Pancakes and Pirate Carrots

It has been drizzling incessantly this week. Making a hasty return from school, I noticed with surprise that the daffodils are out already. The dingy weather and the brightness of the blooms epitomised early March, a month of contrasts. Inside, faces pressed to a window running with raindrops, four velvety scarlet amaryllis flowers have trumpeted out from the apex of their sturdy stem. A stunted hyacinth, remnant of last year, pours out scent from the centre of the table.

I have been reminded of the paintings of Eric Ravilious several times recently – perhaps because we live beneath the Westbury White Horse which he famously depicted. Is there anyone who has better captured the British weather? The soft relentlessness of the rain. The subtleties of grey within the clouds. The subdued greens of an ancient sculpted landscape. Romantic in a quiet way, no histrionics; innately British.

Ravilious stayed with the conoisseur and collector Sir Geoffrey Fry at Oare House in Wiltshire in the early 1930s, having been commissioned to produce three painted panels; while there he explored the Wiltshire downs, as well as the gardens and greenhouses at Oare. Later, in 1939 – just before receiving a letter from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee – Ravilious travelled through Wiltshire and Dorset drawing chalk figures for Puffin Picturebooks: ‘the Weymouth George III, the Cerne Giant, the horse at Westbury and the other white horse at Uffington’ he wrote to a friend. But then the war took over.

This quiet rain is in many ways a relief after the recent storm. Storms are anxious-making. Every whistle of a gust squeezing through a crevice, every tapping of a branch against the window or rattle of a loose sash pane distracts my attention like a fitful baby. Whatever I am doing I must get up again and go to the window, watch intently for straining branches or loosened tiles. I cannot bring myself to call storms by their invented names; it demeans them.  Maybe this is the purpose of it, to reduce mass panic by humanising the chaotic force. But I would rather acknowledge the overwhelming power of nature, cancel our plans again and wait. The storm in the skies eerily echoed the distant news filtering through on the unreliable internet; and now the rain continues to fall.

Despite being confined inside (or perhaps because of all this weather-induced isolation), I have struggled to keep up with events. Pancake day almost passed us by (and the hasty production of drop scones for tea did not impress anyone); Ash Wednesday, late though it is this year, seemed to have come early; and at 8.30am on World Book Day I remembered that we were supposed to be creating ‘a character from your favourite book’ out of a vegetable. I swiftly draw an eye patch on a carrot; the origami tricorn was a dismal failure, but covered the carrot’s mouldy head. It was something, and off we went to join the throng of literary vegetables in the damp mist of Thursday.

Friday 11th February, Wiltshire

Finally we made it. On the last day of the week Archibald managed to join his line of classmates on the frosty playground just before the bell rang.  Fifth time lucky.  I left him, tartan scarf dragging and knitted tea-cosy hat with its pompom shedding scraps of bright red wool in an incongruously festive trail around a sullen little face.

The whippet, however, once roused from her post-breakfast nap, was full of the joys of spring. She chose a patch of bergenias on the edge the lane for her first stop. The sky was bright, cold and clear, and the verges seemed to be full of interesting smells.  The birds seem invigorated too – there has been noticeably more choral work in the mornings and quite a busy promenade along the beams of the de-glassed glasshouse and the bare trunks of the vine.  The newly pruned fruit trees below the village look neat as a pin and ready to burst forth.

A curious robin came to watch me as I pruned the hydrangea down to the just-burgeoning lower buds, last summer’s petals falling like confetti. Already beneath my feet fat green shoots were pushing up through the mulch; I’ve forgotten whether they are tulips or hyacinths, but this mystery only fuels the anticipation.  Something has tried to dig up the bulbs from a large pot by the door – last year’s tulips, which I found sprouting in a box last autumn.  Squirrels or children…? I’ve been making regular tours of the hellebores I planted out last year, waiting for a show, but it has so far been muted – one or two slightly nibbled flowers.  Perhaps they need more time to settle in.  Or was I supposed to remove all last year’s leaves? This seemed a bit extreme when there is so little greenery left in the garden.  

Inspired by all the pictures of frosted topiary and other exhortations to create structure in one’s garden I attempted to ‘shape’ a small holm oak that had seeded itself some years ago, aiming for a lollipop effect.  I am fairly pleased with the result although only time will tell whether it thrives after its haircut.  Likewise my efforts at training the espalier apples and pears along the wall behind the vegetable patch; since they were first planted and tied in professionally none of the subsequent twigs seems to want to grow in the direction I desire. At least I have gained – I hope – a head start on the aphids that decimated them last summer by applying a winter wash.

And then there are the snowdrops.  Every garden magazine and Sunday supplement article is full of them, because to be fair there are only limited plants to rave about in February.  We have a small crowd here – just the bog-standard Galanthus nivalis as far as I know – huddled under a hazel tree just to the left of the driveway.  I made a half-hearted attempt to split a few clumps last year, hoping to encourage them to spread outwards under the canopy of the hazel; being the first time I had attempted this I thought it would be foolish to spend too much time on it if my efforts were simply to kill off the little chaps rather than multiply them. So I am delighted that they appear to have survived – there are numerous lonely singletons nodding their pretty white heads.  I can understand why people become devoted galanthophiles.  Snowdrops are so delicate, elegant and pure in their restrained palette of green and white – and their appearance amongst the frost and the brown skeletons of winter cannot fail to bring joy.  However, I am determined to resist this new potential obsession, as the children would surely stamp on the most special of cultivars and I don’t need any more garden-related distress (the whippet’s violent pursuit of squirrels has been quite emotionally draining).  But if I come across a Galanthus ‘Grumpy’ I might be tempted – I think Archibald would appreciate it.

William Foyle: Landscapes

Scotland I

Scotland II

‘Landscapes’ – eleven large scale canvases saturated with colour and memory – is the concise and quietly imposing result of around four years of travel and painting. Verging on the abstract, these are landscapes that capture the essence of a place, its atmosphere and the emotions it provokes.

Rape field Slovakia

Rapeseed Field Slovakia 

There is a significance, then, in the titles: the abstract becomes landscape for the uninformed viewer by this means, and this adds immeasurably to the experience of looking.  Details can be glimpsed and the tonal shifts and subtleties gain meaning.  Yet these are as much dreamscapes as real landscapes; the blurring of forms – as if seen through a smeared window, a heat haze or half-closed eyelids – enables the viewer to see what they wish to see, to conjure their own landscape from an emotional subconscious.

India I

India I

The starting point for many of these images was a photo snapped through the window of a train, speeding through Eastern Europe or India.  The haziness of detail thus also hints at the notion of speed, a momentary impression on the retina (questioning the very way we see things and piece together a landscape in our minds) – the skill of the artist lies in rendering such intangible notions in a solid, static, timeless medium.

Edges play an important role: the edge of the train window or the aperture of the camera frame the landscape, echoing the edges of our vision.  Correspondingly, in many of the paintings the pigment deepens towards the edge of the canvas – to a deep Prussian blue in Scotland II.  In this image, and in others such as Heatwave, there is an inner ‘frame’ too that gives an increased sense of depth and recession.



Heatwave has the pulsating depth of pigment of Rothko or Kapoor; yet as one stares there is the sense of looking at a very bright light from behind the eyelids, the intensity of the blackness shifting, a throb of luminosity at the centre.  In Scotland II a pure clear light is just breaking though chinks in the heavy cloud, or through a veil of rain.  Scotland III, however, seems to stand apart; its overt, slashing brushstrokes and drips seem harsh in comparison to the softer marks of other images that almost melt into the canvas, melding colour and light.

Scotland III

Scotland III

The collection of paintings that form ‘Landscapes’ are less dark in subject matter than Foyle’s previous exhibition, which touched on the holocaust and the fragility of the human form.  However, themes of history, identity, memory – and most importantly humanity – all remain at the core of these new paintings.  Landscapes, even when reduced to their essentials, are imbued with the people who make them and pass through them, through whose eyes they are seen and interpreted, and with their struggles and pain, hope and redemption.

A train, passing over innumerable invisible borders, calls to mind the vast movements of peoples over history, creating a palimpsest of ethnicities and cultures that refuse to be confined by imposed boundaries.  This is brought to a sort of clarification in images which use layer upon layer of paint to produce a deeply harmonious final composition.



William Foyle: Landscapes is at Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street, London until 23rd June 2019

Van Gogh on Screen

File (13887)

The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh are some of the most instantly recognisable images anywhere in the world. But why is this so and where did they come from? Of all artists, the life of Van Gogh seems supremely suited for the big screen, with its mixture of youthful hope, artistic passion and personal tragedy. This beautifully structured documentary directed by David Bickerstaff reveals the man behind the paintings as human rather than the mythic figure of his final traumatic years.

EOS Vincent van Gogh © Seventh Art Productions & Annelies van der Vegt-42

Scene one is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam where the viewer is taken behind the scenes of a major rehang, meeting the curators, researchers and others who explain how and why they choose to present Van Gogh to today’s visitors – from an intense room of twelve self-portraits, to another which attempts to put the artist in context, beside his friends and contemporaries as well as within a broader art history which influenced and inspired him.

EOS Vincent van Gogh © Seventh Art Productions & Annelies van der Vegt-20

Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo, written throughout his life and kept by Theo’s family until the museum was opened in 1973, are an invaluable resource. These document not just the events that shaped the artist but his every emotional reaction; narration and images of these (often illustrated) letters, together with panoramic views of the landscapes that Van Gogh passed through and lived in, creates a deep sense of understanding of a man so famously misunderstood during his lifetime. And they remind one that there were many years before the great ‘masterpieces’ were painted, during which Van Gogh trained to be an art dealer, a school teacher, a preacher, and eventually dedicated himself to art – but initially intending to work as an illustrator for the press.

EOS Vincent van Gogh © Seventh Art Productions & Teio Meedendorp -3

The sensitive critical analysis of the curatorial team, the carefully edited excerpts from Vincent’s correspondence and the visual feast of Van Gogh’s paintings in close-up combine to create a spell-binding 90 minutes. Plus, with the Tate Britain exhibition, Van Gogh and Britain, just announced for next spring, this is the perfect re-introduction to an artist who never ceases to astound.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Irises, 1890 Saint Rémy-de-Provence © Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing is an Exhibition On Screen film, directed by David Bickerstaff and produced by Phil Grabsky – in all major cinemas as well as local independent cinemas from 20th March 2018. With thanks to Seventh Art Productions for the images and stills.

This article was first published on Candid Magazine’s website.

Claude Muncaster: Landscapes and Seascapes

Claude Muncaster was a watercolourist known for his landscapes and maritime scenes.  He was born Grahame Hall, the son of the Royal Academician Oliver Hall who taught his son to paint from an early age; Grahame first exhibited his work aged 15 and a few years later was showing at the RA. However, he adopted the name Claude Muncaster in 1922 to dissociate his career from that of his father.Muncaster’s primary choice of subject matter came from a genuine love of the sea.  He made several long-distance sea voyages, including one around the Horn as a deckhand in the windjammer Olivebank in 1931, which he described in ‘Rolling Round the Horn’, published in 1933. Armed with a sketchbook, his aim was to be able to ‘paint ships and the sea with greater authority’.  This he certainly achieved, perfectly capturing the limpid first light of morning over the Port of Aden, the choppy rain-grey waters of the Bay of Biscay and a streak of sunlight through gathering storm clouds at dusk in Exeter.  He became an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1931 and was a founder member, and later President, of the Royal Society of Marine Artists.

During the Second World War, Muncaster served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) from 1940-44, training as a navigator before going on to advise on the camouflage of ships, and also worked as an official war artist.  In ‘Still Morning at Aden’ (below, 1944) he depicts Allied warships in this safe anchorage in the Middle East; the back is stamped with Admiralty approval.

In 1946-7 he was commissioned by the Queen to produce watercolours of the royal residences at Windsor, Sandringham and Balmoral; the Duke of Edinburgh, in a foreword to a biography of Muncaster, recalls looking at these and considering the artist’s ‘unerring instinct for a subject’, his sense of atmosphere.  Other commissions included large panoramas of the Thames and of Bradford. His career also included work as an etcher, illustrator, writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and his paintings can be found in the Royal Academy, Tate, National Maritime Museum Cornwall, National Railway Museum and Royal Air Force Museum.

If you are interested in purchasing a watercolour by Claude Muncaster please visit

Or please visit the Manning Fine Art stand at Olympia Winter Art & Antiques Fair from 31st October – 5th November

Clifford Ellis: Graphic Artist, Camofleur, Abstractionist & Teacher

Clifford Ellis studied illustration at the Regent Street Polytechnic, an institution that specialised in ’practical trade classes’, from 1924-27. He went on to design book covers (notably for Collins’ ‘New Naturalist’ series) and posters for London Transport, the General Post Office, Shell-Mex, the Empire Marketing Board and J. Lyons & Co., along with his wife, Rosemary Ellis, whom he married in 1931 while he was teaching at the Polytechnic.

The couple’s poster designs combine striking colour with bold typography and depict stylised scenes of the countryside, birds and animals.  In the 1930s London Transport commissioned over forty posters a year from well-known artists such as Laura Knight, CRW Nevinson, Edward Wadsworth, Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Edward McKnight Kauffer – a bold policy that did much to popularise avant-garde artistic styles that stemmed from Cubism, Futurism and Abstraction.  Such an influence is clear in the Ellises poster ‘It’s better to shop early’ (above, 1935) in which arms, hands and parcels are disjointed and angular with the text on a slant, like the collaged newsprint insertions of synthetic Cubism.

This strong foundation in graphic art clearly influenced his approach to composition for the rest of his career.  Even his later abstract work, though tonally subtle, is based on a simple but powerful linear design.  ‘The Coming of the Ice Age’, a series of watercolour and crayon studies (one large finished canvas, ‘Advance of an Ice Age’, exists in the collection of Derbyshire and Derby School Library Services) reduces natural forms to simplified shapes and colour planes, though retaining the texture of brushstrokes and crayon. The Ellises visited the Devon coastal town of Teignmouth to carry out a commission for Lyons for a lithograph in 1947, and the rocky bay with its whitewashed buildings and sailboats (below) caught Clifford’s imagination.  He painted numerous preparatory watercolour views for the lithograph, while both the grey-blue colour palette as well as the pleasing repetitive geometry of sails reflected on water might be discerned in later abstract works.

During the Second World War Ellis served as a camouflage artist and official war artist with the Grenadier Guards.  Roland Penrose was another British artist who worked in this area and wrote ‘The Home Guard Manual of Camouflage’ which effectively adapted modern painting techniques for use in warfare.  The tonal colour range of many of Ellis’s post-war paintings and the abstract network of shapes – for instance the pale blue patchwork ‘glacier’ in the ‘Coming of the Ice Age III’ (below) – seem to hark back to the art of the modernist camoufleur.

Ellis played another important role during the war, painting and drawing scenes of Bath for the Recording Britain project.  This project was conceived by Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery, alongside the official War Artists scheme; its aim was to document Britain’s landscape and architectural heritage in the face of the imminent threat of invasion and bomb damage. It also had a propaganda motive; the resulting works were exhibited during the war and aimed to boost the nation’s morale (they are now in the collection of the V&A). The paintings were predominantly in watercolour, a traditional British medium that Clark was keen to promote and felt would complement the subject matter.  Two of Ellis’ pupils, discussing his watercolour sketch of VE Day in Bath, recall him as quietly observant but also someone who enjoyed life; the painting is spontaneous and full of the movement of dancing figures and waving flags. 

In particular, Ellis was commissioned to depict examples of Bath’s decorative architectural ironwork before it was removed to help the war effort and he also recorded the effects of bombing raids on the city.

Meanwhile Ellis had joined the staff of the Bath School of Art (or Bath Technical College). Its temporary residence was destroyed by bombs in 1942 and Walter Sickert’s house at Bathampton offered as a refuge (Sickert, who had taught at the School, died in January 1942). After the war the School began its transformation into the Bath Academy of Art based at Corsham Court, of which Ellis was the Head from 1937-72, training art teachers and developing a pioneering new syllabus.

If you are interested in purchasing works by Clifford & Rosemary Ellis, please visit

Or come and visit Manning Fine Art’s stand at Olympia Art & Antiques Fair from 31st October – 5th November

Printmaking explored: The American Dream


The British Museum is exhibiting recent additions to its print collection that celebrate contemporary innovations in the medium.  ‘The American Dream: Pop to the Present’ presents a rich display of different US artists’ work from the last half century, beginning with the expected Warhols and Rauschenbergs before turning to the experimentations of Conceptualists and Minimalists – and also engaging with the political and social use of printmaking.

The range of techniques is fascinating and impressive.  Alongside the instantly recognisable ‘Flags I’ (above, 1973) by Jasper Johns – though here in screenprint form, using thirty-one different screens to create a pseudo-painterly effect – Jim Dine’s series of etched Paintbrushes (above, 1973) are more subtle, but full of charm with their dancing bristles against an ink spattered background that epitomises the debris of the creative process, the artist’s studio.

Ed Ruscha’s slick and witty screenprints – such as the iconic ‘Standard Station’ (above, 1966) – and his lithographs ‘Made in California’ and ‘Ooo’ which experiment with dripping pigment onto the stone plate to create colour saturated words in space, comment on the advertising and consumerism of sixties California.

The woodcut or linocut may seem a more primitive printing method in comparison but the results are no less distinctively modern.  Wayne Thiebaud’s ‘Gumball Machine’ (above, 1970) celebrates another ubiquitous Amercian consumerist icon, while further on in the exhibition Vija Celmins’ ‘Ocean’ (below) – a woodcut which took the artist a year to create – is so accomplished that one has to peer closely to convince oneself that it is not a photograph.

Beyond the minimalism of Donald Judd et al, we return to figuration and an interesting series of portraits by Chuck Close who experiments with paper pulp in his portrait of Keith Hollingworth (1981); the features are formed from a grid of small round pieces of dyed paper pulp in varying shades of grey.  A similar technique is used in ‘Phil Spitbite’ (below, 1995) – a portrait of composer Philip Glass – with the squares of the etched grid each filled by spitbite aquatint.  Another portrait of Keith, ‘Keith/mezzotint’ (1972), reinvents the antiquated method of mezzotint, rarely used since the 19th century, which involves rubbing back or burnishing the light areas from a textured (and therefore ink-holding) metal plate. Close was so pleased with the cumulative effects that this technique revealed that he allowed the grid guide to remain and this fed into his later work.

The accidental, revealing the hand of the artist or the flaws in the materials, was embraced by others too; indeed, ‘Accident’ (below, 1963) is the title given to one of Rauschenberg’s famous lithographs displayed here.  Producing some of the largest ever single plate lithographs – notably his magnificent ‘Booster’ (1967) and ‘Sky Garden’ (1969) – his ambition at one point got the better of him and the lithographic stone broke in the printing process; Rauschenberg not only made this a feature but even added some stone chips at the bottom to exaggerate the effect.

What impresses elsewhere – in the massed ranks of Marilyns or electric chairs by Warhol as well as in the careful, pale geometricism of Josef Albers (below) – is the exceptional choice of colour juxtaposition.  For all their brazen simplicity, the effect is striking, beautiful and perfect.

The second part of the exhibition addresses the political, both serious and satirical, from Jim Dine’s photo-etching with stencil colour ‘Drag – Johnson and Mao’ (below, 1967) to Warhol’s green-faced portrait of Richard Nixon above the scrawled incentive to ‘Vote McGovern’ (1972) and the feminist and race-related statements of Ida Applebroog, Kara Walker and Louise Bourgeois, among others, all making a powerful, unmistakable statement in the most simple pictorial terms.

The final gallery attempts to bring us up to date – most successfully perhaps by reintroducing Ed Ruscha, whose 1960s screenprints summed up the optimism of Pop Art and the American Dream.  Here, ‘Standard Station’ reappears, this time drained of colour, a simple embossed white image, a ghostly shadow of the high hopes of yesteryear.  Accompanying this are a couple of rusty signs riddled with bullet holes (‘Dead End 2’, 2014) – in fact they are mixographia prints on handmade paper, another extraordinarily effective technique – that seem to spell out the disillusionment in Trump-era America.

For prints currently for sale – including woodblock prints, etchings, aquatints and pochoir prints – please visit: 


Oscar Andreae in Italy 1862


In 1862 a young man named Oscar Andreae travelled to Italy, stopping en route in Nimes, Tarascon, Toulon, Cagnes and Nice, where in April 1862 he sketched a bird’s eye view of the Port of Nice (right), the rocks and the old chateau seen from Mont Alban.  The Fort of Mont Alban was constructed in the 16th century to stave off a combined Franco-Ottoman army; for Nice was then ruled by the Dukes of Savoy and – bar a few decades under Napoleonic rule from 1792 to 1814 – it was in effect ‘Italian’ (part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia) until 1860, only two years before Andreae visited the city.  The Treaty of Turin was signed in 1860 by the Sardinian king and Napoleon III, ceding the city to France in return for help in the wars of Italian Unification against Austria.

IMG_5353Looking the other way from this fortification one sees the Gulf of Villefranche, the Bay of St Jean and the Corniche, the route that snakes its way along this spectacular rocky coastline (left).  In view of the recent secession, both French and Italian names are used interchangeably by Andreae, with this sketch (below) entitled ‘Villafranca 18 April 1862’ and the inscription opposite noting ‘Port de Villefranche avec la fregatte russe’.  One of the deepest natural harbours on the Mediterranean, Villefranche became an important Russian naval base in the late 19th century.


IMG_5355The Corniche leads on to Monaco, where Andreae sketches the new principality’s position on a rocky promontory (right and below). Monaco had been a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia for much of the 19th century; the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861 – a year before Andreae’s tour – confirmed Monaco’s sovereignty.  The glamour and wealth we associate with Monaco today is nowhere to be seen in this image of a provincial coastal town – however, the famous Monte Carlo Casino was to open the following year, in 1863.

Menton (below), being in the County of Nice, was also annexed by France in the Treaty of Turin. At this time it was quickly becoming a popular destination for convalescents, following the 1861 publication of ‘Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean’ by Dr. James Henry Bennet, whose tuberculosis was miraculously cured by spending those seasons in Menton.


And then in March 1862 Andreae reaches the newly unified Italy. Victor Emmanuel had been proclaimed King on 17th March 1861 and Rome declared the capital ten days later.  However, Rome was still not officially part of Italy, remaining under the control of the Pope (with the protection of Napoleon III).  Just over a year after Andreae’s visit, the anti-Catholic Garibaldi would reappear from his brief obscurity on the island of IMG_5358Caprera to organise an ultimately unsuccessful march on Rome. The first stop was Porto Maurizio (now part of the city of Imperia, created by Mussolini) where Andreae sketches the Ponte d’Oneglia (left), a suspension bridge across the Impero.

IMG_5359Along the coast in Genoa he sketches the lighthouse or lanterna (right) – a symbol of the city’s maritime connections and for many centuries the tallest lighthouse in the world – and the gardens of Andrea Doria (below left), a Genoese condottieri and admiral of the 15th-16th centuries.

Then he heads to the lakes, stopping beneath a tree near Bellagio to sketch a view of Lake Como (below centre).  In the early 19th century Bellagio had become popular with the Milanese nobility after Count Melzi d’Eril, Duke of Lodi and chancellor of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy, built a luxurious summer villa there.

IMG_5360The beauty of the landscape also appealed to artists, writers and composers (Stendhal, Liszt and Flaubert, to name but a few) in this era of Romanticism and ideas of the Sublime. Next there is a view of Camerlata (now part of Como – below centre) with a few villas encircled by hills, a stone tower standing like a beacon above them. In 1859 Garibaldi and his Hunters of the Alps defeated the Austrians just outside Como, and Andreae notes in his sketchbook ‘c’est par cette valleé que Garibaldi est entré 1859 à Camerlata d’où il a chassé les autrichiens.’



A view of Arona on Lake Maggiore shows the majestic castle, la Rocca di Angera, atop a rocky promontory with the town strung out along the shore beyond (left).  IMG_5364The castle is owned by the Borromeo family, originally merchants who set up a bank in Milan.  In 1446 Vitaliano Borromeo became Count of Arona, while in the 16th century his descendant, Carlo Borromeo, became a cardinal, then Archbishop of Milan and was eventually canonised.  The Borromean Islands – the Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori & Isola Madre, which Andreae sketches from a boat (below) – have been in the family since the 16th century, the palace and famous terraced gardens (complete with white peacocks) of the Isola Bella built in the 17th century.  Floating on the mirror-like surface of the lake, they appear as a beautiful dream, as they still do today.




To see more drawings by Oscar Andreae please visit

Edward Burra – ‘Figures in a Bar’ (1931)

Burra - Figures in a Bar 1931

Edward Burra’s lithograph, ‘Figures in a Bar’ (right), was produced in 1931.  A few years earlier, in April 1929, Burra’s first solo exhibition had been held at the Leicester Galleries and in 1930 he had shown work with the London Group and exhibited a series of woodblock prints at the Redfern Gallery.  He was beginning to establish himself as an artist, yet still experimenting with both media and subject.

A key influence in Burra’s early career was Paul Nash whom he had met in 1925.  Nash introduced Burra to printmaking – notably wood engraving – and to the ideas of Surrealism.  Though never a fully signed up member of the British Surrealists, there is a strong surrealist vein running through Burra’s work; but it is born from a fascination with the real, exaggerated and caricatured, rather than any deep interest in the subconscious.


In ‘Photography and Modern Art’ (in The Listener, 1932) Nash also describes the influence that photography had on Burra’s work: “I would suggest that Burra’s extraordinary fantasies, perhaps the most original in imagination of any contemporary English artist, owe something to his keen appreciation of the aesthetic of modern photography.”  This appreciation was hardly surprising given that one of Burra’s closest art school friends, Barbara Ker-Seymer, having learnt the art from society photographer Olivia Wyndham, had just established her own studio in 1931.  She took striking portraits of figures such as Nancy Cunard and Julia Strachey – and  a snapshot of Burra in Toulon, 1931, above left – as well as assignments for Harper’s Bazaar.

dockside-cafe-marseilles-by-edward-burraOther reviews of Burra’s 1929 show judged his work as part of a long satirical tradition exemplified by Hogarth and Cruikshank, the Vogue critic remarking that “this young artist uses the artistic idiom of modern Paris to record Hogarthian observation and satire” (Vogue, April 17, 1929).  ‘Figures in a Bar’ is a classic example of Burra’s exaggerated social types, in a style permeated with bawdy humour and witty detail.  Yet it is so definitively placed in the contemporary world of the late twenties and early thirties that any comparison to Hogarth is based on generic qualities only.  Burra’s satire is indisputably modernist in its (sexual) ambiguities, unexplained symbolism and doubtful narrative, and in its rejection of any moral judgement (‘Dockside Cafe Marseilles, 1929, above right).

Another art school friend, Billy Chappell, a ballet dancer, designer and director who would go on to work with Frederick Ashton and Ninette de Valois, looks back to these early years in introducing his collection of Burra’s letters:

“Seen in retrospect, the potent era so inaptly dubbed the ‘Roaring’ twenties (screaming would possibly have been more suitable) leapt into being – as Minerva from the brow of Jupiter – fully armed and kitted out with knee-length skirt, cropped head, futurist colours and spike heels.  She appeared clutching a foot-long cigarette holder of enamel and jade in one hand as with the other she tucked a small pack of cocaine down her plunging décolletage.  Her sudden and subversive appearance was heralded by a blaze of black jazz, her whole person aglow with an aura of spectacularly appalling behaviour.”

harriet-hoctor-picturesIn 1931 the photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer, a lifelong correspondent of Burra’s, wrote to him – and her brilliantly gossipy letter illuminates their buzzy social circle and shared interests in films and jazz:

How about coming up to London & spending a week with your old pals at no 19?  Sophie is in London, & Marty is the photographer now, & takes still lives all day, so I can’t go near the camera.  I took some lovely congo portraits of Mrs C Lambert, who is furious, Constant of course is delighted.

Harriet Hoctor [ballerina and actor, above left] is glorious rehearsing the girls in black mirror velvet pyjamas and her hair bundled into a large & soiled pink hair ribbon … she is always tottering about the stage in this position [sketch of figure bent over backwards en pointe], whatever is being rehearsed in the front of the stage, this strange vision is to be seen staggering about in the background quite by itself, its really quite frightening, with waving arms, the girls are frightful, & the chorus of male fairies is led by George Goodenough … Have you heard Adelaide Hall singing “Minnie the Moocher” on Brunswick?  You will adore it, its absolutely marvellous.  

1dsf68aza9ula8asPeter Spencer is back from making a film with Rex Ingram [director of the silent screen, right with Alice Terry] & full of such revelations. (1) Alice Terry is as fat as a pig & can hardly waddle, but is lovely. (2) Ivan Petrovitch is so fat that they have to put chests of drawers etc in front of him to hide as much as poss for close ups.  (3) Ramon Novarro was so spotty when he was discovered for Prisoner of Zenda, that they had to take all the long shots first whilst he was receiving treatments from the skin specialist, & he was cured by the time they were ready for the close ups!  (4) Rudolf Valentino was completely blind in one eye, also had a wall eyelid, which is why he always drooped his lids, & eventually brought his entire success!!

cunard_seymerI have a lovely pamphlet from Nancy Cunard called “Black Man & White Ladyship” privately printed in Toulon, such a scandal has never been read [Nancy Cunard photographed by Barbara Ker-Seymer, left].

So this was Burra’s world when he produced ‘Figures in a Bar’ for the Curwen Press. The Curwen Press was established in 1863 and it was Harold Curwen and Oliver Simon who in the 1920s developed links with the Royal College of Art and employed many now famous artists and designers such as Claud Lovat Fraser, Barnett Freedman, Edward Bawden, Albert Rutherston, Edward Ardizzone, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Edward McKnight Kauffer.  From the 1930s the Press promoted the use of lithography to produce original work on a wider scale. Contemporary Lithographs, established in 1936 by the Press with the help of John Piper, was a pioneering scheme that made the Curwen Press a centre for modern art.  It is from the Curwen Archives (now located at Chilford Hall in Cambridgeshire) that this lithograph originates.

See Edward Burra, ‘Figures in a Bar’ on

The Summer Exhibition 2016


Usually the sheer quantity and diversity of work in the Summer Exhibition is something of a poisoned chalice for curator-RAs who want to impose any order or theme.  This year, however, Richard Wilson seems to have been fairly successful.  The theme quickly became obvious: Artistic Duos (see Eva & Adele’s ‘Transformer-Performer Double-Act VIII’, above).  Even as we climbed the stairs to the vestibule, 3810Jane and Louise Wilson’s ‘Atomgrad’ photographs (left) filled the panels to either side with scenes of derelict interiors, fallout from the Chernobyl disaster (this theme of urban wasteland and empty interiors was another that reappeared later on).  By the time we entered the central hall – the first gallery, in an interesting break from tradition – we were left in no doubt: from the petrified petrol pump, a forlorn centrepiece by Allora & Calzadilla, to the twinkling lights of (literally) ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble & Sue Webster, almost all the disparate works were double acts.


And this playful approach continued in Room II where Gilbert & George’s ‘Beard Aware’ (above), a entire-wall-sized multi-panel photographic work that looks very much like most Gilbert & George works loomed over a sorry pile of charred bones on a low white plinth.  Self-portrait-BGThe only thing that bothered me about Zatorski + Zatorski’s work (right) – which I really rather enjoyed as a typically unsubtle post-modern momento mori – was that it’s title, ‘Self Portrait as Charcoal on Paper’, suggested that the bones belonged to the artists, which could not be true as they must still be alive to have arranged said bones so beautifully.  Perhaps in this case the title was not meant to be taken so literally.


The Small Weston Room, usually given over the the small and charming public entries, was this year the showcase for one of the twentieth century’s original Artistic Duos, Bernd & Hilla Becher.  They were represented by five of their classic series of photographs documenting water towers, gas cylinders, cooling towers and stone works in Germany’s industrial Ruhr and beyond.  The apparently abandoned structures stand as monuments to a declining industrial powerhouse, similar to the ‘Atomgrad’ pictures in their haunting and melancholy stillness.

David-Nash---Big-Black-xlarge_trans++Cca9BU0TuyHkZJzHTSJqzg57EFzlVrO-V_kNyX87nOkJock Mcfadyen’s Room IV was something to do with nature.  In fact what struck me was the repetition of charred remains (of nature).  David Mach’s ‘Dark Matter’ and David Nash’s ‘Big Black’ (right) dominated the room, the one charred wood punctuated with screws (in the voluptuously sculptural form of a Henry Moore reclining nude crossed by a morbid Yayoi Kusama), the other a monolithic charred redwood fragment, still imposing even post-cremation.   These were in curiously apt juxtaposition with Colin Watson’s lovely little oils of Great Tits, recently expired.

As ever, I enjoyed the print rooms; though more subtle than many other works the range of technical experimentation is fabulous.  I was less impressed that the ‘featured’ exhibit here was a potato print.  Yes, it harks back to a primitive childish urge to creativity, but the Royal Academy is supposed to represent the highest achievements in artistic endeavour, not primary school play-time.

Pink Flats (large)

mediumFurther on, Jock McFadyen’s ‘Pink Flats’ (above) and Paul Crook’s ‘Yellow Flats’ were a colourful counterpoint to Aono Fumiaki’s ‘Mending, Restoration-‘ and ‘Mending, Substitution, Consolidation, Coupling-‘, a series of fragmented objects rescued from the East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2012 and combined with other materials such as plywood, books and acrylic to form a new, complete sculptural object (left).  Both spoke in different ways of destruction and reconstruction in an urban context, and were accompanied by other comments on similar theme: Adam Fowler’s editions_tim_shaw_27‘Demolition Sequence’, Idris Khan’s multi-layered prints of London landmarks which evoke the fast-changing nature of the city, or Christopher Hughes’ bird’s eye carbon drawings of Homs, Syria and Nagasaki 1945, both cities rapidly imploding.

The Lecture Room made a superb Sculpture Gallery, the walls lined with shelves to show the smaller works like a bizarre curiosity shop.  It was a relief for the eyes to rest on Anish Kapoor’s smooth pale alabaster sculpture amidst all the confusion.  Also Tim Shaw’s sprightly little bronze Dancers on Balls (no.VI above).

Unfortunately, out in the courtyard Ron Arad’s ‘Spyre’ (below), which had promised ‘unpredictable acrobatic postures’, did not seem to have shifted an inch.  Perhaps we had missed the show.