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Book Review : Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art by Patrick Noon and Christopher Riopelle (National Gallery)

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Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art by Patrick Noon and Christopher Riopelle, is published by and copyright of National Gallery Company Limited in association with Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2015.

Patrick Noon in the prologue to this book states that ‘Modern Art History has perpetuated the fiction that modern painting commenced sui generis in France with the Salon des Refusés of 1863, the special exhibition of works by Édouard Manet and others who had been refused admission that year to the state sponsored annual exhibition in Paris of living French artists.” Noon argues that the principal characteristics associated with modernism were actually in evidence at the start of the nineteenth century especially amongst artists from the British and French Romanticism schools which included Theodore Gericault, J.M.W.Turner, Richard Parkes Bonington and Eugene Delacroix.

It is the influence of Eugene Delacroix that is the focus of the exhibition and book and the chapter entitled ‘What is Delacroix’ explores the artist’s life and career. Delacroix was born into a wealthy and influential family in 1798 and was bought up in times of great uncertainty within the French state. It was at this time that the stability and ideas of Great Britain were influential and Delacroix was inspired by the works of Shakespeare, Byron and Walter Scott. Orphaned at sixteen, Delacroix abandoned his classical studies at the  Lycée Impérial to pursue a less academic training, he gained significant insights by studying the old masters in the Musee du Louvre.

Remarkably, Delacroix’s first publicly exhibited picture, The Barque of Dante (1822) not only established his reputation but also divided opinion which would become a reoccurring theme throughout his career. A visit to London in 1825 led Delacroix to appreciate the work of British artists and the cultural influence of Shakespeare and Lord Byron. It was the death of Byron that inspired The Death of Sardanapalus which was exhibited in 1827. This work marked out a distinctive rejection by Delacroix of the French art establishment, Noon summarises Delacroix’s position ‘ the conventional formulas of French painting so defended by conservative critics were valueless if the artist’s imagination did not touch that of the viewer’.

However, fate was in Delacroix’s favour, when the 1830 July Revolution in Paris bought forth a more liberal regime and an invitation to travel with a government delegation to Morocco in 1832. This was a trip that made a great impression on the artist who would return to his North African adventures for the next three decades for inspiration for over eighty oil paintings. The artist welcomed the interval between witnessing the scene and painting, it meant that he could only recall the most striking and poetic aspect. Towards the end of the his career, Delacroix used his artistic imagination across a range of subjects including still life, landscapes, religious and literary subjects.

Central to the authors argument that Delacroix was one of the ‘fathers’ of modern art is providing evidence of his influence and inspiration on the artists of the subsequent generations. One of the authors, Christopher Riopelle explores this legacy in the chapter entitled Afterlife, when Delacroix died in 1863, one of his greatest supporters, Charles Baudelaire prophesied that the artist renown would continue long after his death. Riopelle points out that ‘ the reassessment of Delacroix’s legacy began in the immediate aftermath of his funeral’ when Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour  painted ‘Homage to Delacroix’ in which Fantin-Latour places himself alongside artists and writers grouped around Delacroix’s portrait. The painting from 1864 features Edouard Manet, Charles Baudelaire, James Abbott McNeill Whistler,  Alphonse Legros amongst others. Posthumous displays of his work, the sale of his studio contents and the publication of his ‘Journal’ added greatly to the artist’s legacy that permeated into the work of a number of late 19th- and early 20th-century painters that are associated with the rise of modern art.

The remaining chapters in the book explore the way that many of the ‘modern artists’ were quick to acknowledge their debt to Delacroix. Whilst Cézanne declared “We all paint in Delacroix’s language”, the authors of the book point out ‘the sincerest forms of respect that one artist can exhibit for another are extolling aspects of their professional persona; copying and collecting their paintings; or referencing a celebrated work in one of their own creations”. Cézanne’s The Apotheosis of Delacroix, Manet’s copy of The Barque of Dante, Gauguin’s Still Life with a sketch after Delacroix and Van Gogh’s Pieta ( after Delacroix ) are just a few examples in the book and exhibition that provide evidence of Delacroix’s influence. In some cases it was not just the paintings, Renoir followed in the footsteps of the artist by visiting North Africa in 1881 and painting a large-scale copy of the Jewish Wedding in Morocco.

Both the exhibition and the book provide important  insights into aspects of Delacroix’s career and his artistic legacy, the authors offer plenty of evidence that supports their thesis of the importance of Delacroix in the development of modern art. This well written and authoritative book is full of stunning full colour illustrations that show the importance of Delacroix’s use of colour and form to recreate the sensations experienced from nature. It is this colour and form that provided inspiration for a large number of ‘modern’ artists who would change the art world forever.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to buy a copy, visit the National Gallery website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : The Street of Wonderful Possibilities by Devon Cox ( Frances Lincoln )

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Devon Cox’s book, The Street of Wonderful Possibilities focuses on Tite Street in Chelsea which became one of the most influential artistic quarters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Famous residents including James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sargent helped to forge the street’s reputation for a sanctuary for those who followed a bohemian lifestyle.

Even before Tite Street had been created, Chelsea had developed a reputation as a haven for writers and artists. In the 1830s, Thomas Carlyle became the ‘Sage of Chelsea’ and in the 1840s, the mysterious ‘Mr Booth’ who lived in a small Chelsea cottage was none other than J.M.W Turner. The 1860s saw Dante Gabriel Rossetti after the death of his wife relocate to Cheyne Walk on the Chelsea riverfront with poet Algernon Swinburne. It was also at this time American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler began his long association with the area. Both Rossetti and Whistler developed their own social gatherings and led to the idea that the area was becoming more bohemian. However, by the 1870s, the bohemian clique was beginning to relocate and even Whistler left Chelsea.

It was not only residents that were changing, Chelsea had been a small village in the first part of the 19th century but by the 1860s and 1870s it had become a part of the expanding metropolis. It was part of this development that led to the creation of Tite Street. The whole Chelsea riverfront was developed with a new embankment and Tite Street was developed to create a link between the Royal Hospital Road and the new embankment.

Whistler was looking for custom-built house with a studio and employed his friend and architect E. W. Godwin to create his dream house in Tite Street. For Godwin it was to be a more difficult task than he considered with Whistler often battling with the Metropolitan  board of works over the finer details of the house. Eventually The White House was completed in 1878 and become the first of an artist colony in Tite street, others followed including the young aristocrat artist Archibald Stuart Wortley, Carlo ‘Ape’ Pellegrini, Frank Miles and a certain Oscar Wilde. Whistler fresh from his success against the Board of Works began an ill-advised case against the respected critic John Ruskin. This case bought Tite Street into the public domain and although Whistler won his case, it was a hollow victory, he was given only a farthing damages. The building of the White House  and the court costs had financially ruined Whistler and he was declared bankrupt in 1879. Although he had lost everything, it proved only a temporary setback for the American who returned to Tite Street after a time in Venice and rented a studio at number 33. To improve his financial position, Whistler resolved to paint ‘ all the fashionables ‘.
This was the beginning of the golden age of Tite Street, the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry were amongst the first to visit Whistler’s new studio and soon the street was full of the carriages of the wealthy. It was not just the sitters, Whistler became a hero to a younger generation of painters who flocked to his studio, Mortimer Menpes and Walter Sickert were just two of his ‘pupils’. It was not just Whistler whose star was rising , Oscar Wilde was making his reputation with his plays, books and wit.
The book documents this period in detail, it was a time when the two ‘Titans’ dominated an area that had become the most important artistic enclave in London, but for all the success, there were clouds on the horizon which would envelope Tite Street.
The rise of fall of Oscar Wilde is well documented, however the photograph in the book of Whistler’s coffin being carried through a sparsely populated street is an indication that at the end, the artist’s ability to make enemies had surpassed his ability to make friends.

By 1903, two of the greatest ‘Titans’ of Tite Street had died and a number of the supporting cast had bought the curtain down on their careers. It was left to the more stable and popular Sargent to carry the flag for the bohemian enclave.  Following his illustrious compatriot Whistler, he began to paint the ‘fashionables’ and acquired  considerable wealth. When he died in 1925, the golden age of the street was over, other artists took on the baton but none reached the dizzy heights of Whistler, Wilde and Sargent. Augustus John bought some elements of bohemia but when he left in 1950, the world and the street had changed beyond all recognition from its glory days.

Although on the surface, the story of a street would not set the pulse racing, but this was no ordinary street. The author has bought together many of the interactions between the residents that often get lost in single biographies. Oscar Wilde watching Ellen Terry coming away from a Sargent sitting, costumed as Lady Macbeth and writing Tite Street “must always be full of wonderful possibilities” is a fine example of how the residents interaction provided inspiration for their work.

This is a fascinating, entertaining, well researched book with a number of illustrations which highlight some of the incredible pieces of art and writing produced behind the brick facades of Tite Street. Although the three ‘Titans’ dominate the book, the author acknowledges the parts played by a large supporting cast that included other artists, writers, models, mistresses, lovers, sitters, residents, pupils and critics. He also gives a voice to some of the women of Tite Street who tried to challenge the male dominated society, such as painter Anna Lea Merritt and the Welsh sculptor Edith Elizabeth Downing, who supported the suffragettes cause.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a copy of the book, visit the Frances Lincoln website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Bridge Exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands – 27th June to 2nd November

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George Davison Reid (1871–1933) Looking north across London Bridge  Pigment print, made 2014, from gelatin silver print, made in the 1920s, bound in album © George Davison Reid/Museum of London.

Bridges are a fundamental part of a Londoner’s life, every day many of them will walk across them or if you travel on the water go underneath them.

However for many centuries there was only one bridge that joined the north to the  south and that was London Bridge, it was the industrial growth  of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries that saw a boom in Bridge Building in London.

It is the recording of this  major growth that forms part of the Bridge exhibition at the  Museum of London Docklands.

Opening on 27 June and running to the 2 November 2014, Bridge at the Museum of London Docklands draws on the museum’s significant art collections. It features rarely seen contemporary and historical artworks, photography and film to chart the visual history of London.

Bridge looks at how London’s bridges allow people to move around and experience the city. It also explores how artists have long sought inspiration from, on and under this city’s magnificent bridges

Undoubtedly the star of the show will be an extremely rare photograph of Hungerford Bridge by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the major pioneers of photography.

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William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) Hungerford Bridge Salt print, made around 1845 – William Henry Fox Talbot.© Museum of London .

This is the original Hungerford footbridge designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which joined Hungerford Market on the north bank of the Thames, and Lambeth on the south. It was demolished in the early 1860s following the sale of the bridge and market to the South Eastern Railway Company, which built a rail crossing with footpaths either side.

Visitors will only able to view the photograph throughout the first month of the exhibition. .

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George Davison Reid (1871–1933) Children and a man on Tower Bridge, looking towards Upper Pool  Pigment print, made 2014, from gelatin silver print, made in the 1920s,  © George Davison Reid/Museum of London

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The Upper Pool seen under the Bascules of Tower Bridge Gelatin silver print, made 1929

  © Albert Gravely Linney/Museum of London

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Sleep Walk Sleep Talk- Lightbox showing the view from the now demolished London Bridge House across London Bridge Station towards Canary Wharf. Suki Chan 2011. Museum of London

Featured artists include James Abbott McNeill Whistler; Charles Ginner; Christopher Richard Wynn Nevinson; Giovanni Battista Piranesi; William Raban and adventure photographer, Lucinda Grange, amongst others.

Bridge at the Museum of London Docklands features paintings, prints, drawings, etchings, photography and film. The exhibition opens at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday 27 June 2014. Entrance is FREE.