Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Works on Paper: Three Exhibitions at the Fitzilliam Museum, Cambridge

To Cambridge on Friday and three concurrent exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum.  (There is a fourth: 'Treasured Possessions' which the bf and I saw last month.  Some wonderful objects but a little diffuse.)  All three are about work on paper; watercolour and printmaking.  And all three are outstanding exhibitions; the works on display all taken from the Museum's own rich collection of work.  The largest of the three, 'Watercolour:  Elements of Nature' is a brisk exploration of the use of watercolour as a medium from the Renaissance (the most amazing miniatures) to the 20th century. (I did the exhibition in reverse, but the experience was none the worse for that.) Watecolour is often seen as the British medium, not surprisingly then the majority of work on display comes from these Isles. All the famous names are there: Turner, Girtin, De Wint, Cotman, Palmer.  The last was represented by one work: 'The Magical Apple Tree' c 1830, a work of visionary intensity, shining out like an icon.  An equally intense vision was offered to us by Ruskin who is represented here by four works. 'In the Pass of Killiekrankie' is a master work; incredibly small (I didn't realize how small)  and worked in a way that seemed to link it with the Elizabethan miniatures that open the show.  Superb.  Not enough is made of Ruskin the artist.  Poor chap only seems to be remembered these days for his sex life, or lack thereof.  Next to Ruskin's work Seargeant's three, sun drenched watercolours seem facile.  The only real disappointment were the watercolours by Pisarro.  They really were poor.  A little disappointed too, if I'm honest, with the Paul Nash, as I admire deeply his oils and am drawn to his ideas.
Across the landing is the second watercolour exhibition: 'Ruskin's Turner's', that is the twenty-five Turner watercolours Ruskin bequeathed to Cambridge University to inspire the students. Lucky students, as this is another schatzkammer of good things.  It is rare opportunity to see these works together as Ruskin, concerned about the conservation of these wonders, laid down strictures about their display.  And wonders they are: small, vibrant and intense and altogether very beautiful.
Finally 'Designed to Impress; Highlights from the Print Collection' and like 'Watercolour: Elements of Nature' a lightning journey through the history of the print form the Renaissance to the present day.  The work on display is of an equal quality to the other two exhibitions.  There is work by Durer - the famous 'Melancholia I' - Rubens, Blake, Wadsworth and Munch among others. There seems to be an emphasis on the grotesque and the strange - though that is not a negative criticism. Something uncanny, even occult. The highlights however for me were a Rubens, and, surprisingly for I didn't know he was also an artist, a work by the Royalist champion Prince Rupert of the Rhine.  A work of real quality.

It has been a week of Turners in fact.  The bf and I were in Lincoln on Tuesday and we did a summary tour of the Usher Gallery where there are two exhibitions running: 'Lincolnshire's Great Exhibition' and 'Picture the Poet'.  In addition to works by Lowry and Stubbs there is Turner's famous watercolour of Stamford.  A second visit, I think, is required.

Watercolour: Elements of Nature runs until 27th September 2015
Ruskin's Turners runs until 4th October 2015
Designed to Impress runs until 27th September 2015

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