Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Valentino at Somerset House

Valentino, Master of Couture at Somerset House examines the career of this celebrated fashion designer that covers his six decades of couture design beginning in the 1950's.

As you enter the second room of the exhibition there are patterns projected onto a giant beautiful (wall mounted) flower that towers above visitors looking at the cabinets of photos, press cuttings and letters below. These letters adressed to Valentino from various designers, celebrities, fashion press and royalty leave me wondering why they are included? Are they really necessary when these are the sorts of correspondence you would expect a designer of his stature to receive?

Upstairs there is a catwalk leading us through Valentinos career on either side of the runway that visitors walk on. The designer is undoubtedly a master of elegant, clean cut and stylish dresses that could make any woman feel beautiful, but it is the garments that employ more embroidery and ask more questions of his fashion house seamstresses or embroiders that stand out. These include dresses and other garments spanning forty years of collections, from the Spring/Summer 1968 to the S/S 2008 collection.

Returning downstairs there is an elegant art deco style backdrop behind the section devoted to the royal wedding dress Valentino designed. Then before the show ends in the exhibition shop, there is rightly a room devoted to some of the techniques pioneered by the Valentino house seamstresses.

Unfortunately I cannot include any pictures of the work in the exhibition, so fans of Valentino or couture should go to see the work for themselves...

Manet, Portraying Life... London's first blockbuster exhibition of the year, that recently opened at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Focusing on the portraits of Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883), the exhibition does not include some of his more provocative works that arguably established him as the father of modern art. These include the 1863 works Olympia and the original Dejeuner sur l'herbe (both of which are at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, where they'll aparently never leave). Although there is a later recreation of the latter included, there emission would be understandable as they are far less conventional portraits than the artworks on display. This is why I was probably more surprised that A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-2) was not borrowed from across London at the Courtauld Gallery.

Having said this, there are many masterpieces's in this understandably busy exhibition to keep fans of Manet happy, of which these are my highlights....

Boy Blowing Bubbles (1867) (oil on canvas)

Fishing (1862-63) (oil on canvas)

Berthe Morisot in mourning (1874) (oil on canvas)

Although not as beautifully finished and detailed as many of the faces Manet painted, I like the energy in this work that I feel makes it stand out from most of his other displayed portraits.


Portrait of Fanny Claus (Study for the balcony) (1868-69) (oil on canvas)

Portrait of M. Antonin Proust (1880) (oil on canvas)

The Railway (1873) (oil on canvas)

The Making of British Landscape?

These are the last few days to see Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape at the Royal Academy of Arts. This exhibition closes on the 17 February, so this is the last chance to view artworks from the Academy's collection that have never before been shown together publicly.

The old British masters included in the show do not require any further fanfare than their names themselves. Which is just as well given that the RA only has a portable sign re-directing visitors to the nondescript untitled entrance and then they take us through the first few rooms before getting to see any of their work.

The first room explores the influence that the British school of landscape painting has had on contemporary artists before the next room jumps back to the 18th Century. This arguably could have been better displayed at the end of the exhibition?

Before entering Room 4 I found myself still hungry for more Constable's, Gainsborough's and Turner's, although there is this beautiful nautical scene (engraved after the latter) by Robert Wallis (below):

Cowes, Isle of Wight (engraving) (1830), (after JMW Turner) Robert Wallis (1794 - 1878).
In Constable's A Boat Passing a Lock (1826) (below) there's the atmospheric charge of an inevitable incoming storm created by the effects of the light and clouds in the sky:


A Boat Passing a Lock (oil on canvas) (1826), John Constable (1776 - 1837).
David Lucas aguably finds this difficult to replicate in his nevertheless outstanding mezzotint version of 1834 (below): 

The Lock (mezzotint) (1834), (after J Constable) David Lucas (1802–1881).
This exhibition includes some beautifully detailed prints and paintings, but I cant help thinking that other visitors who are fans of Constable, Gainsborough and Turner will also be disappointed to see that there are not a higher percentage of artworks displayed by the three headlining artists.