Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Art and Abart with Nige

Yesterday I went to see Robert Dukes's
paintings at Browse and Darby on Cork Street. He is a young painter - barely
in his 40s - but working firmly in the tradition of the Old Masters. Not
that his paintings look old masterly at first glance, having an unfinished,
spontaneous air - but is is soon apparent that this is a painter who
knows and loves paint and who is consciously working in the tradition. Most
of the paintings are small still lives, singing with vibrant colour,
succulently painted and bursting with life. Fruit, shellfish and flowers are
his subjects, rendered in a manner that uses paint at once with great
precision and calculated roughness - they are exactly as finished as they
need to be, so that they seem somehow inevitable. Spanish masters are
obviously in his mind, though the nearest superficial resemblance would be
perhaps to Euan Uglow's still lives (though Dukes's are very much less austere). In
addition the exhibition also has a few portraits, a range of drawings and
some lovely studies after earlier masters - A Church in Naples after Thomas
Jones and Danae after Rembrandt stand out. It's a glorious little exhibition
for anyone who loves real painting (and it closes on May 2nd. Hurry, hurry, hurry...).
After that, I resigned myself to queuing among the tourists to
see Amazing Rare Things at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. This is
a lovely and fascinating exhibition of 'the art of natural history in the
age of discovery'. What is notable is how full of life and character these
paintings of animals and plants are, however hard the painter tries to be a
mere scientific illustrator. Mark Catesby (working in the American colonies
in the 17th century) aims to be 'flat, tho' exact', but his work is anything
but flat - the best of it seems more alive than his (dead) subjects, and he
cannot help but make Pictures. Alexander
Marshal, horticulturalist, aims to provide accurate paintings of plants for
gentlemen connoisseurs - and such they are, beautifully done - but he can't
help adding monkeys, dogs, parrots and, in one startling case, a dead jay
that seems to have sunk to the foot of the sheet, casting a shadow on it. As
for Maria Sibylla Merian's paintings of the wildlife of Surinam, they are
riots of vivid colour and intense natural drama. This is an exhibition that
puts a smile on your face (as, in my case, did the Dukes) - and no wonder.
These artists express - as David Attenborough puts it - 'the profound joy
that all feel who observe the natural world with a sustained and devoted
intensity'. As, in his different way, does Dukes.
(There's a link of a kind here to Dukes.)


  1. Nige, it's on occasions like this that I envy you good folks down in the smoke.
    We up here in the northern wastelands are not very well served in the visual arts, having to rely on infrequent exhibitions at a handful of galleries.
    The last Picasso exhibition was, I think of some of the stuff retrieved from his wastebin.
    The last young painters up here were the Glascow boys, starring Jo Crawhill (birds & animals) and he died in 1913.

    We even have galleries up here (the Sage) where the staff seem to have the final say.

    Anyway, green with envy, don't envy you the M25 though.

  2. Well Malty those Scottish Colourists seem to be very big these days, but maybe all the pictures are down here... When it comes to commercial galleries in London, 80 or 90 percent of the stuff is dross (as it is elsewhere) - but I guess the sheer quantity means there are going to be quite a few things worth seeing every year. Young Dukes was the best 'new' painter I've seen in a long while - let's hope the discerning Lord Archer, with his famous 'eye', isn't buying him up.

  3. Isn't Browse & Derby a lovely gallery Nige? Look out for any forthcoming show by Patrick George, an octogenarian who has painted the same bits of Suffolk around his house for fifty years. Speaking of old men, I suppose your esteemed colleague is around and about in no country?

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