9 Reasons why …

… the 20th century watercolours at the Tate show in London were so marvelous!

  1.  Because there were so many works I had NEVER seen before. I     had seen other works by these artists … but not these pieces. That was such a treat.  The artist that struck me first that fits into this category is Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  His work titled Fetges from 1927 caught me off-guard.  I am not sure that I think it is a show stopper … but its careful and elegant  execution was superb. It was wonderful, not so much as in Matisse’s “art like good arm chair.” Rather , a better analogy would be, that it is like  an excellent bottle of wine, delicious and quietly exhilarating … and, yes, a little intoxicating too.

2.   Artists who are completely new to me. (Hey, I AM an American   and I don’t get to see every English watercolor artist or see every review of English work.)   One such artist Eric Ravilous whose work, The Vale of the White Horse, 1939, felt like a kindred spirit to the paintings of Charles Burchfield … at once romantic and yet completely modern.

3.  While it is not pleasurable to look at the                         devastation and depravities of war, it was good to see an artist use this medium, which is so often mistakenly associated with mundane imagery, pretty pictures, and wimpier children’s illustration (no slight intended to my illustrator daughter there … she uses watercolor and isn’t wimpy at all), to take on a subject such gravity and which is so much the antithesis of those aesthetics. While Eric Taylor’s piece, Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp, sometimes reminds me a bit to much of Henry Moore’s series done in the Tube during WWII, it is still a wonderful piece.

4.  There are dozens of works that caught my eye or  made me wonder at the technique, the vision, or the ideas of the artist.  One of the best of the 20th century pieces in that vein is Valley and River, Northumberland, 1972, by Edward Burra.  It is quite simple and straight forward; almost childlike in it’s unabashed clarity. Yet something about this piece … with a hillside that seems oddly like it ought to tumble down out of the sky (or at least off the paper) … creates a satisfaction, a sense of rightness or honesty.  Even the rock wall, at first looking almost amateurish (look closely at the blocks), ends up becoming a convincing and sophisticated paint passage.

5.    For 5, 6, 7, & 8 too, I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves.




9   Well, this last one may be a bit off target.  The artist is really not so much a twentieth century painter even though this painting was executed in the early years of the century.  He is the American expatriate who made his living in England and whose brush must have flashed its way all across the page.  It is not my favorite of his watercolors … but there are not any I know that I would not love to see again and again. This piece is no exception.  Of course I am talking about John Singer Sargent’s painting of Miss Wedgewood and Miss Sargent.                                                               

This show, which closes tomorrow on August  21st was exquisite.  It could have been even more of a block buster; a few more very new works might have made it stronger … as would the exclusion of one or two pieces that stretched the watercolour definition a bit to far afield. But all in all. I am still beaming with joy.

If you need any more persuasion consider viewing this Tate video:


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4 Responses to “9 Reasons why …”

  1. Jean Sampson Says:

    Hi John. You might not know this, but I am a blogaholic, and this is one of the best I have seen! Thank you for taking us on the Tate tour. It was wonderful! However, the link to the video was not clickable —can you make it so?

    I think you should consider leading museum tours throughout Europe. Let Mary do the business stuff (or hire someone) and you do what you are SO damn good at——teaching and inspiring. I really think, if you get this blog out and show folks what you know and how interesting you could make those tours, that you would have a following and that they would follow you to the museums! It might take a couple of years to build up, but I think it just might work!
    Is this linked to the MAC website? Should be! Good job, John!

    • johnahancock Says:

      Thanks Jean … I will try to make the link active/ “clickable.”
      Did you get a chance to see the previous blog? It was about the same show … just the earlier 18th & 19th c part of it.
      See you soon. John

  2. Jean Sampson Says:

    Nope you got ahead of me—-gotta check it out!

  3. Oh Wow … Yes, Blown Far & Away! | Says:

    […] Tate, 2011) … if you want to read about that show, see my blog posts from August 18th and August 20th, 2011. That show ran on and on, and while I was in heaven, it was […]

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