Thursday, 24 September 2009

The National Portrait Gallery - my visit

Yesterday, I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London, a half-hour train journey from my home town, to get me some culture (!) and hopefully, some inspiration. The NPG exhibits portraiture of famous figures from Britain's illustrious (?) past and present. Whilst there are obviously some beautifully executed paintings in there, I must admit to finding the endless stream of paintings of Kings, Queens and Statesmen rather tedious. There seemed to be very few portraits of, or by, women and even fewer of, or by, people from other ethnic origins. Whilst the historical rationale for this is perhaps understandable, IMHO there is really little excuse for such a dearth in the available 20th Century and Contemporary art out there (or am I missing something?).

I'm no expert on the art appreciation front, as you can probably tell, but I do know what I like. A few paintings did catch my imagination. One such is this one of Louise Jane Jopling by Sir John Everett Millais, painted in 1879. I liked the 'no-nonsense', direct look on her face, the masterly colours and detail on her dress and the unsentimental way it was painted. It made a pleasant change from the overly pretty paintings of women by men that I had seen hitherto.

Another painting that struck me was this self portrait by L.S. Lowry. Apparently, he painted those red eyes as an expression of his grief over his mother's recent death. Lowry, famous for his paintings of stick-like figures against ordinary, industrial landscapes, was allegedly not given to expressing himself emotionally and that, for me, makes the painting all the more poignant. I was very moved by it. I love Lowry's work anyway - one of the few examples in British art of a painter depicting working-class people in ordinary, even mundane, settings.

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I really prefer the French and Dutch 'masters' when it comes to portraiture. Especially those who painted the 'common' man and woman, I don't have examples right now but you get the gist. Endless depictions of male statesmen, soldiers, royalty and even famous literary figures really don't cut the mustard for me I'm afraid.

I think I'm a bit of a renegade! Hey ho, might as well go the whole hog and express my horror at a contemporary picture I came across of Sir Ian Botham (cricketer). It stands about 6 feet high and I can honestly say that my own daughter could have painted a more engaging portrait than this at the age of three! What's that all about? I obviously would not make a good art critic - she said unapologetically.

Anyway, to save you any more of my rantings, here is a quick pic I took of Trafalgar Square (just around the corner from the NPG). It was hastily taken before I had to head off to top up my 'carbs' - I am diabetic and need to ensure that my glucose levels don't drop too low. That's my excuse anyway for putting away an enormous clotted cream scone ten minutes after I snapped this photo! Mmmm.


Pauline said...

I have to say I totally agree with you about the statesman and kings and queens. I like the impressionists but a lot of the art prior to them leaves me cold.

Gillian said...

Good for you for saying what so many of us feel about art. There seems to be a division between the establishment with historical works and the modern trendies who worship Hirst and Emin. 'Emporer's new clothes syndrome' I call that.
Somewhere in-between lie those of us who know what we like and don't need to be told what that should be!
I want a cream scone now ......

Janet Pantry said...

Pauline, I agree - aren't we glad the Impressionists came along!
Gillian, well said! And I agree about the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome - well put!

Hakan said...

Mum, what des IMHO mean? Is it in my humble opinion?

P.s think you should be an art critic!


Janet Pantry said...

Lauren, hello daughter! Yes, IMHO does mean that...perhaps I shouldn't use shortcuts like that on the blog, bad practice! Hmmm, not sure about being an art critic...I'm far too opinionated and biased. (or, then again, those may be the ideal credentials for that job!).

April Mitchell said...

Love your art honesty, thanks for sharing your museum experience with us : )


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