Mary’s hospital in Exeter. Read about their creation in Tate Etc. magazine

 

What do the critics say?

No militant feminist herself, she asked simply to be treated as a sculptor (never a sculptress), irrespective of sex.
~ Alan Bowness

Hepworth was an artist of extraordinary stature whose importance is still to some extent occluded. Over 50 years, from 1925 to her death in 1975, she made more than 600 works of sculpture remarkable in range and emotional force.
~ Fiona McCarthy

In these works this brave and indefatigable woman transcends the difficulties and ugliness of modern life and evokes a vision of radiant calm perfection.
~ Herbert Read

 

Hepworth in Quotes…

The sculptor carves because he must. He needs the concrete form of stone and wood for the expression of his idea and experience, and when the idea forms the material is found at once.

From the Sculptors point of view one can either be the spectator of the object or the object itself. For a few years I became the object.

I think every sculpture must be touched, it’s part of the way you make it and it’s really our first sensibility, it is the sense of feeling, it is first one we have when we’re born. I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with as sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it and walk away from it.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Photo-collage with Helicoids in Sphere in the entrance hall of flats designed by Alfred and Emil Roth and Marcel Breuer at Doldertal, Zurich' 1939

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Photo-collage with Helicoids in Sphere in the entrance hall of flats designed by Alfred and Emil Roth and Marcel Breuer at Doldertal, Zurich
1939
Photograph, gelatin silver prints on paper
Private collection
© The Hepworth Photograph Collection

 

Raymond Coxon. 'Henry Moore, Edna Ginesi and Barbara Hepworth in Paris' 1920

 

Raymond Coxon (British, 1896-1997)
Henry Moore, Edna Ginesi and Barbara Hepworth in Paris
1920
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Infant' 1929

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Infant
1929
Wood
438 x 273 x 254mm
Tate
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Single Form (Eikon)' 1937-8, cast 1963

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Single Form (Eikon)
1937-8, cast 1963
Bronze
1480 x 280 x 320mm, 77 kg
Presented by the artist 1964
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

 

The original of this bronze was a carved plaster column set on a wooden base. The plaster was sent to Paris in 1938 for an exhibition and remained there until 1961. In 1963 Hepworth had it cast in an edition of seven. By the mid 1930s Hepworth had turned from carving semi-naturalistic figures and animals to an exploration of pure sculptural forms. She has written that her interest then centred on the relationship between a form and its surrounding space as well as its integral size, texture and weight. But these sculptures almost always retained an organic character.

 

Constellation of artworks in the Hepworth display

 

 

Constellation of artworks in the Hepworth display

This constellation forges connections between modern and contemporary works concerned with a sculptural relationship to the artist’s body and to the natural world, revealing a pathway that links geometric abstraction with the surrealist ability to recognise human shapes in natural forms. The phased development of Single Form (Eikon), as it moved through versions in plaster and wood to its final metal incarnation nearly 30 years later, raises questions about the role of sculpture and the importance of materials – concerns that are echoed in the works of Naum Gabo, Marisa Merz and Max Ernst. Louise Bourgeois’ printmaking suite presents a dark vision of biomorphic assimilation and amputation, while the strength and stability of Hepworth’s direct carving method is echoed on an intimate scale by Merz’s knitted nylon works, whose delicate appearance belies their tough industrial materials.

The geometric abstraction of Hepworth’s monolithic bronze highlights her association with the constructive art championed by Gabo in 1936, which focused on the universal nature of pure forms. She also had connections to the surrealist movement. With its phallic quality and contrasting purified aesthetic, the cast bronze sculpture can relate to both of these important movements; like other works in the constellation powerfully oscillating between abstraction and figuration.

In a strong statement on her own artistic philosophy, Hepworth proclaimed: ‘I think every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it, touch it and walk away from it.’ This invitation to engage in a bodily experience of sculpture shares its premise with Bruce Nauman’s cast plaster and fibreglass work, Isa Genzken’s totemic concrete monuments, and Daria Martin’s film In the Palace, which dramatically enlarges to architectural scale an iconic Giacometti sculpture, enabling performers to inhabit its time and space, in an uncanny fusing of materials and people.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Double Exposure of Two Forms' 1937

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Double Exposure of Two Forms
1937
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Private collection
© The Hepworth Photograph Collection

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Self-Photogram' 1933

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Self-Photogram
1933
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Tate
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Paul Laib. 'Hepworth in the Mall Studio, London' 1933

 

Paul Laib (British born Germany, 1869-1958)
Hepworth in the Mall Studio, London
1933
The Barbara Hepworth Photograph Collection
© The de Laszlo Collection of Paul Laib Negatives, Witt Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

 

Paul Laib. 'Hepworth in the Mall Studio, London' 1933 (detail)

 

Paul Laib (British born Germany, 1869-1958)
Hepworth in the Mall Studio, London (detail)
1933
The Barbara Hepworth Photograph Collection
© The de Laszlo Collection of Paul Laib Negatives, Witt Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Fenestration of the Ear (The Hammer)' 1948

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Fenestration of the Ear (The Hammer)
1948
Oil and pencil on board
384 x 270mm
Purchased 1976
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Curved Form (Delphi)' 1955

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Curved Form (Delphi)
1955
© The Estate of Dame Barbara Hepworth

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Curved Form (Trevalgan)' 1956

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Curved Form (Trevalgan)
1956
Bronze on wooden base
902 x 597 x 673mm
Tate
Purchased 1960

 

Val Wilmer. 'Barbara Hepworth in the Palais de la Danse studio, St Ives, at work on the wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior' 1963

 

Val Wilmer (British, b. 1941)
Barbara Hepworth in the Palais de la Danse studio, St Ives, at work on the wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior
1963
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Val Wilmer. 'Barbara Hepworth in the Palais de la Danse studio, St Ives, at work on the wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior' 1963 (detail)

 

Val Wilmer (British, b. 1941)
Barbara Hepworth in the Palais de la Danse studio, St Ives, at work on the wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior (detail)
1963
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Morgan-Wells. 'Barbara Hepworth with the plaster of Single Form 1961-4 at the Morris Singer foundry, London, May 1963' 1963

 

Morgan-Wells
Barbara Hepworth with the plaster of Single Form 1961-4 at the Morris Singer foundry, London, May 1963
1963
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth. 'Sea Form (Porthmeor)' 1958

 

Dame Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Sea Form (Porthmeor)
1958
Bronze on wooden base
830 x 1135 x 355mm
Tate
Presented by the artist 1967

 

 

Porthmeor is a beach close to Hepworth’s studio in St Ives, Cornwall. A critic thought this sculpture ‘seems to belong to the living world of the sea.’ However, the curling lip of the bronze is quite a literal representation of a breaking wave. At Porthmeor, Hepworth loved to watch the changing tide, the movement of sand and wind and the footprints of men and birds. For her, the rhythm of the tides was part of a natural order to which humankind also belongs.

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Oval Form (Trezion)' 1961-63

 

Barbara Hepworth
Oval Form (Trezion)
1961-63
Bronze
940 x 1440 x 870mm
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums Collections
Photograph courtesy The Kröller-Müller Otterlo, The Netherlands. Photograph by Mary Ann Sullivan, Blufton University
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

Barbara Hepworth. 'Squares with Two Circles' 1963

 

Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975)
Squares with Two Circles
1963
Bronze
Tate
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

 

 

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17
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Francis Bacon & Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty’ at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 20th July 2014

 

Francis Bacon. 'Second Version of Triptych 1944' 1988

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Second Version of Triptych 1944
1988
Oil and alkyds on canvas
Each panel 198 x 147.5cm (each panel)
Tate Modern, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

 

Like the my earlier posting on the exhibition ‘Caravaggio – Bacon’ at Gallery Borghese, Rome, what an inspired curatorial decision this is. I would have never have thought to have brought Bacon and Moore together, but the synergy between the two artists work is undeniable.

Personally, I don’t think that Moore is as immobile and measurable as Radoslaw Kudlinski states in the quotation below: while rooted in anthropological concerns his anthropomorphic “nightmares” have a heft and gravitas that move you, not physically, but in the pit of your stomach. Look at the open mouth of Reclining Figure (1951, below) and tell me you are not drawn down into the bowls of the soul through the pointed tit of mother earth. Tactile, yes. Immobile and measurable, NO!

Moore moves you from within. His roots are from an ancient and emotional landscape, one of decay, time and change. His works are like embryonic sacs, pushing out at you from different points. The holes in his work are like looking into a black hole. The spaces he creates with his sculptures DENY a perfect formal economy, for they are really awkward images that impinge on a space. Never stationary, his sculptures move you from within in the most powerful way. A perfect counterbalance to the external, cinematic rambunctiousness of Bacon.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Art Gallery of Ontario for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Francis Bacon. 'Second Version of Triptych 1944' (detail) 1988

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Second Version of Triptych 1944 (detail)
1988
Oil and alkyds on canvas
Each panel 198 x 147.5cm (each panel)
Tate Modern, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Second Version of Triptych 1944' (detail) 1988

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Second Version of Triptych 1944 (detail)
1988
Oil and alkyds on canvas
Each panel 198 x 147.5cm (each panel)
Tate Modern, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

 

“While Moore’s figures are sustaining themselves entirely from within, Bacon’s are disengaged fugitives from history. Bacon is already “after” when Moore is still “before.”

And while Moore’s nightmares are still rooted in anthropological concerns – corporeal and measurable – Bacon’s subject is a phantom without a name, without a past, because a collectivised subject is only and always an abstract fragment of a person.

But we need Moore’s confrontation with Bacon. Moore is a guardian of our sanity. His forms are stationary – despite the refined movement of all their structural lines, and their impeccable pronunciation of architectural tempo, as well as their perfect formal economy, they are going nowhere.

And because of Moore’s immobility, tactility and measurability, I welcome his presence with relief. He defends us from Bacon’s radical, cinematic mobility, forever escaping our grasp.

Bacon’s state of convulsive stasis is an illusion, because looking at his canvas you have an impression that between the two or three takes, there are more frames, as in a movie, trapped in the same space. There is also a sense that this trapping of multiplicity is not a conscious choice, but the consequence of there being nowhere else to go.

Bacon is the scandal of the flesh, the existential strip-tease – even a post-flesh, post-body concept of a person. He is a fugitive, and his natural state is motion, appearance and disappearance. He belongs to non-materiality, to cyberspace – and this is his paradox, because together with the sensuality of his pictorial matter, the materiality of subject is gone. That’s why Bacon is so relevant today.”

Radoslaw Kudlinski. “Serious Scary: Francis Bacon and Henry Moore in Toronto,” on the Canadian Art website, May 7, 2014 [Online] Cited 05/07/2014. No longer available online

 

Francis Bacon. 'Lying Figure in a Mirror' 1971

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Lying Figure in a Mirror
1971
Oil on canvas
198.5 x 147.5cm
Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Untitled (Kneeling Figure)' 1982

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Untitled (Kneeling Figure)
1982
Oil on canvas
212 x 161cm
The Estate of Francis Bacon
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study for Portrait on Folding Bed' 1963

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait on Folding Bed
1963
Oil on canvas
198.1 x 147.3cm
Tate Britain, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Three Figures and a Portrait, 1975' 1975

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Three Figures and a Portrait, 1975
1975
Oil and acrylic on canvas
198.1 x 147.3cm
Tate Britain, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Two Figures in a Room' 1959

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Two Figures in a Room 
1959
Oil on canvas
198 x 140.5cm
Robert & Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Francis Bacon' Nd

 

Bill Brandt (German-British, 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
Nd
Gelatin silver print
20.9 x 18.7cm
© The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study for Portrait II (After the life mask of William Blake)' 1955

 

Francis Bacon
Study for Portrait II (After the life mask of William Blake)
1955
Oil on canvas
61 x 51 cm
Tate Modern, London © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
1966
Oil on canvas
81 x 69cm
Tate Modern, London
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study for Portrait VI' 1953

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait VI
1953 
Oil on canvas
152 x 117cm
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts,
The Miscellaneous Works of Art Purchase Fund © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

 

 

The tortured British painter Francis Bacon, whose triptych recently set a new record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, makes his Canadian debut this spring at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) alongside rarely-seen works by the British sculptor Henry Moore in the exhibition Francis Bacon & Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty. Featuring more than 130 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and archival materials, the exhibition explores the two artists’ shared fascination with the human form in relation to the violence of the Second World War and other key events of the 20th century.

Although they were neither friends nor collaborators, Bacon (b. 1909) and Moore (b. 1898) were contemporaries who shared an obsession with expressing themes of violence, trauma and conflict, both social and personal. Drawing on the artists’ personal experiences during the London Blitz and other conflicts, the exhibition examines how confinement and angst fostered their extraordinary creativity and unique visions. Bacon, whose dark depictions of human torment have inspired several characters in popular culture, including the appearance of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, was a sado-masochist who sought to process the trials of humanity through his canvases. Moore, a British war artist, was one of the most renowned sculptors of his time. His works evoke endurance and stability, but when considered in light of his wartime experience, they read as an effort to rebuild and redeem the fragile human psyche and body.

Curated for the AGO by Dan Adler, associate professor of art history at York University, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty is the first Canadian exhibition of Bacon’s work and includes rarely seen Moore pieces, from both the AGO collection and elsewhere. Moore’s works are a cornerstone of the AGO collection, and pairing them with those by Francis Bacon sets them in a new light. The exhibition also presents more than 30 archival photographs by acclaimed German-born British photographer Bill Brandt. Loans for the exhibition have also been secured from several institutions, including MoMA, Tate Britain and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Press release from the AGO website

 

Henry Moore. 'Mother and Child' 1953

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Mother and Child
1953
Plaster
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Helmet Head and Shoulders' 1952

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Helmet Head and Shoulders
1952 
Bronze
19 x 20.5 x 15cm
Tate Modern, London
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Henry Moore in his Studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (German-British, 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his Studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1940
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 19.6cm
© The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

 

Henry Moore. 'Falling Warrior' 1956-57

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Falling Warrior
1956-57
Bronze
65 x 154 x 85cm
Tate Modern, London
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Reclining Figure' 1951

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Reclining Figure
1951
Plaster cast
Length: 228.5cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Courtesy Craig Boyko, AGO
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Three Fates' 1941

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Three Fates
1941
Watercolour
29.7 x 19.9cm
Royal Pavillion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Maquette for Strapwork Head' 1950

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Maquette for Strapwork Head
1950
Bronze edition of 9
10cm high (excluding base)
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Spanish Prisoner' 1939

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Spanish Prisoner
1939
Lithograph on paper
36.5 x 30.5cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

Henry Moore. 'Sleeping Positions' 1940-41

 

Henry Moore (English, 1898-1986)
Sleeping Positions
1940-41
Mixed media on wove paper
20.4 x 16.5cm
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013)

 

 

Art Gallery of Ontario
Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario

317 Dundas Street West
Toronto Ontario Canada M5T 1G4

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Closed Mondays

Art Gallery of Ontario website

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20
Mar
11

Review: ‘Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs’ at Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 27th March 2011

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (desiccated horse carcass sitting up)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (desiccated horse carcass sitting up)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

 

“In the meantime the landscape presents scenes of desolation which mark the memory of all who see it. Thousands of carcasses are strewn on the baked and cracked plains. There is a brooding air of almost Biblical intensity over millions of acres which bear no trace of surface waters. The dry astringent air extracts every drop of moisture from the grass, leaving it so brittle that it breaks under foot with the tinkling of thin glass.”

.
Sidney Nolan. Epic Drought in Australia 1952

 

“Peering into the pantry, which held a particular fascination for me, my eye was caught by several jars of preserved fruit that stood on the otherwise empty shelves and by a few dozen diminutive crimson apples on the sill of the window darkened by the yew tree outside. And as I looked on these apples which shone through the half-light … the quite outlandish thought crossed my mind that these things … had all outlasted me …”

.
W.G. Sebald. The Rings of Saturn 1988

 

 

This is a superb exhibition of 61 black and white photographs by Sidney Nolan. The photographs were shot using a medium format camera and are printed in square format from the original 1952 negatives. They were taken near the Birdsville Track in Queensland and were commissioned at the time by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail. Although not intended to be studies for the later ‘Drought paintings’ they have become, were the beginning of, can be seen as, preparatory ideas pre sketching and painting.

There are two proof sets of the Drought Photographs (including the one displayed on the gallery wall) that are printed on a cool-toned Type C photographic paper (analogue to digital to analogue) at about 8″ square. These are the less successful of the prints for the “beauty is in the box.” The more impressive prints are the edition of 10 that is for sale, either as individual prints or as a whole folio, that are printed at approximately 10″ square on a slightly warm-toned Canson Infinity 310 gsm archival inkjet paper (analogue to digital). These are the knockout prints with lots of mid-toned hues – for the warm tone of the paper more closely matches the feel of the dusty Outback. They possess a very “inky” atmosphere and wonderful light. Make sure that you get the gallery staff to show you some of these prints!

The work itself is a joy to behold. The photographs hang together like a symphony, rising and falling, with shape emphasising aspects of form. The images flow from one to another. The formal composition of the mummified carcasses is exemplary, the resurrected animals (a horse, for example, propped up on a fifth leg) and emaciated corpses like contemporary sculpture. Here I am reminded of some of the work of Henry Moore.

The handling of the tenuous aspects of human existence in this uniquely Australian landscape is also a joy to behold. Through an intimate understanding of how to tension the space between objects within the frame Nolan’s seemingly simple but complex photographs of the landscape are previsualised by the artist in the mind’s eye before he even puts the camera to his face. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs to show you of these works but for me they were one of the highlights of the exhibition, rivalling any of the work of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers photographing in the American Dustbowl during the 1930s. Finally, some great Australian landscape photographs!!

As the curator Damian Smith notes of both strands, “Throughout the series emphasis shifts from detached observation to intimate contemplation – between the forces of the outer landscape to the darkness of the animals’ inner being.”

I would not say the landscapes are ‘detached observation’. Both forms require intimate contemplation.

 

Let us investigate the presence of these images further.

“Barthes mentions the apparently “universal” experiences of birth and death, experiences that, he points out, are in fact always mediated by historical and thus political circumstances. Echoing a famous remark by Bertolt Brecht, he contends that “the failure of photography seems to me to be flagrant in this connection: to reproduce death or birth tells us, literally, nothing.””1

“To reproduce death or birth tells us, literally, nothing.” Hence, you could argue, through an appeal to nostalgia for a mythology of the Australian bush we are held at the surface of an identity. Drought, desolation, despair, death. But these photographs go beyond the reproduction of death, go beyond mere nostalgia, by pushing the prick of consciousness, Barthes punctum, into a sense of spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority – an experience Barthes “sums up as the “having-been-there” that is the basis of every photograph’s sense of witness.”2

The new punctum becomes other than the detail – no longer of form but of intensity, of Time: conjuring past, present and future in a single image.3 We, the viewer, bring our own associations to the image, our knowledge of drought in this big land – the knowledge that this drought has happened, it did happen and it will happen again and again and again in the future, probably with more frequency than it does now. The photograph becomes an active, mental representation of the material world. It becomes the world’s ‘essence’.

The photographs stand for something else, some other state of being, much as this work can be seen as one small aspect of Nolan’s art that stands for the whole – a close examination of a small part of something that represents the whole, like a sail represents a yacht, a metonymic resonance. They tell us something through time, of life and death. As the great author W. G. Sebald eloquently observes in his quotation at the top of this posting these things outlast us – in our imagination.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Batchen, Geoffrey. “Palinode: An Introduction to Photography Degree Zero,” in Batchen, Geoffrey (ed.,). Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, p. 6
  2. Ibid., pp. 8-9
  3. Ibid., p. 13

.
Many thankx to Ingrid Oosterhuis (General Manager Melbourne) for her help and to Australian Galleries for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (calf carcass in tree)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (calf carcass in tree)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

 

In 1952 Sidney Nolan was commissioned by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail to travel through far northern Queensland to record his impressions of one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history. Throughout this journey Nolan took numerous black and white photographs using a medium format camera, resulting in a host of startling and memorable images. Focusing on both the macabre spectre of the many animal carcasses strewn across the landscape and on the singular dwellings announcing a tenuous human presence, Nolan created numerous iconic images.

Having returned to Australia after an extended period traveling in Europe, Nolan commented that the animal carcasses reminded him of the petrified bodies he had seen at Pompeii. Throughout the series emphasis shifts from detached observation to intimate contemplation – between the forces of the outer landscape to the darkness of the animals’ inner being. With their carefully composed compositions the photographs represent a dramatic shift from the artist’s earlier photographic experiments. In place of a prior spontaneity, drought-stricken animal carcases are framed in formally rigorous compositions, the moment seemingly trapped in time.

For the first time this exhibition includes the complete and unabridged series of Sidney Nolan’s Drought Photographs, including images previously unavailable for public exhibition.

Damian Smith
Archivist for the Nolan Estate 1996-99

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (camp bed)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (camp bed)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

 

Epic Drought in Australia

Australia has not a very long history, but it is long enough to indicate that she must expect a major drought once every decade. Even so the present drought which the north and west of the continent is enduring, is by far the worst in living memory.

Rivers which have not been dry for over a century are now beds of hot sand, and even the aborigines can find no parallel in their mythology for a drought of this magnitude.

To cattle raising areas, failure of the annual monsoonal rains spells near tragedy. Of a total of 11.4 million beef cattle 1.5million have already perished.

The position is complicated by the lack of a railway connecting the North-centre of Australia with the eastern seaboard. Had such a railway been in existence many thousands of cattle could have been shifted to agistment areas and saved. As it is, the cattle must survive journeys from 500 to 1500 miles on stock routes, and this is generally impossible owing to the weakened positions of the animals. Thus cattle men must face the prospect of watching their herds dwindle until at least the end of the year when there is the probability of early summer storms bringing relief.

In the meantime the landscape presents scenes of desolation which mark the memory of all who see it. Thousands of carcasses are strewn on the baked and cracked plains. There is a brooding air of almost Biblical intensity over millions of acres which bear no trace of surface waters. The dry astringent air extracts every drop of moisture from the grass, leaving it so brittle that it breaks under foot with the tinkling of thin glass.

Death takes on a curiously abstract patter under these arid conditions. Carcasses of animals are preserved in strange shapes which have often a kind of beauty, or even grim elegance.

Over the whole country there is a silence in which men and animals bring forth the qualities necessary for survival. Patience, endurance – and for many Australians, a bitter and salty attitude of irony.

Sidney Nolan, August 1952

Text from the Australian Galleries website [Online] Cited 18/03/2011 no longer available online

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (cow in tree)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (cow in tree)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (Brian the stockman mounting dead horse)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (Brian the stockman mounting dead horse)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

 

Australian Galleries is delighted to present this fascinating exhibition of selected photographs by Sidney Nolan curated by Damian Smith, Archivist for the Nolan Estate 1996-99.

Smith states in the accompanying exhibition catalogue:

“In 1952 Sidney Nolan was commissioned by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail to travel through far northern Queensland to record his impressions of one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history. Throughout this journey Nolan took numerous black and white photographs using a medium format camera, resulting in a host of startling and memorable images. Focusing on both the macabre spectre of the many animal carcasses strewn across the landscape and on the singular dwellings announcing a tenuous human presence, Nolan created numerous iconic images. This exhibition includes the complete and unabridged series of Sidney Nolan’s Drought Photographs, including images previously unavailable for public exhibition.”

In his 1952 essay Epic Drought in Australia Sidney Nolan remarked on the poignancy of the images, noting the following:

“Death takes on a curiously abstract patter under these arid conditions. Carcasses of animals are preserved in strange shapes which have often a kind of beauty, or even grim elegance.”

To coincide with the exhibition Drought Photographs, Australian Galleries will be showing a selection of Drought Drawings by Sidney Nolan that include works previously exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria, in it’s landmark survey of Nolan’s work Desert Drought in 2003.

 

Sidney Nolan Drought Photographs
Curated by Damian Smith

In 2010 Damian Smith established Words For Art, a consultancy specialising in art writing and curatorial projects.

Damian has always had a strong interest in Nolan’s work, he was appointed the inaugural archivist for the estate of Sidney Nolan in 1996. Since that time he has curated numerous Nolan exhibitions including a major exhibition, Unmasked: Sidney Nolan and Ned Kelly 1950-1990 for the Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2006.

Building up to the Heide exhibition, Damian was based at Sidney Nolan’s home ‘The Rodd’ at Herefordshire, a 16th Century manor on the border of England and Wales. During that research period he developed an interest in Nolan’s life-long engagement with photography. He discovered vintage prints of Nolan’s photographs of outback Australia and the devastating drought in far northern Queensland, which were included in the landmark survey Sidney Nolan: Desert and Drought, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2003. The exhibition included previously unseen photographic images from 1949 to 1952.

In the NGV exhibition, numerous small-scale contact prints showing Nolan’s ‘Drought animals’ were featured, as were larger black and white prints from the same series. Additional small-scale prints were sourced as well through Nolan’s step-daughter Jinx Nolan. Of note was Nolan’s now famous Untitled (Brian the stockman mounting a dead horse at Wave Hill Station), 1952, a startling image that first featured in the 1961 Thames & Hudson monograph Sidney Nolan, where it appeared titled Desert.

Having researched and written about these images, Damian recognised that Nolan had spent many hours studying the images, notating them and ultimately using them in the development of his now famous Drought paintings. Nolan offered the photographs to Life Magazine, New York in a bid to bring this extraordinary series to public attention. This bid was unsuccessful.

After all of the years since these photographs were taken, Damian made the decision to resurrect Nolan’s photographs working closely with Sidney Nolan’s widow Mary Nolan, nee Boyd. The result being this exhibition at Australian Galleries, Melbourne in 2011.

Keen to preserve the artist’s vision, the photographs have been produced to a scale consistent with the vintage prints and all are printed from the original negatives which were discovered at ‘The Rodd’.

Text from Australian Galleries Melbourne

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (cow carcass and cow skull)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (cow carcass and cow skull)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992) 'Untitled (cow and calf carcass covered in dirt I)' 1952

 

Sidney Nolan (Australian, 1917-1992)
Untitled (cow and calf carcass covered in dirt I)
1952
Archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

 

 

Australian Galleries
35 Derby Street [PO Box 1183]
Collingwood 3066

Opening hours:
Open 7 days 10 am – 6 pm
Phone: +61 3 9417 4303

Australian Galleries website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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