Great art at the National Gallery
Michelangelo and Sebastiano, the new exhibition at the National Gallery, can be enjoyed on several levels. The art historian will relish the opportunity to discover the way the two artists worked together and the influence of Michelangelo on the Venetian artist Sebastiano de Pombo. He had arrived in Rome as Michelangelo was busy on the Sistine Chapel in 1511. Soon they became friends and there are letters between the two of them translated into English for visitors to study. Michelangelo provided the younger Sebastiano with drawings and on display are some of their collaborative works.
Those who just come to see some stunning artworks will not be disappointed either, although many are familiar from the National Gallery collection. The Royal Academy’s Taddei Tondo had moved here for the exhibition which continues until 25 June. Using the Gallery’s North galleries rather than the exhibition space in the Sainsbury Wing, provides headroom for the larger than life-size marble statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo and the three dimensional recreation of the Borgherini Chapel from S Pietro in Montorio, Rome.
This is mostly religious art, with the occasional portrait, created for worship and as tribute to the Creator to be displayed in chapels and churches. Every effort has been made here to give the artworks space, effective lighting and useful information, and to create in these galleries some of the atmosphere in which they were originally shown.
Longford Castle – a hidden gem
Most people have never heard of Longford Castle but there it is hidden away just a few miles outside Salisbury. It started life as an Elizabethan Manor house on the river Avon but thanks to the treasures in a Spanish galleon wrecked in 1588 and a beautiful and enterprising Swedish noblewoman, Helena Snakenborg it became much more. The new home she planned with her second husband Thomas Gorges, took on the appearance of a moated, almost romantic Swedish castle with three substantial towers at each of the three corners. The triangular courtyard was later glazed over by one of the successive owners – since 1717 the Bouveries, a wealthy Huguenot family, ennobled as the Earls of Radnor.
Your blogger arrived on a tour of the castle organised by the National Gallery which has a close connection with the family. The famous painting The Ambassadors by Holbein is just one of works now at the National Gallery which was once owned by the family. But there is plenty left to see in this beautifully furnished and lived-in castle with a view of the garden and grounds from every window.
Our excellent guides led us on a tour not just to see the Gainsboroughs – one in every room – but many portraits by Reynolds and Van Dyck. Among the more unexpected works, I spotted a portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun of the third Earl as a young man, another portrait by Angelica Kauffman, a skating scene by Hendrick Avercamp, another full length portrait by Rubens, and one by Geerharts of Queen Elizabeth. The Picture Gallery on the first floor has a Claude Lorrain landscape at either end and is filled with treasures. These include a work partly by Rubens of the Monastery of the Escorial which had belonged to Charles I, and a stunning Correggio (now reattributed to Cambiaso) of Venus and Cupid. And there is more….I haven’t even mentioned the furniture or the porcelain.
To visit Longford Castle, go to the National Gallery website, although many of the limited tour dates are now fully booked.
Read more about Helena Snakenborg and her arrival in England on my website and find out more about my books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon and the Family Gronstedt’s history in Swedish at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk
Spring is definitely in the air with daffodils in full bloom in London’s parks, and also at the rather grey and stony Paternoster Square in the City, as I discovered on a wander. In fact it was a promotion for Marie Curie – a most worthy cause – but they weren’t all real!
At Tate Modern the Rauschenberg exhibition is still attracting visitors as it draws to a close in early April. This is a mega selection from his long career and includes many of his well-known works such as the Goat with a tyre which has been lent by the Moderna Museeet in Stockholm. It was developed in the 1950s from a stuffed goat the artist found in a second-hand shop in New York.
Tate Britain, as predicted, is bursting at the seams with Hockney fans – well worth the effort to get a ticket. Some people love the portraits, others prefer the Yorkshire landscapes. So there will be something there for everyone.
Looking back to the 1930s
More challenging are the two exhibitions at the Royal Academy and they make a good match – maybe not on the same day. There is a lot to digest, particularly in the Russian exhibition in the main galleries. In the Sackler Wing the small but exquisite exhibition covers the impact of the depression on American art in the inter-war years.
Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 took me back to my visit to St Petersburg in September last year when with our Russian Martin Randall guide we spent several hours at the Russian Art Museum. The RA has brought together iconic artworks from there and also from private collectors to illustrate the post-revolutionary period by Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich including posters, porcelain and photographs. Short film snippets show life in collective housing and on the land. There’s even a mock-up of what a small flat might have looked like. In a country where many still could not read, the propaganda value of revolutionary art was soon realised and used on the sides of trains travelling through the vast countryside.
America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s while much smaller also pulls a punch with its evocative paintings of despair as Western economies plunged into depression after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Grant Wood’s picture of the cheerless American couple in “American Gothic” is the highlight of the exhibition. But every painting in this show really does tell a story….so linger and explore. You may even spot Lenin’s face in one of the paintings.
Family memories of the depression
In my Swedish book about Family Gronstedt, the depression played its part. My maternal grand-father was not just a doctor but also an investor in property and shares. A few years after the Wall Street crash which reverberated round European capitals, the Swedish “match king”, Ivar Kreuger, took his own life in Paris causing further havoc. He had created his financial empire not just from matches but also from financial loan instruments to countries around the world – something of a Ponzi scheme – which collapsed with him taking down banks, and large and small investors. My grand-father’s finances survived the blast through Sweden’s economy but he died in 1937 with his resources severely depleted. It was a tough time for many families as the RA exhibitions show.
Find out more about my books including – newly launched The Go Around and the Family Gronstedt’s history – at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk