Tuesday 15 March 2011

Life, Legend, Landscape

A visit today to an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, entitled Life, Legend, Landscape: Victorian Drawings and Watercolours (closes 15 May 2011). The gallery was kind enough to provide me a ticket, so I went to explore, and ruthlessly exploit their generosity. I am not an expert art critic (or even an art critic) but I have to be honest and say that I found the exhibition itself too small - worth noting that many of the pictures are studies, not finished work - probably of technical interest to art historians &c. but not likely to appeal to the general public. There are, however, a couple of gems that might interest the average fan of Victorian art like myself: not least the sketch of a lion by Landseer, done in preparation for those in Trafalgar Square; likewise, a piece called 'Chaffinch Nest and May Blossom' by William Henry Hunt, which is beautiful for its detail.
    Is  it, therefore, worth a visit? Well, yes, for two reasons.
    Firstly,  there's a great room next door entitled Character & Caricatures : Late Victorian Illustration, which has a lovely series of watercolour illustrations for a telling of the fairytale of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker' and a couple of hand-coloured woodcuts by William Nicholson (after the style of Toulouse-Lautrec). The Nicholson woodcut of Queen Victoria (drawn for the New Review of 1897) is a great piece.
    Secondly, the Courtauld itself is worth a visit: the ornate interior of the historic Somerset house; the Impressionist collection has some nice works (including Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere); and there's other stuff too, including a Bacon on loan, Untitled: Crouching Figures. 
    In short, if you've never been to the Courtauld before (guilty!) this exhibition is not life-changing, but might just provide you with a great excuse to visit.

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