AUGUST CHALLENGE DAY 20
For the Silly Season I've set myself the challenge of visiting a different art exhibition on every day of the month and blogging about it.
Thursday 20 August
Exhibition: Summer Exhibition
Place: The Fine Art Society
The Fine Art Society has been on the same site in New Bond Street since 1876, when it was started by a group of friends to show and deal in the contemporary art of the time. It was noted early on for championing James Whistler, after his notorious libel action against the critic John Ruskin, who’d said that Whistler was a coxcomb for asking “two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”. The gallery’s continued to specialize in British art from 1700 up to now, a pretty wide brief. It’s a spacious atmospheric gallery, very pleasant to visit.
I went there because the Guardian had announced a show of new work by David Inshaw, a painter I like. They got the month wrong. Inshaw is coming in September, but the FAS’s summer show had a few gems that I much enjoyed seeing.
London Scene by Julian Trevelyan
The best I thought was a canvas by Julian Trevelyan, a view of a part of Hammersmith apparently undergoing slum clearance. The viewpoint is high, the perspective flattened and the detail subtly odd, since this was about the time the Surrealists were first shown in London and Trevelyan, according to the Tate website, was a painter with “Surrealist and Expressionist tendencies”. (A mild nervous disorder you might think.) Here he makes slightly surrealist use of odd detail – the slightly over-sized drains inspector and the peculiar mobile metal tank to the right. Trevelyan achieved a lumpy surface effect by mixing sand with his oil paint, a fashionable technique at the time.
A Country Inn by Mary Adshead
Equally enjoyable were two tall paintings done a few years earlier by Mary Adshead (1904-95) in the fairly rare medium for the 20th century of tempera on canvas. They were part of a 1928 commission of eleven mural decorations for Lord Beaverbrook’s country house at Newmarket, featuring many of the newspaper magnate’s social circle. Beaverbrook is said to have rejected them on the advice of Lady Diana Cooper, who argued that he would be bound to fall out in future with the friends depicted, and so he returned the whole series to Adshead with a 2/3 rejection fee. What I saw at the FSA are two out of the three panels that survive of the scheme; the others were destroyed in a fire. They are elegantly composed and wonderfully of their time.
The Puncture by Mary Adshead
The Puncture shows the mischievous spirit that got Adshead into trouble with her patron. The standing woman is Beaverbrook’s mistress while the man offering the ladies a lift is the painter Augustus John, a notorious womanizer. The young fellow chatting up the country girl in A Country Inn is still to be identified. Some commentators speak of the influence on Adshead of Rex Whistler: but who is to say which direction the influence flowed? The two were students together at the Slade.
The Boyle Family
Another piece that caught my eye during this visit is by the Boyle Family of Scottish artists, whom I was first impressed by a few years ago in a big exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival. They specialise in recreating small portions of the face of the earth, literally the earth under your feet, or the surface of whatever place a dart thrown randomly at a map might indicate. It could be a bit of the beach, a flowerbed, or a section of road surface, complete with the curb, a storm drain and double yellow lines. The Boyles never reveal the materials they use but the result is uncannily realistic. You’d swear they have simply dug it up but no, they’ve made it up.