(Or “Inspiration at the National Gallery II”)
(The story so far: Our intrepid hero, accompanied by his wife, the Management, has visited the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy and the Richard Hamilton: Late Works exhibition in the main building of the National Gallery. He is now hacking his way through the tourists on his way to the Sainsbury Wing. On the way he renews acquaintance with old friends such as Paulo Uccello’s ‘Battle of San Romano’ and discovers new treasures such as ‘The Four Elements’ by Joachim Beuckelaer. We join him outside the loos on Level-1 of the Sainsbury Wing.)
I was on my way to see an exhibition about photography and painting when I had a call of nature. On emerging from the gents, I saw on the wall opposite a photograph called ‘Murder: Two Men Wanted’.
I had seen this when I was in the NG a few weeks ago (while attending a film première in Leicester Square in my role as a film producer). I hadn’t realised that it was a an interpretation of an old master painting, Piero di Cosimo’s ‘A Satyr Mourning Over A Nymph’ (c. 1495).
The photographer, Tom Hunter, I have since found out, bases many of his photographs on old paintings. I particularly like his update of Vermeer.
Hunter says “While my subject has always been Hackney, the influences behind my art practice are found in the work of Johannes Vermeer, the Pre-Raphaelites and, latterly, a whole raft of art historical paintings.”
The exhibition was called ‘Seduced By Art: Photography Past and Present’ and, according to the NG site “explores early photography from the mid-19th century and the most exciting contemporary photographs, alongside historical painting. It takes a provocative look at how photographers use fine art traditions, including Old Master painting, to explore and justify the possibilities of their art.”
I’m not entirely sure about what the exhibition was trying to show. While there were photographs by people like Hunter alongside the ‘original’ painted works, there were other juxtapositions I didn’t get. Here is a painted portrait of a posh Georgian aristocratic with his possessions, and here are some photographic portraits of modern aristocrats with their possessions. Did the photographers really “use fine art traditions … to explore and justify the possibilities of their art”?
There is a painting of an 18th century battlefield with smoke drifting across it. Underneath it is a photograph by Luc Delahaye after US planes had bombed Taliban positions, which had smoke drifting across. The other night, on a TV news item about the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict, there was an almost identical shot of a town with, believe it or not, smoke drifting across it. I’m sure the photographer thought “I must try and capture a modern take on a two hundred year old painting!”
However, there were many aspects of the exhibition I really enjoyed. There was an engraving based on the cherubs from Raphael’s Madonna in the Sistine Chapel.
Next to it was a beautiful photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron called “I Wait” from 1872. The information explained that it was “made by someone who knew the original and expected her audience to know it too: she was not copying but inventing.”
Another piece I enjoyed was a three minute film by Maisie Broadhead and Jack Cole called “An Ode to Hill and Adamson” which (with the aid of time lapse) sees a model made up and a wall with a frame interposed so that the final result was very similar to Hill and Adamson’s 1845 photograph of Elizabeth Rigby (later Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake). I say similar, as the original photograph didn’t wink coyly at the end!
I’m not sure how to install YouTube videos into a blog. Here is the link for the film to paste into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoSlaSWw1Dc
The final piece I want to mention is another reinterpretation of an old painting. The original, ‘The Rosy Wealth of June’ (1886) by Ignace-Henri-Theodore Fantin-Latour (imagine filling in forms with that handle!), was, to me, not particularly inspiring.
My final comment comes from Luc Delahaye (who photographed the US bombing of Taliban positions mentioned earlier) who has had some of his works linked with old master paintings. “Delahaye says his photographs do not refer to specific works of art history; any similarity comes from shared pictorial and cultural references.” So much for using “fine art traditions, including Old Master painting, to explore and justify the possibilities of [his] art.”