Thursday, 24 November 2016

Art Shows in London, Paris and Beyond

The Menin Road

Tate Britain
To March 5 2017

Paul Nash was an English Surrealist and war artist in two world wars. This show at Tate Britain gathers up some of his lesser-known inter-war surrealist works, and those of his contemporaries. Nash was a variable artist. He was not a naturally gifted draughtsman, but he worked at it. He planned large compositions carefully, assembling them from sketches and photographs. His brushwork is sometimes dry and loose, sometimes heavy and stiff. He juxtaposed colours: pale blue, apricot, Indian red, airforce blue, grey, terra cotta. Shadows are not a contrast but a darker version.

Before World War I he was drawing landscapes and gardens in an avant-garde style, somewhat influenced by Samuel Palmer, but peopling them with drippy young girls left over from the Pre-Raphaelites. These maidens disappear with the outbreak of war. He reached the front in 1917, and what he saw there gave to rise to some of his greatest work – canvases showing the trenches and the devastated landscape pitted with shell-holes. His figures, toiling across mud or lying prone, are schematic patches of khaki.

There are Futurist or Vorticist motifs – diagonals and lightning flashes – but they are snaking ditches, star shells or searchlights. In the background are shattered trees, in the foreground the abstract shapes of warfare: chicken wire, barbed wire strung on queues de cochon, a food tin and a helmet submerged in a puddle, curves of pink corrugated iron, concrete blocks. (The Menin Road)

After the war he retreated to the coast, where he painted sea defences, taming the beach with concrete embankments and black groynes. Curves become straight lines and zigzags and the land is as flat as the horizon.

He and other British artists created their own Surrealist movement, making a feature of "found" objects looming against the Sussex Downs and white cliffs. The ironmongery of the trenches is replaced by pylons, picket fences, bare trees. They tried hard to make rocks, bones, giant eggs and megaliths portentous, but the results are pallid. Eileen Agar succeeds – but she was off on a journey of her own, and her collages of dead leaves, masked faces and plastic doilies are genuinely Gothic.

Then war broke out again, and Nash produced some of his most impressive work, based on pilot's eye views of the English landscape with contrails and bursting shells, and Totes Meer, a Friedrich-like frozen moonlit sea of broken-up German planes.

After the war he turned again to the English landscape, infusing it with meaning and an immanent horror. I don't buy whirling sunflowers as a sinister force, but he synthesized his war pictures into lurid visions of Whittenham Clumps – trees huddled on a hilltop, guarding the bones or unquiet spirits of earlier Britons.

Magritte: Le Trahison des Images
Pompidou, Paris

To 23 January 2017
The Belgian Surrealist is famous for confronting bowler hats with Granny Smiths and setting tubas on fire. The 4.50 to Paddington will be leaving by the fireplace.

Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

To 29 January 2017
The satirical magazine Punch used "Daubigny" for any pretentious painter (he produced "daubs", what a hoot), but Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878) was a fine landscape artist and a member of the Barbizon School. Wikipedia patronisingly says he is regarded as "an important precursor to the Impressionists".

Australia's Impressionists
National Gallery, London

Dec 7-26 March 2017
Should make Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, and John Russell better known in the northern hemisphere. Not just the bush, but railway stations, docksides and steamships.

Les Temps Mérovingiens
Musée de Cluny

26 Oct-13 Feb 2017
Early medieval French culture (their reign ended in 751). They were the first French tribe to become Christian and produced beautiful metalwork and illuminated manuscripts.

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