Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ships At Anchor by Richard Parkes Bonington-One Of My Favourite Things.



This is one of my most favourite pictures.
Yes I know I love modernism and 20th century art, but in a round about way this is the forerunner to those modernist pictures that we are all, now, so familiar with.
To my eye this may be a 19th century work but it is as fresh, and bright, as if it had been painted last year.
Why?
Because most of being an artist is not just about being able to paint.
It is about being able to see.
You cant have one without the other.
I recall how after studying of an evening with life drawing for over a year, and then one day, as if by magic.
 I could see where I was going wrong.
(I threw all my previous work away).
Now, that to me is more important than seeing where one is going right.
Put into context I could suddenly see the shadows.
No not the light that is easy to see, but the shadows where light does not fall.
This is a very important time for an aspiring artist, and only studious practice will enable this talent to be captured on paper, or canvas.
Richard Parkes Bonington sees it all, in this small but beautiful oil painting, arguably the best in Liverpool Museums collection.
Then he adds a little bit of extra colour, which as if a magician, by slight of hand, he turns your gaze in a direction that he wants it to go, with a little dab of red here and there.
A lot can be said against modern art and its excuses for talent.
 But I still do not want to linger in the 19th century for too long.
 A sheep on a hillside will mostly convey, well a sheep on a hillside to me.
Though as long as masterpieces like this are around I may cancal my taxi back to the 20th Century, till a later hour.
I first discovered it at the now, ruined Sudley Art Gallery in Mossley Hill Liverpool. http://waynecolquhoun.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/sudley-house-why-have-liverpool-museums.html
It was, at that time, hung next to a Turner and I was at that age wondering what all the fuss about Turner was. (I went to see the film Mr Turner a few weeks ago. Didn't it go on a bit.)
I know what how all the theory about Turner has been played out.
Usually written by people who couldn't emulsion a wall I may add.
But where is all the fuss about Boningtons work.
Some of his work is a trifle sentimental, but its what he may have achieved that this, one of my favorite things, portrays.
Yes a ship at anchor on a becalmed sea, the sort of whimsical painting we all know.
But this to me has always touched me deeper than that. The way the light falls on the water and the way the composition is laid out is by the hands of a budding master. A painter who is completely self motivated to discover his own personal journey through light and shade.
Who knows where he would end up, would he challenge Turner or be thought more highly than John Constable, a national treasure. Or would he fizzle out to nothing. Over 200 years later we are still talking about the brush master and the small taste of what talent he had to offer in his short existence. And his impressionistic style.


Richard Parkes Bonington was born 1802 in Nottingham.
His father was the governor of Nottingham Jail who had strong political views and when he was arrested for riotous and disorderly conduct he had to step down.
He set up a ladies school that did not succeed later he set up a lace-making business. Nottingham of course was the countries lace making capital.
The factory was smashed up by Luddites who saw the coming of the industrial revolution as a risk to the way of life and saw the machines as a direct threat to their livelihoods.
Bonington senior seemed to have more in common with French views of life.
 France had gone through its own Revolution and the family headed there.
Richard Parkes Bonington began drawing at the age of six. At the age of sixteen he was painting Bologne Harbour in a way that does not show his young age and seems more from the hand of a mature artist than a teenager.

He took lessons.Thomas Gerten was an influence, I was recently shown an image of his water colour of Lindisfarne Priory. This was not a common occurrance that an artist of that date would use, a water colour, as a way to show off his skill, as a finished work and not a sketch that would be later used as a study for a oil painting.
In 1819 the Bonington family moved to Paris where Richard studied with Jaque Loiuse De Bead . He had taught Grull and his teaching was in the classical form.
Richard was off, here there and everywhere, it seems that every time he had a chance he painted.
He painted Churches in Normandy and then he would work them up in watercolour.

Bonnington made a brief return to England where its understood he saw work by Turner and returned to France in 1818. He seemed restless after this visit and he recorded that he was arguing with his tutors.
Around the same time Delacrioux.........who had also seen works by Turner was painting in a romantic style. Jerico............who painted The Raft Of The Medusa had seen The Fields Of Waterloo with Gods light bathing the soldiers on the field of battle some of who had perished.
This was turning a painting into a beacon of emotion.

In 1824 Boningtons painting Fishermen Near Bologne was exhibited at the Paris Salons.
Next to this work was a painting by John Constable entitled The Haywain.
Both won Gold medals along with another British artist, Anthony Van Dyck Copley Fielding. You could only be an artist with that name!!

One of my favorite things in the whole wide, is Richard Parkes Boningtons “Ships At Anchor” a small oil once owned by George Holt and now owned by Liverpool Museums, and on display at Sudley House.
Now a former shadow of itself. It seems the more money NML spend, the worse job they do under the leadership of its current director, this once hidden gem is now a pale shadow of its former self.
 http://waynecolquhoun.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/sudley-house-why-have-liverpool-museums.html


It is known that Bonington and Turners lives were in paralell and Richard went to Venice at 24 years of age where he seems to come under the spell of Canalettos work.
His studies of The Rialto Bridge are not by a simple hand but an accomplished and steady application of art.
He paints The Ducal palace with its religious procession but my opinion He that this period he loses his freedom and freshness and although he gains confidence of brush.
 Though I would need to study his art a bit more before making any definite decision on this.



He literally meets Eugene Delacroix in a gallery and they become friends.
You can see the influence of both artists on each other.



In 1828 he gets sunstroke from working outside too often. John Lang, his quack physician sends him to Britain to get some air as this would be better for him than the south Of France.
He was not aware that he had tuberculosis and its  in Britain that he died at the age of 26 leaving behind a legacy of amazing work and a real sense of what could he have achieved if life had not dealt him such a cruel hand.
His influences are not always reported but for several decades later we would see the fashion of French painters depicting simple peasant folk with the same degree of skill as great leaders and hero's.



The French Impressionists would unknowingly or unwillingly be influenced by British Art. Boningtons legacy was great.
He at least that he helped to influence the seed change in France that changed the world.
He died so young and like James Dean, or Marilyn Monroe, we always wonder just what their talent could have achieved. 
See it hanging in the hall at Sudley Art Gallery.



Friday, 12 December 2014

India Buildings-Holts Arcade. Is This The Best Christmas Decorations In The City?

Well most people who walk through the magnificent Holts Arcade seem to think so.
You can see their faces light up.
Its tough times out there but the landlords Green Property have kept the Xmas spirit alive with the wonderful festive decorations, through the recession and we can thank them for that.
The Capricio Singers  http://www.capriccio.org.uk/ will be visiting, only for half an hour this year unfortunately.
That will be on the 18th December.
Where they will no doubt fill the barrel vaulted arcade right up to the ornate painted ceiling with lovely Xmas music.
Look forward to seeing them.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Japanese Ikebana Bamboo Basket-Piece of the Week.

We tend to think of baskets as dreary objects that we put things in, well people did in the 60's anyhow.
Baskets were always carried to the shops by old spinsters who would buy strange things from another age. They would put flowers and jam jars in them and there were even stretchy covers to pull over the edges, some even had hinged flaps that opened from the centre outwards.
They tended to be the same mass manufactured type that became common place in the shopping centres that sprung up through the 70's.
I first became aware of the beauty of the basket weave of the Japanese by an antique dealer who became a friend who, lived in Chicago. I would often meet him in France.
While staying with me here in Liverpool we visited the Bluecoat Bookshop, which was then in the Bluecoat on School Lane, where he found a small amount of books on the subject, he bought the lot.
You see I love it when I am enlightened by someone who knows more about a particular subject than I do. With there being so many shows on the TV these days, that are full of so called experts, it is easy to think that we all can just switch it on and know about everything. But its not like that in real life, we can only have a small amount of knowledge in reality on antiques in general and then specialise off on a specific genre. I would like to see more so called experts who say, “I don't know much about that” or “You have opened up a subject that I did not know anything about and therefore my life is richer for it”. An admission, is nothing to be ashamed of, you cant know everything, its impossible, its not wrong to own up to it, its right.
Steve had been collecting baskets for a while and although new to me, when I glanced through the books he had purchased, I was taken by the beauty of some of the simple baskets, that turned them, in my mind, into works of art. In this country basket making, though skilled, is thought of as a handicraft practised in the country by people who will never make it pay.

Japan has a steep mountainous environment and a lot of goods were transported by people. Some baskets were made to shape into certain parts of the body. They could be strapped to the waist carried on the back, and even strapped or carried on the head. So baskets will require a different shape and a different weave.
This makes the versatility of bamboo as a ideal choice of material.
Its lightweight and its strength give it such a versatility. And of course its beauty.
The baskets were made for flowers and also utilitarian objects such as sieves and strainers.
Its quick growth means that the material bamboo, is readily available and available for use within a few years of planting.
The Japanese culture would, in my opinion take the art of making a simple object into a piece of beauty, this would run into all the elements of their existence.
So when the likes of William Morris was proclaiming everything around you should be of functionality and of beauty. (He was rich enough to say that)
The Japanese had been doing this for a long time.

The chained country of Japan or SAKOKU were the orders of the edicts of 1633-1639, in that it was laid down that no foreigner could enter the country, or no Japanese could leave. This remained in effect until 1853 when Black Ships of Commodore Mathew Perry forcibly opened Japan.
In 1864 the Americans were preoccupied with killing themselves in the American Civil War and trade was relinquished to Great Britain who by this time controlled 90% of Japanese trade with the western world.

When the Japanese trade borders were forcibly opened in the1860's after what we now know as gunboat diplomacy on the part of the western powers.
In 1865 nine foreign warships into Osake Harbour and demande that the Baufu pay, by the end of 1866, for the Choshu attackson their warships in the Shimonoseki Straights.
This was only one incident of many that kept the tension on the Japanese. The west wanted their goods ideas and history and they would not stop until they had it.
It now made it easy to trade and the explosion of art in Great Britain was to be influenced forever by the mastery of design, and the customs that the Japanese had become to take over them, as their existence.



So how did this object of such innocuous piece become to be there at the back of an antique shop, languishing lonely and forgotten and described as a Chinese basket, luckily for me.
I couldn't leave it behind.
It needed me, or someone who could see the skill and craftsmanship by which it was made.
And recognise the intrinsic value contained within, what after all is a vessel that carried not only flowers, but tradition.
But, more than all that, it has an essence about it, that makes you want to hold it. Like a piece of furniture you want to stroke it.
The bamboo has a patina making it look like it was smoked, and the way the highlights of where it has been touched, for probably a hundred years just shines through.
It was probably made quickly, with a slight of hand. Though that slight would have taken decades to get right.
You do have to be so careful our far eastern friends have also become of forgery, but this is dead right.
Its mine now and its taken me on a little journey that has heightened my understanding a little more of ancient cultures and their influences, and on the British who then showed the world the Arts and Crafts movement.
Christopher Dresser would visit Japan and take design notes collecting samples for Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Despite the writing of Violet de Luc, the French John Ruskin, It was the Japanese who would educate the western world even Van Gough would physically touch a woodblock print, of the Hokasai wave.
The Wave was used to adorn the music for Claude Debussey's LA MER in 1905.
Both artists would have respective disciplines of style over realism and would focus on brilliant colour and energy. One with touch and grace of a brush, the other the keys of a piano.
We owe a lot to the everyday symbolic rituals of a nation that, 150 years ago, and not unlike China, was a secret to the world.

That they turned an everyday object into a glory.