Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery: Painting With Light

We went to see this exhibition recently. Painting with light explored the relationship between painting and photography, and was a thought-provoking exhibition. Purists still tend to be critical of painters who use photographs, and yet at the time, artists saw great merit in the use of the camera

John Ruskin was never easy to please, being most exacting in his standards. He drew meticulous architectural studies which would have taken him hours. I cannot remember the quote verbatim, but words to this effect he said that if he could have been saved many hours of detailed drawing with a device that did the job in half a minute, then there would have been no doubt in his mind as to which he would use.

Photography was invented in 1839, and was to lead to a development in new techniques and materials which were to influence painters

Edinburgh was home to a progressive movement amongst scientist and artists. In 1843 the young Robert Adamson was to establish one of the first photographic studios where he was joined by the painter David Octavius Hill and Jessie Mann. Together they took something like two thousand photographs during their four year partnership

Their photographic portraits were admired during their lifetime and their views of Edinburgh were an influence on Hill’s landscapes. These works came to be recognised as some of the earliest collaborations between photographer and artist

Holman Hunt painting of Nazareth

Holman Hunt’s painting of Nazareth

Photography was a gift to the Pre-Raphaelites ¬†of which Holman Hunt was one of the founder members. They looked for inspiration to the medieval period, and their works are known for sharp detail and vivid colours. This was almost a quasi-religious movement, and partly because of the medieval influence and partly because of his deep Christian conviction, many of Holman Hunt’s pictures are of Biblical or religious subjects.

Together with his friend Thomas Seddon, he stayed in Jerusalem for two years at the home of James Graham, a pioneer photographer. Together they took many landscape photographs. The reference material that photographs gave artists certainly helped painters like Holman Hunt in their chosen philosophy of sharper detailing.

Many photographers had trained as painters, and had set up studios. They used models whose posing time was cut dramatically with the use of the camera, especially when complex or spontaneous poses were called for. Photographs were used for preparatory references, which meant that props, costumes and models could be dispensed with.

Thus began the successful collaboration between photography and painting, the former even becoming an art form in its own right.

For me the camera has become the sketch book, enjoyable as sketching might be. I shall never again feel bad about that

Watts Chapel and Gallery, Compton

Watts Chapel,Compton

Watts Cemetery Chapel, Compton, Surrey designed by Mary Watts

The winter street scene of Guildford is going to take me some time. Not only do I have to use my imagination, which is not my strong point, I also have to do a fair bit of research and also calculation, which I have to take my time over.

This does give me an opportunity to post something local which we visited not that long ago, which is Watts Cemetery Chapel or sometimes known as the Watts Mortuary Chapel.This is in the village of Compton, near Guildford in Surrey. I painted the above after our visit. Financed by the famous Victorian painter, George Frederick Watts, through his paintings,he donated it to the village of Compton.The Watts Gallery is also nearby. Recently restored after years of dilapidation, it houses a wonderful collection of his paintings and sculpture. The chapel was designed by his wife Mary Watts who also oversaw the building

In 1895 Mary started giving evening classes to the villagers at their home Limnerslease, teaching them how to model the local clay, and producing decorative tiles in terra cotta. They modelled the symbolic and beautiful patterns that she had designed, which would be used in the interior decoration of the chapel. The chapel she designed is in the Arts and crafts Style, the nearest we get in England to Art Nouveau, although I maintain many of the interior details are really Art Nouveau

In England, we never really had an architect who epitomised Art Nouveau, as they did in Scotland with Rennie Mackintosh. I sometimes think Mary Watts was our Art Nouveau heroine.

Close by, her husband’s gallery. A very famous Victorian painter, G.F.Watts, known for allegorical and symbolic works. His paintings hang all over the world, yet many are here at Compton, and this gallery is so worth a visit.

If I were to be asked to pick a favourite painting, it would be that very famous one “Hope”. There are many to choose from, but this female allegorical figure, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left, is very poignant.

There were two versions painted and when we were last there, the version from the Tate was on loan to Compton.

This painting has been an influence on many great names. On Picasso during his Blue Period for his hunched figure The Old Guitarist, is one example. Martin Luther King referenced it in his collection of sermons. Nelson Mandela allegedly had a copy on the wall of his cell in prison on Robben Island.

Later in the 1980s the painting was the subject of a lecture by one Dr.Frederick Sampson in Richmond, Virginia who described it as a study of contradictions. One Jeremiah Wright apparently attended the lecture and in his sermon in 1990 on Hope, coined the phrase “audacity of Hope”. Having attended the sermon, Barack Obama adopted the phrase later as the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, and more well-known to most of us, as the title of his second book.

I think the quote runs something like : to have one string left and to have the audacity to hope that you can still make music

How some things echo down the ages!800px-Assistants_and_George_Frederic_Watts_-_Hope_-_Google_Art_Project

Hope

Critics of the day called it Despair but obviously missed the point