The Queen | Art and Image

Queen Elizabeth II,
by Dorothy Wilding
To mark the Diamond Jubilee, The National Portrait Gallery is staging an exhibition of images of Queen Elizabeth II throughout her sixty year reign.  The portraits have been chosen by Paul Moorhouse, the Curator of Twentieth Century Portraits, and without reference to Buckingham Palace.  As a result there are some surprising inclusions, with images by Gilbert & George, Andy Warhol, and Gerhard Richter nestled amongst the more traditional portraits by Beaton, and Annigoni.  There's even one portrait that pitches Queen Elizabeth against Diana.  

There are also rare unguarded moments, such as the snapshot take on the morning of the fire at Windsor Castle - one of a series of events which marked the Queen's 'annus horriblis', in the fortieth year of her reign.  As a result, the exhibition can be read on many levels - from the changes in fashion to attitudes about the upper classes - the show is as much about charting changes in society over the last sixty years, as about visual appropriations of the Queen.

Included, for example, is the Sex Pistols cover of God Save the Queen in 1977, marking the Queen's silver jubilee.  Highly contentious as the time, the song was banned from many radio stations, and marks a very specific moment in punk rock history.  Now some 35 years later, the cover is part of the mainstream lexicon of Elizabeth II's imagery and is no more offensive than the other portraits on show.

Lightness of Being
More revolutionarily is the first lenticular portrait of the Queen Elizabeth, Equanimity, generated from over 10,000 still shots. Surprisingly, the portrait remains somehow static, despite the Queen following us around the room.  Created by Chris Levine (artist) and Rob Munday (the holographer) Equanimity has now been gifted to the National Portrait gallery.  More revealing perhaps is Levine's Lightness of Being, which shows Elizabeth with her eyes closed.  This portrait shows a more vulnerable queen, and says something about Elizabeth's age.  Despite the regal attire, somehow Elizabeth is more fragile than the iconography.

Elizabeth and
Philip Potent
Another unconventional portrait is Elizabeth and Philip Potent, created by Gilbert and George in 1981.  Using postcards of Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, the pair have managed to create a potent cross.  More commonly found in heraldry, the term potent allows them to comment in a very playful and sophisticated way about the iconography and status of the royal family.  In the show is also Gilbert and George's postcard collage Coronation Cross, also from their 1981 Crusade exhibition.  Crusade was intended to bring together art and a sense of national identity.  The royal family was seen as very much central to that sense of nationhood.

This exhibition isn't going to appeal to everyone, but if you read it as a social commentary I think it's perhaps rather revealing. Pictures intended to shock seem somehow more commonplace when set against countless other portraits.  I found myself more surprised by the intensity and size of Freud's tiny portrait, than that of the endlessly reproduced Sex Pistol's cover.  I couldn't help thinking about Queen Elizabeth's namesake too, Queen Elizabeth I.  Elizabeth I's iconography was set out specifically to create and image of a strong queen, a goddess, a virgin, a ruler of lands, and we can see parallels with the early portraits of Elizabeth II. However, as technology has progressed, we are presented with an unprecedented number of pictures of the Queen on a near daily basis.  The iconography of Elizabeth II still stands in those seminal portraits by Dorothy Wilding and the like in the show, but it's actually those unguarded moments, like the morning of the Windsor Castle fire, which speak more loudly. In these unguarded moments, we see the vulnerability of the Queen, and ironically, it is where we identify with her that we perhaps gain a better understanding of her.  Looking at each portrait as a tiny moment in time will offer a better reading of the exhibition, than trying to absorb the iconography as a whole.

The Queen | Art and Image is on at the National Portrait Gallery until the 21st October 2012.

Turner Inspired

Claude (1604/5?˗1682)
Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648
© The National Gallery, London
For over a hundred years now the paintings of William Turner have been inextricably linked to those of Claude Gelee. Not only was Turner inspired by the landscapes of Claude, but is reputed to have burst into tears on his first viewing of Claude's Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648. Something within that painting resonated so strongly with Turner that he embarked on a number of slavish copies of Claude's paintings, sometimes copied from memory, sometimes by revisiting the original site of Claude's work.

Damien Hirst | Tate Modern Retrospective

Damien Hirst, Beautiful, childish, expressive,
tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away
This week sees the opening of Damien Hirst's retrospective show at Tate Modern.  The show charts Hirst's works in a timeline, and includes a number of seminal pieces.  However this exhibition is not just about sharks, cows, and the £36,000 limited edition plastic skull you can buy in the gift shop on the way out.  In conversations all week with cabbies, pundits and critics, reactions have centred around Hirst being overrated, overvalued and a charlatan. Brian Sewell wrote one the most vitriolic articles imaginable in the Evening Standard, and so one might imagine I'd have my work cut out to get you along to the Tate to see for yourself. However, in the way that I encouraged you to go to the Hockney exhibition to learn about perspective, I'd encourage you to see Hirst to explore your reactions to Death with a capital D, and to consider the impact of economics, commerciality and desirability on art.

David Hockney | A Bigger Picture

David Hockney's latest exhibition, A Bigger Picture, is the culmination of a life-long obsession with perspective and the art of looking. Hockney has long argued against the “tyranny of a single point of perspective” which has dominated several centuries of Western landscape painting. In response he has sought to distort perspective, or with his photomontages has sought to keep our gaze moving, adopting the Chinese "moving perspective", where the eye is constantly wandering, unable to settle on a single viewpoint.

Opera Gallery | Art and the Luxury Market

Jean-David Malat has an unashamedly shrewd eye for the business of art, and the art of business. Director of the Opera Gallery in London, he has a knack of identifying new artists and divining what will sell. Hot on the heels of February's record breaking modern and contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s and Christies, Jean-David has put together a show designed to question our very understanding of commerciality in art.

The most exquisite Monet I've ever seen, at Christies, King Street, London

Update: Alas I didn't win the Euromillions, and my little Monet sold for £2,393,250 / $3,781,335

On Tuesday 7th February 2012 Christies will hold its Impressionist / Modern painting sale. Included are a Pissaro, three Degas', a variety of Henry Moore's paintings and sculptures, several Picasso's and one particularly exquisite Monet, Le bras de Jeufosse, automne.

Jonathan Yeo | Only Young Twice | Tits Sell Shocker...

@ClareAngela and I popped along to the Lazarides Gallery in Rathbone Place to see the final few days of the Jonathan Yeo exhibition. The show is about our relationship with cosmetic surgery. There are exquisite diptychs of nudes pre and post op, patients undergoing facial surgery, and some nudes pre-surgery complete with surgical graffiti.

Jonathan Yeo - Addendum by Clare Brown

I was told by the gallery attendant that there was an upstairs but it was nothing to do with the Yeo show. So happily we didn't miss anything on this occasion.

These paintings hadn't lost their impact on a second viewing, despite being prepared for the shocking surgical markings this time. The skin tones glow with life, enhanced by the rough surface under the paint causing minute imperfections in the flesh.

David Hockney | Alan Cristea Gallery

Sell-out shows seem to be de rigeur in 2012, with the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy already limiting its ticket sales.  Running in parallel with the RA exhibition, Alan Cristea are showing a number of Hockey lithographs made in the 1980's, in collaboration with the American master printer Ken Tyler.

Leonardo da Vinci | Painter at the Court of Milan

Have there ever been such hotly contested tickets as those for the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, currently showing at the National Gallery in London? From 7:00 am the queues around the National Gallery begin to form, as those without a prized ticket scavenge for the 500 timed-entry tickets released at 10:00 am each morning. Tickets have been sold and bought on Ebay, and the more enterprising of us have paid entrepreneurial young American men to queue on our behalf!

Leonardo worked in Milan between 1482 and 1499, and this exhibition includes almost every surviving picture painted during this time. Among them are a few stellar paintings which have never been hung together before, including the two versions of The Virgin of the Rocks painted some twenty years apart. The premise of the show is to bring together, for the first time, the genus of work created by Leonardo whilst based at the court of Duke Lodovico Sforza.