I recall rounding a corner in the Stadelijk and pulling up short, face to portrait with Stanley Spencer, one of only two occasions when I have been unable to suppress tears in a gallery, (the other was a Freudian slip). One of my heroes had caught me completely unawares, brilliant. Seeking a diversion on a brief visit to Albion I decided to make a long overdue visit to Stanley and Cookham.
Stanley would have struggled with his pram in Cookham today, it's all busy busy Beamers and Mercs. You can visit his pram in the Spencer Gallery which is well worth a visit, it has a terrific portrait of Daphne Charlton, a friend and briefly Spencer's mistress, it's a very sexy tour de force. I think the diminutive Stanley. constantly pitching himself at statuesque ladies could well have been an inspiration for the cartoonist Robert Crumb, another favourite. Spencer's talent and technical facility are formidable, his large compositions which look very mannered to us now are hymns to the pictorial geometry of Uccello and Massaccio and behind all this wonderful painting is a sublime drawing hand, and to top it all he was really whacky in a wholly English way, brilliant.
To Oxford next day, to the Ashmolean. But first tea with Alex Massouras. Alex is an engaging and urbane young artist producing intriguing, thoughtful and technically immaculate paintings. He also does a really 'good line' in etchings, detailed, delicate and with an 'other world' quality, work to savor, serves an excellent 'cuppa' too.
The Ashmolean, repository of wonder. The walking is slow, a reverential pace seems totally appropriate, I am here to revere. Deep in this building is a room which houses some of the finest twentieth century British art. Deep breaths will be required, if you have low blood pressure prepare to loosen your clothes and reach for the ammonia salts.
Robert Bevan, sometimes called the "real pioneer" of the modern English school. He explored Europe and North Africa, knew Gauguin and much about the contemporary scene in France but still ploughed a lonely artistic furrow, until in his middle age he was drawn into Sickert's circle. Sickert encouraged him to bring his passion for horses into his painting. He became a leading figure in the Camden Town and Fitroy Street Groups and then the London Group. His incisive line and subtle palette gave his work a uniqueness that heralded much that was to follow. For three years he lived, hunted and painted on Exmoor, up at Hawkridge, brilliant.
Then we slip the time line a little, and there's a knockout Piper, shake a few Hodgkin's with it's palette and vibrancy, and next is Tindle, he could run Freud around the block, on to Spencer, cacti to die for, and so to the star attraction, Sickert.
The premier British painter of the twentieth century, not going to debate it. These two Sickert's here in the Ashmolean are outstanding and important works of art. Walter said that every good draughtsman should be a storyteller. We are used to him telling us intimate, often disturbing stories but in the 'Brighton Pierrots' he lays out a much larger and disturbing story for us. It's 1915, war in Europe, Sickert's beloved Dieppe is out of bounds and at risk. So Sickert is here in Brighton taking in the Pierrot show, it all looks a little sad, a little tawdry, look at that dejected clown. Many of the seats are empty and there are going to be more empty seats down the line. The palette is incredible, we are accustomed to Mr. Mud, but has pink ever been more alarming and suffused with melancholy, how many seaside sunsets have been this doom laden, it's genius, it's the end of the end of the pier show, it's Olivier's 'Entertainer', brilliant.
Sickert was often daring in his use of perspective, often producing images that surprise with their invention. 'Le Journal' of 1906 is such an image, a reclining woman reading from a journal held aloft. At this time, 1906, Sickert made three paintings of the Gaiete Montparnasse, this painting in the Ashmolean is one of the three and it demonstrates an astonishing use of perspective. He produces an image of complex construction that confounds the viewer, it's almost too clever for it's own good, 1906 my eye, it's brilliant.
AGED AND AWKWARD