Carl wanted us out of the house so he could paint the stairs, so we went to London for a long weekend. While we were gone he saw the ghost of an old man in a trilby hat in the hall. I get frustrated that I never see anything of the kind. Ailz says I could if I really wanted to. Maybe.
We met with family and went to a couple of exhibitions.
At the R.A. Citizens and Kings. Portraits in the Age of Revolution 1760-1830.
At the Tate. William Hogarth
The Hogarth was really, really popular and we had to push our way round like it was the January sales. This isn't the way to see art. Hogarth is fun- all those hundreds of little people doing reprehensible things- and you need time to pore over the surfaces. We didn't do him justice.
I used to think of him as a novelty painter; now I think he's the most original artist of the 18th century. He was doing things in the 1740s- respectful portraits of working class subjects for example- which continental artists didn't get round to until after the French revolution. Also he pretty much invented what we'd now call cartooning.
The other exhibition didn't draw such heavy crowds- which made it a much more relaxing experience. The late 18th century royals look ridiculous in their feudal finery and smile the smile of reason as if in on the joke; no wonder they were most of them about to be swept away. Napoleon, on the other hand- painted by Ingres as the new Charlemagne- is in deadly earnest. You want to laugh, just to preserve your self respect, but you can't because your breath has been taken away.
British 18th century artists put weather in their paintings and continental ones didn't. I've always been taught to see Reynolds and Raeburn and Lawrence as provincial; they're not. And the same could be said of the German and Scandanavian artists on show here. Art history is so Francocentric. Take this amazing portrait by Gottlieb Schwick; it looks like he's absorbed Cezanne and Cubism and is moving onto his neo-classical phase. If it weren't for the costume- which betrays the model as a contemporary of Jane Austen's- it could have been painted in the 1930s.
Finally Houdon. He sculpted Voltaire and Franklin and Washington and I thought of him- if at all- as a kind of forerunner of Mme Tussaud. Oh, but he's brilliant! His people are caught in the moment- on the move- speaking, smiling, laughing at us. Here's his portrait of his wife. What fun she must have been and how much he seems to love her.
|© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert|