The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London WC1.

 

Franz Hals, the Laughing Cavalier
The Laughing Cavalier

 

The Wallace Collection is a must see museum/gallery if you come to London. The items on show were bequeathed to the nation in the late 19th Century and have been on display here since 1900.

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Van Dyck, The Shepherd Paris

The number and quality of the Old Masters from the 15th to the 19th century is amazing. It has some of the finest examples of 18th century French furniture in existence. There is also a rich assemblage of porcelain, sculpture and royal amour in the collection. One of the more unusual pieces is a particularly ornate cannon.

 

Cannon

Many of the pieces were bought during the sales of art following the French revolution, which is why the collection is so strong in 18th Century French art. Such good examples of the Louis XV cabinets and marquetry cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

Vases

A condition of the bequest was that none of the pieces ever left the collection, even to go out on loan. So if you ever wish to see, say, “The Laughing Cavalier” or Canaletto’s “View of the Grand Canal” you have to come here.

 

Canaletto, the Grand Canal
Canaletto, The Grand Canal

 

It is astounding to discover that it is free to visit this collection, although they do ask for a donation. It is also surprisingly quiet, compared to the other, bigger museums and galleries in London. This is presumably because it is not in the main exhibition area of town, although you could argue that, situated between Oxford Street, Baker Street and close to Selfridges, it is even more central than those in South Kensington.

 

Rembrandt, Susanna van Collen and Anna
Rembrandt, Susanna Van Collen and her daughter Anna

 

Notable among the Old Masters in the collection are 5 Rembrandt, 4 J. W. Turner, 8 Canaletto, 2 Titian, 12 Reynold, 5 Cuyp, 2 Gainsborough….. the list goes on, it is an amazingly rich and full list. There is even a wonderful portrait of Queen Victoria from 1837, when she was newly ascended to the throne.

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The Wallace Collection should not be missed when visiting London. Bring your friends when you visit, and you will surprise them with both the quantity and the quality of the art here. Given how quiet it tends to be, even in the summer, I am going to count this as a hidden gem, and I recommend it heartily.

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Queer British Art, Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1

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Queer British Art at the Tate is a fascinating exhibition, it is more of a history of homosexuality in Britain told through artistic pieces. Some of the exhibits aren’t very queer, until you know their story, and some of the exhibits wouldn’t be  artistic in themselves, until they are included in this exhibition.

Is the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell in Reading Gaol art? Perhaps not, but it does fit well in this show. Is Gluck’s paining of a vase of lilac roses queer? Not unless you are aware it commemorates the beginning of her affair with the florist, Constance Spry. This is one of those shows where the notes accompanying the piece are often equally as important as the piece itself. There is a box containing 200 military buttons each of which represents an illegal sexual liaison with a man who was wearing it.

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There are many fabulous pieces here including four early Hockney’s and two Francis Bacon’s. There is a glorious photo of Quentin Crisp as a young man, he was really only famous in later life and this picture shows how beautiful he was. This exhibition is full of wonderful bits of British Queer history, some of which one will never have the opportunity to see again. It has the actual card that the Marquis of Queensbury left for Oscar Wilde calling him a “posing sodomite”. This led to the court case that had him incarcerated in Reading Gaol.

There are eight rooms here, packed with interesting items, so make sure that you leave yourself time to take it all in. It is rare that this tight man would go twice to a paid exhibition, but I  fully intend to return before it closes on the 1st of October.

Bathing 1911 by Duncan Grant 1885-1978

I think you should look upon this as a historical exhibition rather than an art exhibition, but either way, I recommend it highly.

Picasso Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London 2016/7

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There are a lot of pieces of art in this exhibition, and many pieces that I haven’t seen before. Picasso was prolific, he had a very long productive span and it is interesting to see pieces here from each part of it.

His portraits are representative of his career in general, in that some of them appear disposable, some are sublime, but all are interesting. Some are interesting because they show his amazing technique, others because they give us insight into the character of the model and some because they shed light on his own disposition.

There are probably close to 100 portraits here. A cubist bust of Fernande Olivier is technically wonderful, a childlike painting of his daughter, Maya, at 2 is moving. A metal 2 dimensional bust of Jaqueline is clever and inventive.

There are many portraits of Olga, his wife, showing varying aspects of their relationship. The most famous of these is probably “Woman in a Hat” painted towards the end of their marriage which manages to be both beautiful and cruel.

There is also a doctored photograph of Esther Williams that is misogynistic and insulting.

I left the exhibition thinking that I really like Picasso the artist, but I doubt that I would have liked him in person.

Perhaps, this is what made him a great artist – he was able to display to us how he felt, but did not care how we felt about him.

It is a show that I would consider returning to, but £17.50 (without the expected £2 donation) a time, would discourage repeat visits. However, I felt it worth the money overall.  The National Portrait Gallery is free (expected £2 donation) for general entry and is packed with lovely stuff.

The pictures at the head and foot of this article are self-portraits, at 15 and at 90.

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The Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London

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The Royal Academy of Arts’ gallery is on Piccadilly, it is directly across the road from Fortnum & Mason.

The Academy was founded in 1768 by King George III. They have many varied exhibitions throughout the year. These include single artist exhibitions, for example, Hockney and Ai Wei Wei have been on so far this year. There are also themed shows containing many different artists. “Painting the Modern Garden” included works by Kandinsky, Monet and Matisse. Next years “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932” will have Chagall, Rodchenko and Eisenstein among others.

The highlight of their year is the Summer Exhibition, on open submission exhibition, to showcase the talent of emerging and established artists. The first one was in 1769 and it has run every one of the 248 years since. This is a huge and wide ranging exhibition usually holding over 1000 pieces, of every shape, size and medium. Most of the works are for sale differing in price from a hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands.

The gallery is nominally free, but most of the exhibitions are charged, so choose what you wish to see.

The Summer Exhibition is good value, although I take off the voluntary donation and only buy one list of works for the whole party, the cost of these is automatically added unless you ask for them to be removed.

The Royal Academy is  self funded so do as your conscience sees fit!  Personally, I don’t feel too guilty as they charge 30% commission on any work sold.

82 portraits and 1 still life, David Hockney, Royal Academy, 2016 London

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This exhibition is like a scientific experiment into the nature of portrait painting.

All the portraits are exactly the same size and shape. They are all full body portraits of a subject sitting in the same, yellow cushioned, wooden chair. They all have roughly the same, green and blue, background and each one was painted over the course of 3 days. They are all very recent – some only painted in February and March this year. There are 83 paintings crammed together in 3 small rooms, the walls painted in a matt magenta. A couple of people are pictured twice and one person three times over the course of the exhibition.

The individual portraits themselves are very good; Hockney is a fine portrait artist, but this is a single piece of work and it is seeing the whole exhibition as a unit that transforms this into an exceptional show. The uniformity of the portraits in terms of size, colour, and time, makes one notice the differences between them; the pose, the clothes, the gaze.

I don’t think of it as 83 individual pictures, I see it as one portrait of 83 individual sittings.

This is David Hockney at his best; confident, relaxed, colourful, witty and experimental.

I left very happy.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Tate Modern, London, 2016

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Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate Modern is a very big exhibition. There are thirteen room filled with paintings from every period of her career and there are also some works by her friends and collaborators. It was a nice, unexpected bonus to see some Americana by Ansell Adams included in the show.

It is arranged mostly chronologically and with so many pieces on show, you can watch her style developing through the decades. The earliest pieces are from the 1910s and you can see a hint of the time in them. The 1920s pictures and the New York ones have the slightest art deco feel and her ability with colour is profound even from the earliest days.

The 1920s,1930s flower pictures are probably her most famous and they look so modern, vibrant and current even now that it is difficult to imagine how new they must have seemed 80 odd years ago.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s move to New Mexico brought another complete change of style. the only common factor being the inspired use of colour throughout. There are also series from the 1940s and 1950s where some are more minimalist in nature and others are figurative.

The latest pictures date from the 1960s and you can also see the times reflected here.

Initially, I thought that the entrance fee, around £16, was pretty steep for a single show. However, it is probably one of the largest shows that I have ever seen, you won’t really feel like seeing much else in the Tate Modern on the same day, and the quality of the paintings is such that, on balance, it is good value for money. There is also enough depth to the exhibition that you can really see the arc of her development as you walk round the show and it is very interesting to watch those changes over the course of such a long, talented career.

Undressed at the V&A

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In a city that is packed with great museums, the V&A is my favourite. I particularly like their fashion exhibitions.

Undressed is the history of underwear. It is a telling fact that the most interesting piece in the show is not an item of underwear, but a 3D painting by Julian Opie. I found the exhibition less good than many of their shows about clothes. It felt haphazardly laid out and the displays and the information were uninspiring.

So go the V&A –  but save yourself the £13 (with donation) entry fee on this occasion, but enjoy the brilliant free exhibits, the beautiful café and the lovely courtyard instead.