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Paris | Art tour 2013 – Vallotton

The incredible thing about Paris is not just the quality of the exhibitions it puts on, but how many of those quality shows it manages to host in a single season. The Grand Palais alone has some 4 or more exhibitions showing at any one time, and as Dominik and I took the long walk around the huge neo-classical structure that is the Grand Palais, we noticed that there were queues lining the building on almost all four sides – testament not just to the popularity of its exhibitions, but also to how many exhibitions were showing in the space of a single (admittedly huge) building.

The benefit of these multiple shows (and also the disadvantage if you fatigue easily) is that when you buy one ticket, you can combine your first exhibition with another – or in fact the lot. So having been wowed all morning by the cubist prowess of Georges Braque, and braked for lunch in an excruciatingly expensive brasserie nearby for snails and an ‘amburger (imagine said in a French accent) we returned to the great palace of art to see the second of their major autumn retrospectives: a show devoted to the work of Felix Vallotton.

Vallotton paintings in the “aesthetic sythetism” style

Nuage_à_Romanel 759px-Valloton_Frau_mit_Dienstmagd_beim_Baden woman-being-capped-1900 800px-Vallotton_Das_Bad_Sommerabend_1892 Femmes_nues_aux_chats

I wasn’t familiar with either the name Vallotton or his work before I ventured to Paris this autumn. However, as a quasi-member of the French Nabis movement of art, I was already familiar with a number of Vallotton’s artistic allies – Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard being amongst their number. The Nabis were a group of post-impressionist avant-garde artists who took their name from the word Nabi which means a prophet in Hebrew and Arabic. They were so called because they believed that their art revitalised painting in the same way that the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel. At the heart of their movement was another term, or style of art, sythetism, which involved the flattening of colour panes and shadows, a heavier reliance on dark outlines, and a preoccupation with the canvas, as “essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order” (so said Maurice Denis). If I was to describe the style in my own words, it would be a painting without depth and perspective, so that the folds of a dress for example would be reduced to a single colour for the shadow and a single colour for the light, with no variation of tone demarking the shape or texture of the material. 

Whether or not Felix Callotton, born in Switzerland in 1865, came to adopt the style as a result of the influence of his fellow Nabis is less certain. From the exhibition, it would appear as though Vallotton’s distinctive flattened panes flowed naturally from his brilliant virtuosity with woodcut printmaking. After all, the finish of woodcut will invariably involve the flattening of light and shadow, as the synthesis of two colours or tones – generally black and white – combine together to illustrate all of the details of an image – black for shadow and features; white for light. And having spent a good decade or so of his early career woodcutting for the sake of making money, the suppression of depth and shadow made its way seamlessly into Vallotton’s paintings which followed.

Vallotton’s brilliant woodcuts

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Being recently enamoured with all things printmaking, it will not surprise the reader of this post to learn that I was struck first and foremost by these brilliant woodcuts, which are so full of detail and humour for so intricate and painstaking a medium. In Vallotton’s Intimacies series, he depicts the mundane and mediocre interiors of intimate home settings, but always his images are full of drama, whether it be because of his captivating use of shadow, or the sense of scandal and emotional anxiety which is suggested. From these prints, Vallotton went on to depict brilliantly the everyday street scenes of his Paris surroundings, doing so with whimsical detailing and a surprising attention to detail, and while Vallotton later abandoned woodcutting when the trade had left him sufficiently well furnished with money, his return to the medium to depict the First World War in his This is War! series in 1916 saw him create prints which were equally brilliant, despite the more serious tone of the subject matter.

As to Vallotton’s paintings, I adored the colourful products of his sythetism era, where the influence of his printmaking and the Nabis resulted in works where the subject matter become secondary to the overall pictorial patterning which was being created across the canvas. Just look at his painting of a theatre box for example (“Box seats at the theatre), a canvas which could quite possibly be a Rothko with its simple horizonal colour planes, and which only becomes more figurative thanks to the simple shapes denoting the two occupants of the box and that masterly glove with its single-coloured mauve shadow, suggesting an emotional dimension to the story being depicted.

box-seats-at-the-theater-the-gentleman-and-the-lady-1909.jpg!HD

Less impressive, sadly, were the works which Vallotton went on to create in his later career, as he abandoned synthetism and the Nabis, and sought to concentrate on depicting primarily the nude, and latterly huge mythological parodies which were more Disney than anything else. Thank goodness that at the end of his career, and at the end of this show, Vallotton chose to return to the medium of woodcut which, despite their depleted tonal palette and reduction of depth and realism, are perhaps the most captivating and visceral works of all.

All a bit “Disney”- Vallotton’s mythological parodies

pic_143-20131024092755 Felix Vallotton, Orpheus und die Maenaden - Valloton / Orpheus and the Maenads - Vallotton, Felix , 1865-1925. Felix-Vallotton-Persee-killing-the-Dragon

Felix Vallotton: The Fire Under the Ice is on at the Grand Palais, Paris until 20th January 2014

Paris | Art tour 2013 – Braque

Lovers of 20th century art will all have heard of French-born artist Georges Braque. Of course I’ve heard of him too, renowned as he is for being co-founder of cubism along with the artist with whom he was thick and thieves in early 20th century Paris, Pablo Picasso. But my acquaintance with Braque has all too often occurred because, seeing a cubist masterpiece hanging in a modern art gallery, I have confused it with a Picasso, only to discover that the work was by Braque. It’s an easy mistake to make – the two artists were practically indecipherable from one another when they started out on the cubism road, a likeness of style which must be put down to the fact that they would discuss one another’s work endlessly day after day, night after night. And Braque was, purportedly, inspired into cubism by his glimpse of Picasso’s now world-famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which few understood at the time, Braque being the exception.

So while Braque has, for me, existed solely in the shadows of the far glossier art historical existence of Picasso, I have never had the chance to discover how truly consistently brilliant he was as an artist. That is until this autumn, thanks to the latest blockbuster exhibition of Paris’ Grand Palais, which dedicates two floors of its palatial surrounds in retrospective homage to this French artistic great. I say consistently brilliant, because this show was one of those rare exhibitions where I literally loved almost every single piece, finding myself almost breathless with admiration as I strolled from painting to painting literally in love with what was on the walls before me.\

Early fauvism

The Port at La Ciotat (1907)

The Port at La Ciotat (1907)

Landscape in L'Estaque (1906)

Landscape in L’Estaque (1906)

The show starts with early Braque, whereupon he dabbled largely in the fauvist epoque, with the result that his sunny landscapes of Southern France are imbued with scintillating bright colour which can not help but make the viewer yearn for the summer. But soon enough, after this initial embrace of colour, Braque discovers the more subdued shades of cubism, finding his own when fragmenting a scene into colourless, cubist dimensions. Seminal in cubism’s development was a chance visit to a wallpaper shop when Braque saw a reproduction wood-pattern paper in the window. Purchasing the wallpaper by impulse, it soon inspired Braque to set about creating a series of paper collages, which included, as well as the wallpaper, cardboard, newspaper cuttings – anything he could get his hands on. The effect of this geometric fragmentation was to create the cubist look, and soon enough Picasso was doing the same.

Into cubism, collage and then back to paint

Mandora (1909)

Mandora (1909)

The Viaduct at L'Estaque (1908)

The Viaduct at L’Estaque (1908)

Little Harbour in Normandy (1909)

Little Harbour in Normandy (1909)

Still life with pipe (1913)

Still life with pipe (1913)

Still life on a table with Gillette (1914)

Still life on a table with Gillette (1914)

Violin and Pipe (Le Quotidien) (1913)

Violin and Pipe (Le Quotidien) (1913)

back to painting.... Still Life with Fruit and Ace of Clubs (1913)

back to painting…. Still Life with Fruit and Ace of Clubs (1913)

After several years of collage experimentation, Braque returned to paint, but using the medium to create what were almost pastiches of the collage look – still fragmented, full of geometric shapes, but differing in their progressive return to the bolder colours of his fauvist age, a return which was no doubt eased along by the weakening of his relationship with Picasso, and his strengthening bond with spirited Spanish artist, Juan Gris.

The Table (1928)

The Table (1928)

The Round Table (1929)

The Round Table (1929)

The Duet (1937)

The Duet (1937)

Studio II (1949)

Studio II (1949)

Studio with Skull (1938)

Studio with Skull (1938)

Thus it was that as the 20s and 30s ticked by, Braque’s work moved the cubist spirit further and further, as the artist pushed the boundaries of the movement he had helped to create, until such a time as his works become progressively more figurative, but all the while maintaining the multi-dimensional expression which was central to cubism. Take his billiard table series for example – seen from various angles, Braque’s bold green billiard table is shown from all kinds of impossible angles, and yet there is no mistaking what Braque was trying to depict.

The Billiard Table (1945)

The Billiard Table (1945)

I would be selling the show short to suggest that it all ended there. From colour-drenched fauvism to colour-collected cubism, Braque’s mastery extended to every avenue of life, as he used his pioneering imagery to depict portraits, artist’s studios, landscapes, still life and even greek mythology. From room to room we see an artist who never failed to be inspired, and to inspire his countless followers in response. Never again will Georges Braque be in Picasso’s shadow as far as I am concerned, but level pegging as a genius of 20th century art.

Georges Braque is showing at the Grand Palais, Paris until 6 January 2014.

Paris: la visite d’art – Exhibition 2: Bohèmes

With a second day comes a second exhibition direct from the city of love, light, and above all things, art. Paris, inspiration to so many creatives over the years, is host to a sensational array of art exhibitions this Autumn/Winter season, and I could not wait to rush over on eurostar to get my fill.

Our second show, after Hopper, was also the second of two big blockbuster shows being held consecutively in the mammoth greenhouse-come-palace otherwise known as Le Grand Palais. Entitled Bohèmes, this exhibition promised to be an enriching exploration of the bohemian age of Paris, when pearly green absinthe dripped from sugar on a balanced spoon in little grimy bars on the step hillsides of Montmartre, when dandy artists courted flirty prostitutes and cabaret dancers, and when the true spirit of the artistic revolution was born.

L'Absinthe (Edgar Degas, 1876)

L’Absinthe (Edgar Degas, 1876)

It was the inevitable consequence of the impressionist age, when artists and intellectuals alike broke free from the shackles of Napoleonic Paris, zealously keen to explore the new modernised world, an age with re-written moral values, re-examined sensibilities, and artistically a blank-canvas ripe for the most extravagant exploration. It was the age of the bohemian revolution, the time of Toulouse Lautrec, the Moulin Rouge and the can-can, and surely the most charming age of all Parisian history.exposition_bohemes_grand_palais-470-wplok

It was with a high degree of excitement then that we entered our second expo in the Grand Palais, ready to indulge in Le Chat Noir, the decadence of dandyism, and the melancholy of alcoholic introspection. And yet what we were faced with was a huge long gallery full of dank old paintings…of gypsies! This was not at all what I had expected, and I must admit to being quite put out by this start to the show. Unenthusiastically, we browsed the nondescript works, before turning the corner, only to find more. Gypsies in Romania, Gypsies in Spanish Seville, all painted in a very classical, traditional fashion, each in turn failing to inspire me (I also thought it was rather ironic that this exhibition was even on show in Paris… after all, wasn’t France the country which was recently so caught up in a scandal with the Romani communities?).

However soon enough, the exhibition changed for the positive. Depictions of the gypsy communities became all the lighter, more colourful and lighthearted. Enter Van Gogh, with his fresh, turquoise skies and bright yellow gypsy caravan near Arles, and Renoir with his iconically idealistic portrayal of a gypsy girl. Then there was the great Courbet, the artist much lauded for kickstarting the spirit of the artistic revolution, and his highly original self-portrait, Bonjour Monsieur Courbet.

Gustav Courbet, La Recontre ou Bonjour M. Courbet (1854)

Gustav Courbet, La Recontre ou Bonjour M. Courbet (1854)

Van Gogh, Gypsy Camp near Arles

Van Gogh, Gypsy Camp near Arles

Auguste Renoir, En été / La bohémienne (1868)

Auguste Renoir, En été / La bohémienne (1868)

So why all the gypsies? Well apparently, the origin of the word “bohemian” is from the French word bohémien, which is the french word for gypsy, allegedly because the French believed the Romani people to have come either from or certainly through Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). From the gypsy connotations, the word gradually became used to describe people who were “socially unconventional” and so the bohemian concept was born – the art lovers, the dancers, the scandalous inhabitants of Montmartre – all were part of a mass bohemian revolution, where social conventions were cast to the weakening winds of the past, and free spirited minds were unleashed upon the world of art, love and leisure. And it was to this time, at the end of the 19th century, when bohemianism truly came into its own, that the exhibition finally wandered, casting behind the historical gypsy poses, and taking us to the heart of the bohemian insurrection of 19th century Paris.

From hereon in, I was in art heaven. From Courbet’s dashing self-portraits, and depictions of the artist’s arteliers (art studios), to the vibrant artistic community of Montmatre, with its cafés, its dance halls and its Moulins aplenty, these paintings unleashed an age of debauchery, of charm and of vivacious artistic liberty which was almost unique to the Montmartre region and a decisive factor in why I came to adore Paris as a young school boy first wandering into the Place du Tertre.

Paul Signac, Le Moulin de la Galette (1884)

Paul Signac, Le Moulin de la Galette (1884)

Van Gogh, Coin a Montmartre, le Moulin a poivre (1887)

Van Gogh, Coin a Montmartre, le Moulin a poivre (1887)

Ramon Casas, En Plein-air (1890)

Ramon Casas, En Plein-air (1890)

But not only did the exhibition feature the paintings of bohemianism, but also recreated their world. The café scenes were displayed in a mock up café with long benches, peeling walls and posters from the infamous cabaret Le Chat Noir and the artist’s hangout, Le Lapin Agile, while the depictions of the ateliers were hung on the walls of an artist’s studio. Playing in the background was the music of two operas – Bizet’s Carmen, the opera about Seville’s most famous gypsy protagonist, and of course Puccini’s La Bohéme, a story of the quintessential bohemians in 19th century Paris – the starving writer and his equally hungry artist friend, scraping together a living while falling in love with prostitutes and suffering the full potency of love, romance and the horrors of a poverty-ridden death.

Ramon Casas, Madeleine or Au Moulin de la Galette (1892)

Ramon Casas, Madeleine or Au Moulin de la Galette (1892)

Santiago Rusiñol, Café de Montmartre (1890)

Santiago Rusiñol, Café de Montmartre (1890)

Steinlein, poster for Le Chat Noir

Steinlein, poster for Le Chat Noir

The atmosphere conjured by the paintings of that time are like a snapshot onto an almost impossible age of charm. Of course it’s easy to romanticise poverty and decadence, in times which were hard, often miserable, and tragic, and yet there is something about that age which fills me with incredible inspiration, as though the artistic spirit which was kindled in that time has never burnt out, pervading through the centuries and igniting the artistic spirits of a millennia of new creative generations.

Ccharles Amable Lenoir, Rêverie (1893)

Ccharles Amable Lenoir, Rêverie (1893)

I only wish that you too could be inspired by the paintings on show… however these photos will have to be enough. Having just checked the website, I see that this great show finished at the weekend, drawing this fascinating study of bohemia to a close, but reopening a chapter of artistic revolution whose impact will live forever.

I leave you, for completeness, with the Norms’ very own version of Degas’ L’Absinthe (above)… it wasn’t featured in Bohémes, but clearly should have been.

L'Absinthe Norm (acrylic on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

L’Absinthe Norm (acrylic on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

À bientôt

Paris: la visite d’art – Exhibition 1: Hopper

I don’t need a reason to visit Paris. The beauty of the winding cobbled streets of Montmartre echoing with accordion melodies, the charm of the boutique-filled Marais, the glory of the sweeping River Seine, and the regal grandeur of the Louvre, the Napoleonic boulevards, the sandy parks and the super-sized fountains… I could just walk around the place, breathe in the atmosphere, and munch upon macarons year after year, month after month. I never grow tired of Paris.

affiche-hopperAnd yet this year, Paris’ artistic offerings provided me not only with an excuse to make my second trip to the city in the space of 12 months, but made it a requirement. For the exhibitions which have graced the Paris art scene this autumn/winter have frankly been second to none – a Hopper retrospective at the Grand Palais, an exhibition focusing on the “bohemians” of 19th century Paris, also at the Grand Palais, a show of the significant artistic productivity, including Picassos aplenty, of occupied Paris during the second world war at the Modern Art Museum and, most significantly of all, a Salvador Dali retrospective at the Pompidou. I have waited all my life for that one. Yet by comparison, what did we have in London in the so called “cultural olympiad” of 2012? A show of Hockney’s “bigger picture”, which was always so crowded that the most you could see of his bigger pictures was his clumsy brushstrokes pushed almost up against your nose, a premature retrospective of the great pretender, Damien Hirst, and a further foray down the well-trodden path of the Pre-Raphaelites for the 5th time in as many years.

So off to Paris I went with my partner, full of anticipation for what lay ahead – 3 days; 3 exhibitions – an anticipation which was fulfilled many times over.

Now it would be an injustice to try and feature the three shows I saw all in one post – the Dali exhibition alone should have a whole blog of its own. So I will take you through the shows one by one, sharing the joy of Paris’ cultural agenda for those of you who cannot make the trip, and making a strong case for the prompt purchase of exhibition tickets for those who can.

So up first – Edward Hopper at the Grand Palais. Hopper (1882-1967) the all-American painter, best known for his depictions of introspective early 20th century city dwellers, lost in a world of thought in an often artificial unnatural urban space, has long fascinated me, ever since I “accidently” hung on to a catalogue lent to me by my friends, Sarah and Truong, of this artist previously unknown to me. Of course at least two paintings are recognisable to us all – House by the Railroad (1925) – the quite reclusive, slightly sinister victorian house which is said to have inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho house, and a number of haunted house parodies ever since; and Nighthawks (1942), the quintessential Hopper masterpiece, with its four mysterious figures, enigmatic relationships, and strangely unnatural nighttime glare. But asides from those popular references, I did not know Hopper, yet wished to be better acquainted.

House by the Railroad, 1925 (© MOMA, NY)

House by the Railroad, 1925 (© MOMA, NY)

Nighthawks, 1942 (© Art Institute, Chicago)

Nighthawks, 1942 (© Art Institute, Chicago)

In staging this significant retrospective (featuring 160 works, that was almost Hopper’s entire life’s output – he was a notoriously fastidious and slow painter), the Grand Palais was providing the ultimate in Hopper shows, allowing not only an acquaintance with this fine artist, but a chronological embrace through each stage of his artistic career. 

An early work - Soir Bleu, 1914 (© Whitney Museum of American Art)

An early work – Soir Bleu, 1914 (© Whitney Museum of American Art)

First up, we were shown his early works – painted around the beginning of the 20th century and suitably inspired by Paris and artists like Degas and Pissarro, Hopper dabbled in his earliest cityscapes – broad brushed meditations on a captivating city, yet rather subdued, although already mastering an effective contrast of sunlight and shadow. But soon enough, Hopper turned to illustration, finding that his paintings were not selling. Here, we see Hopper as the caricaturist and illustrator, both mediums in which he was able to demonstrate great skill as a draftsman and social commentator. It was only in the 20s that he began to paint seriously again, and finding greater success as he did so. From this point in the show onwards, there begins a vast array of Hopper paintings, spoiling the viewer with their breadth and sheer number.

Manhattan Bridge Loop, 1928 (© Addison Gallery of American Art)

Manhattan Bridge Loop, 1928 (© Addison Gallery of American Art)

The City, 1927 (© University of Arizona Museum of Art)

The City, 1927 (© University of Arizona Museum of Art)

From Williamsburg Bridge, 1928 (© Met Museum of Art, NY)

From Williamsburg Bridge, 1928 (© Met Museum of Art, NY)

The paintings can almost be split, both chronologically and thematically. In the first set, Hopper’s paintings are conspicuous through their absence of people. Hopper had turned to urban scenes in his native America, concentrating on everyday scenes, roads, highways, lonely houses, and managing to capture the spirit of both suburban America and central city spaces, yet with the often noticeable lack of inhabitants. This then is to be contrasted by the later raft of works, in which the person takes centre stage in his paintings, as Hopper becomes almost voyeristic, appearing to intrude into scenes of great personal contemplation and introspection, as the characters he portrays stare, apparently into space, or couples appear together, yet both lost it seems in their own world.

Room in New York, 1932 (© Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska)

Room in New York, 1932 (© Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska)

Summertime, 1943 (© Delaware Art Museum)

Summertime, 1943 (© Delaware Art Museum)

These are the paintings which really made Hopper’s name – the lonely people – the built up urban scenes which nonetheless leave us with a feeling of emptiness and solitude. They are like a commentary on that time, as though Hopper is making a statement about the commercialisation and urban growth which was happening all around him – the more it grows, the lonelier the people caught up in the growth feel. The smaller the spaces, the inhabitants sink into themselves. In this respect, Hopper perhaps anticipated the pop-art of later years, yet doing so more as a resigned critic than as a celebrant of popular culture.

Gas, 1940 (© MOMA, NY)

Gas, 1940 (© MOMA, NY)

Portrait of Orleans, 1950 (© Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

Portrait of Orleans, 1950 (© Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

Personally, while I found Hopper’s people fascinating to consider, their stories open to so much interpretation, and Hopper’s intentions likewise, I couldn’t help but feel that too often his figures had something of a cartoony look about them, almost as though Hopper couldn’t quite kick the habit of his earlier days as an caricature artist. Rather, by far my favourite paintings were the solitary landscapes, the soulless cityscapes with not a person to be seen, the forest road interspersed with a jarring petrol station, the rolling landscape of The Camel’s Hump which was, by far, my favourite of his works.

Lighthouse Hill, 1927 (© Dallas Museum of Art)

Lighthouse Hill, 1927 (© Dallas Museum of Art)

The Camel's Hump, 1931 (© Utica (NY))

The Camel’s Hump, 1931 (© Utica (NY))

However likewise I loved a small gallery which showed some of Hopper’s etchings. This is quite bizarre, being that I have previously been drawn to Hopper by his great use of colour. Yet for me, Hopper’s etchings were more like a window onto his soul as an artist, whereas with his paintings, so often we look through opaque glass, misunderstanding his intentions and the messages he attempts to portray. Through his etchings we can enjoy his interaction with nature, appreciate the small details of life which fascinated him, and also track something of the thought process which underlay some of his later works. Take Night Shadows for example, which, in all its start Hitchcockian glory, appears to be something of a precursor to the enigmatic mystery which pervades many of his later paintings, especially the Nighthawks.

Night Shadows, 1921 (etching, © Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Night Shadows, 1921 (etching, © Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Whether it’s the inscrutable figures or the stark urban landscapes which do it for you, Hopper is a very likeable artist. His works are uncontroversial; they are inherently mysterious yet still very accessible; they beg questions, but provide no answers, and for that reason will continue to enagage audiences for many years to come. Yet so many of these works come from collections across America, and therefore for the European viewer, this is likely to be the best opportunity there will be for some years to engage with Hopper this side of the pond. So I urge you to go along, and make sure you book tickets in advance – did I mention that the show is so popular that we had to queue for almost an hour, just to get in on our pre-booked time slot?

The exhibition runs at Paris’ Grand Palais until 3 February 2013. You can buy your tickets here. Alternatively, if you can’t make it, the exhibition comes with its own mobile App which can be downloaded (at least from the itunes app store) and will guide you around the show with commentary and pictures – so even if you can’t make it to Paris, you’ll feel like you’ve done the show from the comfort and solitude of your very own armchair. Now Hopper would have loved that image.

Paris Part II: The Stein Collection, Munch (and the Screaming Norm) and the unyielding stench of Camembert

My feet still cry out in protest at the mere recollection of how much we were on our feet yesterday. But what a cultural extravaganza our eyes were able to feast upon as we went from one blockbuster exhibition to another.

First stop was the Grand Palais, at which we arrived slightly giddy having indulged in a mid morning mulled wine from the festive christmas market along the Champs Élysées. The Grand Palais is always the host of superb temporary exhibitions, having held Courbet, Renoir and Monet spectaculars in the last few years. This year’s offering is Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso…The Stein Family’s Adventure in Art which explores the stalwart patronage of the well known Stein family of superstar early 20th century artists at the shaky commencement of their careers, and exhibits the vast collection of important works which they amassed as a result (see my gallery below for a preview of some of the works in the exhibition).

The exhibition was split roughly into three sections, each following the acquisitions of the three respective Stein siblings, Leo, Michael (and his wife Sarah) and Gertrude. Michael and Sarah’s almost exclusive obsession with Matisse makes for a very comprehensive show of the latter’s earlier work, when, as undisputed head of the Fauvists, his paintings command attention with their multiple bright colours and coarse brush work. Leo Stein, the more conservative collector, whose at first collected with sister Gertrude, took more to Picasso, but stopped collecting his work shortly after the blue period, finding Picasso’s progression into cubism all too much. It was Gertrude Stein who took the collection further, resolutely supporting Picasso at every twist and turn of his experimental career before his prices spiralled beyond her reach. Then her patronage embraced the likes of Juan Gris and Picaba, right up to artists working in abstract which she began to collect before her death in the 40s. Ever the pioneer, Gertrude’s collection is substantial and multifaceted and makes for a fascinating overview of the post-impressionist period when art was changing rapidly. However my favourite section was Leo Stein’s Picassos from the blue period (see the gallery below). The melancholy figures and muted colours on these canvases are loaded with a depth of emotion and sophistication of draftsmanship which is lacking in the more superficial and, dare I say it, commercial compositions in his later work. Although of Picasso’s adventures into cubism, there are some superb examples, particularly in the preparations he makes for Les Damoiselles d’Avignon. Also worth seeing are the works of Juan Gris who, taking the torch from Picasso, explores the cubism genre in his brilliantly composed geometric fragmentation of everyday life.

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