I’ve recently returned from my research/art pilgrimage to London. Having lived in England as a child and made a number of subsequent visits since, I am familiar with many of the collections in the museums. I love British art from Tudor to contemporary, and I was longing to see many works of art since I last viewed them a decade ago.
It’s not unlike visiting old friends. Sometimes they were just where I remembered them, and others they had been moved to a different room, museum, or were on exhibition loan. The importance of revisiting paintings was brought home to me because I could not recall, for instance, experiencing the spectacular blue of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne with such intensity, or if my breathe was stolen by the magnificent use of color in William Holman Hunt’s 1852 “Our English Coasts – or Strayed Sheep” which has been a favorite painting of mine for many years. Hunt’s painting has informed my landscape work for at least the last 20 years.
And to see Henry Wallis’s The Death of Chatterton, in person, especially after working Chatterton into my Checks and Balances collage series, which you can read about here, was a delight! To gaze at the sky through the Chatterton’s grimy garret window gave me the impression of hummingbirds flitting about the confines of my chest.
The Death of Chatterton, Henry Wallis, oil on canvas, 1856, The Tate Britain
Detail of Death of Chatterton’s extraordinary landscape
As I Age I find the Romance of The Death of Chatterton Diminishes, Checks & Balances seres, vintage and decorative paper collage on 1930’s pay certificate, 7″ x 4.5″, 2018, private collection
These paintings have not changed (well hopefully not much in terms of conservation) but I have. I have viewed many of the works in these collections as a child, a teen, in my 20’s, 30’s and now my 40’s. My life experience brings nuance to the work. The creations of others continue to reveal themselves and enchant me. My ever-evolving artist’s eye sees new things within them. There are some paintings, which I was enthralled by earlier in my life, that no longer beckon to me quite so insistently, but to gaze upon them again was to be reminded why they held so much sway with me. I didn’t spend as much time with those works and this made space for other works, which may or may not have been there all along, to capture my attention. I took copious photographic notes, of paintings to come back to, in books at home, to ponder and allow their meaning and import to be revealed over time.
It is these explorations that feed me as an artist. Experiencing the work of others makes me feel connected to the tradition and shared history of art making. I am extremely pleased that museums are making a concerted effort to add “new” voices and viewpoints as they enrich our collections, our understanding of art, and ourselves. I saw many new labels which framed history in different perspectives than that of the past and others asking for feedback on presentation.
These are merely my initial thoughts about all I have seen. I look forward to sharing more with you in the future. What are your favorite pieces of art that you keep going back to see year after year?
Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-3 I cannot help but think of the Crash Test Dummies album, God Shuffled His Feet, which placed the heads of the band upon the figures in this painting. It has the Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm song. Isn’t pop-culture funny?