Last May, I posted some comments about portraits. I complained that there was a National Portrait Gallery in London, but no National Landscape Gallery or National Still Life Gallery. Mike (from Down at the Dougie) commented: ““Why is there an art gallery devoted to just a single genre of art?” i.e. the portrait. I guess the answer is that the gallery isn’t about the art, but the portrait, if that makes sense! I always think that the National Portrait gallery is, in many ways, a more highbrow version of Madame Tussauds (where you don’t go to admire the art of the wax sculptor but to gawk at the celebrities and comment on how lifelike they are (or not)).”
I was reminded of this as I sat in bed this morning reading the Sunday Telegraph. There were two items in the Seven magazine about portraits. The first was about the new blockbuster show at the Royal Academy “Manet: Portraying Life” which Alistair Stuart only gave three stars. The lack of the expected five stars, I think, can be summed up with these extracts:
“The exhibition covers such ground very ably, but it does get rather dry at times. The main flaw is a failure to delve into any of the fascinating relationships that lay behind Manet’s portraiture ….”
Stuart then discusses the parentage of Leon, who appears in seventeen of his paintings, and Manet’s relationship with Berthe Morisot, who eventually married his brother.
“Many will argue it’s the art that matters, and that digging into private lives is prurient, not to say irrelevant. But portraiture is the result of a complex relation between sitter and painter, and surely our appreciation of Manet’s greatness would be even richer with a few juicy, biographical titbits.”
Sorry, I’m part of the ‘many’. I’m not a fan of celebrity, and can’t stand either celebrity mags or reality TV. I’ll be going to the exhibition to see the art, not the ‘was Leon his son or his half-brother?’ aspect.
Man Ray has a photographic exhibition at the NPG from February 7th to May 27th. Normally, a Man Ray show would be high on the list of Must Go To This as I am a big fan. However, having seen the accompanying selection of photographs in the Seven preview, I’ll probably give it a miss. A couple of years ago we went to the NPG to see an exhibition of photographs by Irving Penn. As the website says, it was focussed “specifically on his portraits of major cultural figures” i.e. famous celebrities. I remember looking at some of his other work of ordinary people in the books in the giftshop and wishing they had been hanging on the walls. I suspect I could have a similar reaction to the Man Ray exhibition. It’s only the bit which says “the exhibition also demonstrates Man Ray’s use of revolutionary photographic techniques and early experiments with colour” that will tempt me to go.
In the main part of the Sunday Telegraph, there were to funny bits. The first was in a profile of Manet (again!) : ” ‘Who is this Monet,’ Manet complained, ‘whose name sounds so like mine, and is taking advantage of my fame?’ He quickly found out, as Claude emerged as the godhead of Impressionism, and fans began congratulating Edouard on paintings he hadn’t done.”
The second item which made me laugh out loud was an overheard remark in the Mandrake column: ” ‘When you’re not sure if the ladders in the corner belong to the cleaners or the collection, it’s time to go.’ Hugh Bonneville, the Downton Abbey star is left confused by his visit to the Saatchi Gallery yesterday.”