Sue Lovegrove and Adrienne Eberhard, The voice of water (#BookReview)

I had planned to post on this beautifully produced book, The voice of water, earlier in the year, but the events of the year threw me completely off track, and here I am at the end scrambling to finish off the posts I planned oh so many months ago.

Created by Tasmanians, visual artist Sue Lovegrove and poet Adrienne Eberhard (who has appeared here before), The voice of water was described by Hobart’s Fuller’s bookshop in their book launch announcement, as “a collection of 30 miniature paintings and poems which celebrate and pay homage to the beauty and ephemeral life of wetlands”. This is a good description of the content, but it doesn’t describe its exquisite production. You can tell that this book was a labour of love by two people who have both a passion for the Tasmanian landscape and an eye for beauty and design.

In their brief introduction, Lovegrove and Eberhard describe their aim as being “to reveal the fragility and fleeting nature of life in a lagoon”, to capture “the constantly shifting light”, “the soundtrack of place from frog call and scratching index legs to the tapping of grasses”, and “the calligraphy of reeds and sedges”. Not surprisingly, they also note the threat to wetlands posed by climate change. They name the wetlands that inspired them, and describe their process:

We spent days simply sitting together or apart, amongst the banksias and tea-trees at the edges, or lying in the sedges and reeds, letting these places seep into our imagination. We waded through ponds and swamps, working side-by-side, drawing and writing, and we had many conversations.

Interestingly, there was an exhibition of Sue Lovegrove’s miniatures at my favourite local gallery, Beaver Galleries, so you can see some (if not all) of the images on their website. The images are beautiful, some having an almost Monet-esque impression of light and water, others being a little more representational, particularly of reeds and sedge. (The original images are watercolour and gouache on paper.) One gorgeous miniature pair features a pond of deep blue with overhead clouds reflected in it. Eberhard’s miniature poem is (without her spacing though I tried):

enamelled sky
where clouds mop
and soak tumbrils
of luminous blue

The words “enamelled” and “luminous” capture the colours perfectly. Other poems convey different watery effects, such as “like textured silk like ruched folds of material”.

Another miniature pair features rows of reeds or grasses in a pond. The accompanying poem is presented on the facing landscape page in portrait mode so that it looks like spikes of grass too. So much attention has been paid to the design, and how design can help convey meaning as much as the works themselves – representing, for example, “the calligraphy of reeds and sedges”. Another poem is arranged in offset columns to encourage us, or so it seems to me, to read the lines in different orders – down one column and then the other, or leaping across the columns – producing slightly different meanings or effects depending on the order.

I’ll share just one more poem, which exemplifies the attention they also paid to the “soundtrack” of the landscape:

jostle of noise a cacophonous counterpoint to the artist’s mark-making scribble and scratch
castanet-clack the scratching of insect legs
ratcheting and tightening an orchestration that ricochets
and rasps phonetics of frog call an infiltration a metronome’s sustaining heartbeat.

The book chronicles the water cycle in the lagoons, the water coming and receding at different times – “lagoon shrinks to water lines washing through reeds” – but this is not a polemical book about climate change. Rather, it is a hymn to what we have now. At least, that’s how I read it.

However you read it though, The voice of water is a gorgeous book to get lost in and carried away by, and I’m sorry I didn’t write it up earlier in the year.

PS I have tagged this “Nature writing”, which reminded me that I have just received advice that submissions are now open for the 6th biennial Natural Conservancy Nature Writing Prize (about which I have written here before). It’s an essay prize, and is worth $7,500 for the winner. This year’s judges are literary critic, Geordie Williamson, and Miles Franklin Award winning novelist, Tara June Winch. Being selected by them would be quite a feather in the cap, I reckon. For more information check the website.

Challenge logo

Sue Lovegrove and Adrienne Eberhard
The voice of water
Published in 2019 with assistance from an Australia Council for the Arts grant
64pp. (unnumbered)
ISBN: 9780646802541

My literary week (12), some art, a film, and an unseen play

Much as I’d like to, I don’t have time to write full posts on the three “events” I’m writing about today, but I do want to at least document them. I don’t, in fact, document every film, show or exhibition I attend but I have particular reasons, which will hopefully become obvious, for wanting to share these three.

MoMA at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria)

For a very exciting reason – Mr Gums and my becoming grandparents for the first time – we made a flying trip to Melbourne last weekend, and, as we couldn’t spend all our time gazing at the adorable newborn, we took ourselves off to the current exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria during our long weekend. Titled MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, it comprises a selection of MoMa’s world-famous collection. About 200 pieces the website says. The works are organised pretty traditionally – that is, in chronological order, but within this order there are themes, mostly relating to specific art movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and so on. The website says that “the exhibition traces the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to the digital and global present.” It’s an inspiring exhibition, but like all such big, dense, exhibitions, we had tired by the end, despite breaking for lunch in the middle – so my concentration, not to mention my feet, did start to fail, affecting what I remember.

Anyhow, the exhibition opens with a wall comprising a work each by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, who, the audioguide explained, are deemed to mark the beginning of modern art.

Salvador Dali, The persistence of memory, 1931

So, what did I enjoy? Of course, I liked seeing famous works by well-known artists, such as Dali’s “The persistence of memory” (the famous melting/dripping clocks painting). Who knew it was so small? Well, you do know it, if you read the small print in art books, but you don’t tend to remember that – at least I don’t always. It’s only seeing the work itself that makes this stick. This is partly what makes going to exhibitions so worthwhile. I also enjoyed seeing lesser known works by well-known artists, and works by artists I barely know or didn’t, until last weekend, know at all! And, I appreciated the inclusion of women artists, such as photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) who was apparently looked at askance for photographing machines.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle wheel, 1951 (original was 1913)

There is so much more I could say, but, this being a litblog primarily, I’m going to end on one idea that particularly tickled me. Early in the exhibition is a work by Marcel Duchamp, the originator not only of Dada but of the art of “readymades“. The audioguide argued that one of Duchamp’s contributions to modern art was the idea that a work of art is not complete until it is joined with the viewer’s perception and questions (even if, the guide said, that question is, “is this art?”) This got me thinking once again about reading, and the fact that a book has as many meanings as it has readers, because each of us brings our own perspectives to it. An old hat idea, now, I guess, but I liked that Duchamp’s ideas resonated for me beyond the visual arts.

Gurrumul (Cinema Nova, Carlton)

Another exciting event in our lives – one still to come – is that in a few days we’ll be heading off to Australia’s Top End, to tour Arnhem Land and then spend a few additional days in Darwin. I can’t wait for the warmth – nor to experience Arnhem Land which has been on my must-visit list for some time now. Luckily for us, two friends have just returned from the same tour, and they advised us, in preparation, to see three films: Ten canoes (which we’ve seen before, but looked at again, via DVD last week), and two recent documentaries Gurrumul and West wind: Djalu’s legacy.

Gurrumul Yunupingu

Dr G Yunupingu @ Fremantle Park (17/4/2011), By Stuart Sevastos, using CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately we’ve missed West Wind on the cinema circuit, and it’s not available on DVD until later this year, but Gurrumul is still screening. So another time-filling activity for us in Melbourne was to see it at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. For those of you who don’t know, the film is about the recently deceased indigenous Australian musician, Dr G Yunipingu (the name used for him since his death in respect of indigenous Australian funerary practices. Permission was given, by Yunipingu himself the film says, for the film to be released, despite another indigenous practice of not showing images of deceased persons for some time after their deaths.)

Dr G Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island, in Arnhem Land, and was discovered early in his life to be blind. He taught himself to play music, and was clearly gifted – though it was his voice (“the voice of an angel” some said) that really captured attention. He wrote his own songs, which he sang mostly in language. The film chronicles, primarily, his musical life, but given his close connection to his culture, that couldn’t be done without reference to his family and culture.

It’s a traditional documentary, style-wise, but it’s the content, the subject himself, that makes this such a moving film. I was quite wrung out by the end – and not only because it had been an emotional couple of weeks leading up to it. One of the issues underpinning the film is an age-old story for indigenous people – the challenge of moving between two opposing cultures. It was a challenge that brought indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, undone in the end. Dr G Yunupingu managed it better overall – partly because of his own sense of self and strong attachment to his country and culture, but partly also because his non-indigenous mentors had learnt from history and were respectful of Yunupingu’s wishes. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t tense times! The film will, I’m sure, enhance our Arnhem Land trip – but it’s worth seeing regardless.

Tourmaline (The Street Theatre)

Randolph Stow, TourmalineAnd, well, this last stop in today’s post is exciting too – but disappointing also, as I will be missing it. Yes, I am concluding this post by discussing something that not only have I not seen, but won’t be seeing either. I have a very good reason though for this strange behaviour, and it’s that the production, an adaptation of Randolph Stow’s novel Tourmaline, was written by Emma Gibson, one of the bloggers I mentored in last year’s Litbloggers of the Future program. Emma, in fact, wrote a guest post for this blog on Stow and the novel.

It is part of a double bill of adaptations of sci-fi-futuristic texts, the other being HG Wells’ War of the worlds. In her guest post, Emma said that the book has been described as an “ecological allegory”. This would slot nicely into Emma’s main interest, at present anyhow, which is writing about place. According to the promotions, the adaptations are made for radio – which is great to see in itself – but are being performed on stage at the Street Theatre. I am so sorry that I will be missing it – but I wish playwright Emma, and The Street, the best success with it.

Do you have any cultural outings to share?

David Hockney at the National Gallery of Victoria

David Hockney

David Hockney (from video at NGV)

It’s a while since I wrote about an art exhibition, not because I haven’t been to any but because this is a litblog (and I’m even less of an art critic than I am a literary one). However, I did feel the urge to write about the David Hockney Current exhibition, which is now showing at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), because I have a long-standing – if rather rudimentary – interest in him.

It all started when, early in my film librarian career, I selected for the library a documentary about Hockney. That would have been the late 1970s or early 1980s. I hadn’t heard of him before that, but I was attracted to his larger than life, big, bold, art. This film featured, among other works, his famous 1967 painting, “A Bigger Splash“. My next memorable encounter came about twenty years later when, in 1999, the National Gallery of Australia acquired Hockney’s immense work, “A Bigger Grand Canyon”, and we hot-footed it to the Gallery to see it (having seen the Canyon itself several times in the preceding two decades). Looking at it again now, I can see that the issues Hockney was exploring then, including point-of-view in place and time or, as the NGV describes it, “multi-point perspective”, are still fascinations for him now – even more so, in fact, given the way visual media has developed in our digital age. And so, this current exhibition, which focuses on his work of the last decade, includes not only canvas paintings, but digital prints, videos and iPad/iPhone drawings.

Bigger Trees on Water detail

“Bigger Trees Near Warter” (large detail)

I’m not going to write a comprehensive report of the exhibition, but just share a few thoughts and highlights, starting with his work “Bigger Trees Near Warter ou Peinture en Plein Air pour l’age Post-Photographique“. (Are you seeing an ongoing “bigger” theme here!!) Like the Grand Canyon painting, it’s a multi-canvas work. Its dominant image is, by definition (not that painting titles are always so easily defined), trees. In the delightful 9-minute video interview with Hockney, which was created especially for this exhibition, he says that he has “always liked trees”. (A man after my own heart, obviously). The painting occupies the whole wall of one gallery room, with the other three walls containing digital same-size-as-the-original prints of the work. Beautiful – and rather mind-bending to be in a room surrounded by the original and its copies.

Enlarge iPad artBut, the exhibition comprised other works as well. The first thing that confronts attendees is a wall containing a row of iPhones, each containing drawings by Hockney. These little works are whimsical and fun, but have a serious edge too, reflecting, for example, on how new media can be used to create – and share – art. There are also bigger (ha!) screens displaying iPhone and iPad art in a larger easier-to-see format. These digital drawings include still lifes, portraits and landscapes, including some stunning, very large ones of Yosemite National Park (which, like the Grand Canyon in our gallery, had increased appeal for Mr Gums and me because of our familiarity with the park).

Some of the digital drawings are animated to show Hockney’s drawing process. Made me think – almost – that I could do it too but, funnily, whenever I put finger or stylus to a screen the result never looks quite as it does in my mind’s eye. The curators’ label suggests that these works “demonstrate that for Hockney art-making is a daily activity.” Hockney suggested in the interview that drawing had been dying until these little devices started bringing it back. He was amazed, he said, that the telephone could bring drawing back! Anyhow, these digital works, whether tiny or large, made for fascinating viewing, but there were so many of them it was impossible to take them all in. If I lived in Melbourne I’d happily go back.

Barry Humphries portraitThe last work I want to mention is a little different from the landscapes and still lifes. It occupied a long narrow hall/gallery and contained 82 (I think) recently painted acrylic portraits of Hockney’s family, friends, colleagues and other artists. I didn’t recognise any by face, except for Barry Humphries. In the interview, Hockney mentioned these portraits, each of which was painted in just 2 to 3 days, and said that he sees them as one work. He then quipped – partly seriously – that at his age he now sees all his life as one work. I love portraits and could have spent hours pondering each one – the poses, the expressions. Why did this one sit that way, but that one sit this way, for example. What did their choice of clothes tell us about them? (So many men seemed to wear blue and cream/beige. Not Humphries though!)

Finally, I want to share another comment Hockney made in his interview. He said that “happiness is a retrospective thing”. Interesting, we thought. Of course, as life is happening we feel things – happy, sad, proud, and so on – but I think his point is that it’s only in retrospect that we can obtain a “real” perspective on the sense of those times. That is, at the time it is experienced, happiness, for example, is usually an ephemeral thing, or so it seems to me. In that sense it could be described as superficial? But later, we can look back, reflect and perhaps comprehend a more mature, lasting form of the feeling? I’m not sure what he meant, but this is the meaning I came away with!

It’s a great exhibition. It can be easily enjoyed on the surface, but if you spend time with it, you can see things going on underneath. Hockney comes across as whimsical, charming, engaging but also alert, ever-curious, always-thinking, and above all excited by new ideas (or perhaps, by new ways of exploring old ideas). We came away on a little high.

NB: In previous art posts I have not included images of the art for copyright reasons, but I’m now thinking that using a small number of low-resolution pics will not infringe copyright.

Art meets Literature at In the Flesh

I’m pushing it really with my heading, as for many the literary aspect of the National Portrait Gallery’s In the Flesh exhibition would be a passingly noticed sideline, but for me it added significantly to my enjoyment. It helped of course that I found the following in the first room:

It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy; it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days more than enough for others. (Jane Austen, Sense and sensibility)

I like it when exhibition curators draw parallels between different art forms or, perhaps more accurately in this case, use evidence from one art form (in this case literature) to comment or elucidate another (here, figurative art).

Exhibition curator Penelope Grist describes* the exhibition as being about “humanness – the experience of a mind enfleshed in a body”. She goes on to say that “relationships between the human mind, flesh and lifespan underpin the nature of portraiture”. But wait … are these portraits? Technically not, I think, not if we understand “portrait” to mean the depiction of a specific person. While individuals may have modelled for works in this exhibition, they are not, with an exception or two, identified. Given the subject matter of the works, I don’t see this as a problem. Categories are sometimes best left fluid.

"In the Flesh" interpretative panel

From “In the Flesh”

This exhibition looks at the idea of “humanness” through ten themes – Intimacy, Empathy, Transience, Transition, Vulnerability, Alienation, Restlessness, Reflection, Mortality and Acceptance – which are, in themselves, interesting. I can imagine the fun the curators had in deciding these ten themes. They are an eclectic bunch, but they make sense. The works exhibited vary in form and come from ten contemporary figurative artists: Natasha Bieniek, Robin Eley, Yanni Floros, Juan Ford, Petrina Hicks, Sam Jinks, Ron Mueck, Jan Nelson, Michael Peck and Patricia Piccinini. I like art but keep up with it erratically, so was really only familiar with two of these: Ron Mueck and Patricia Piccinini.

So, where does the literature come in? Well, as you’ve probably guessed already, each of the themes is introduced with a quote. Jane Austen’s introduces the theme of Intimacy. In her article, Grist explains that:

The contemporary art of In the Flesh takes the weight of the thousands of years that human minds have expressed in art their struggle to comprehend the existence, transformation and demise of the human body. The ten quotations from Shakespeare to The Doors that accompany each theme reference this legacy.

I’m not sure why she limits her comment here to “the human body”, unless she doesn’t mean it literally, because the quotations themselves refer more widely to the condition of being human. And the rest of her article encompasses a broader concept of “humanness”.

I’m not going to discuss the ten themes in detail, and I’m not going to include a lot of images**. Instead, I’m going to briefly discuss my responses to two of the works to exemplify how one can enjoy this exhibition.

Sam Jinks, Unsettled Dogs

Sam Jinks, Unsettled Dogs

The first room is devoted to Intimacy, and it contains works by sculptor Sam Jinks, one being “Unsettled Dogs”. I was captivated by this. It’s tender, fragile. They look paradoxically trusting and vulnerable (another of the themes) as well as intimate. But it’s also disconcerting, because of the dog-heads. Grist explains this: “the dog-headed cynocephalus of ancient and medieval imagination reminding of the human capacity for destructive irrationality within intimate relationships”. I have always seen dogs as benign not destructive creatures, but the sculpture does indeed capture the tension contained in this classical concept. Perhaps it’s also because the dog heads are fox-like which we Aussies definitely equate with destruction.

Juan Ford, The Reorientalist

Juan Ford, The Reorientalist

Another work in which a cultural context affected my “reading” is Juan Ford’s painting, “The Reorientalist” (2013). It is in the Reflection theme, and is a large, arresting, powerful piece. Grist talks about the “motif of the play-weapon” confronting “the notion of the natural self”. She says the works displayed in this section are not about glorifying war but questioning why we are interested in war as children, raising ideas of “innocence and experience”. The curator at the Dianne Tanzer Gallery says of this work:

Standing strong, grasping staff-like branches as if to communicate his allegiance to nature’s side of the war. Bound in industrial detritus, this figure wears a tribal outfit that might be conjured from a Mad Max film, like a lone-warrior of both painting and the wild – and a caricature of himself as the artist. The title itself suggests a challenge to the colonialist tendencies of the painting traditions he seeks to subvert, redirecting their Orientalist imperatives into the wilderness; an exorcism performed by an Absurdist shaman.

I can see the tension between children, play and weapons, and I appreciate Ford’s wanting to subvert colonialist traditions. However, in the current environment of concern about the radicalisation of young Australian men, this work had another layer for me. Am I over-thinking it? It certainly made me ponder how art can take on different meanings according to circumstance.

These are just two of the 63 works in the exhibition, most of which made me stop and think. If you are in Canberra over the next few months, I recommend you make time to visit this exhibition. Meanwhile, I will close on the literary reference used for the theme of Transience, partly because it’s by William Cowper who was one of Jane Austen’s favourite poets:

The lapse of time and rivers is the same,
Both speed their journey with a restless stream;
The silent pace, with which they steal away,
No wealth can bribe, nor prayers persuade to stay …
(William Cowper, “A comparison”)

The ultimate description of our “humanness”!

* “In the Flesh: an exhibition of humanness in ten themes” in NPG’s magazine Portrait #47 (Spring/Summer 2014). Currently for sale but will, I believe, be available online on the magazine’s site down the track. The article includes excellent images from the exhibition.
** I’m not totally sure of copyright issues, and I don’t want to detract from the exhibition itself, so I’ve just included a couple of my poor quality iPad images of works that the NPG has used on its website. You can click on the images to see them bigger, though not necessarily better! I am assuming that my use here is covered by fair dealing for criticism or review.

unDISCLOSED, the second national indigenous art triennial

Indigenous Australian art has, over the last few decades, become big business in Australia and overseas, and for good reason. It is unique and it is beautiful. Most Australians, I suspect, only know of the “traditional” dot painting style of the Central Australian Desert and perhaps the wood carvings of the Torres Strait Islands. However, contemporary indigenous artists are producing works across the whole art spectrum from traditional painting to modern sculpture, from digital photography to video installations, and it is this variety that is currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in its second national indigenous art triennial titled unDisclosed. The first triennial was titled Culture Warriors and was, I understand also exhibited in Washington DC.

The exhibition is organised thematically, with the themes speaking to traditional relationships with country and people as well as to more modern concerns regarding identity and the ongoing effects of oppression. They are:

  • Family, Ritual and Country
  • Invisibility, Silence and Memory
  • Belonging
  • Manifesting Presence
  • Revelation

Twenty male and female artists spanning a wide age range are represented. While there wasn’t a piece of work I didn’t enjoy, the works that spoke most to me were those in which political comment was woven into gorgeously conceived art with an indigenous sensibility.

Particularly clever are two works about colonisation by Michael Cook, Broken Dreams featuring a woman and Undiscovered featuring a man. Each work comprises 10 photographs that comment on indigenous experience of colonisation in a surprising and mind-bending way. In Broken Dreams, a beautifully dressed indigenous women is pictured in England of the late 18th century. As the sequence progresses, moving across the sea to Australia, she is gradually undressed. In the second last photograph, she is bound by rope. The photos are simple – in their muted tones and uncluttered composition – and complex in their iconography. What, for example, is the role of the colourful lorikeet which accompanies the woman on her journey? This is the sort of work that invites conversation.

Another mesmerising work is Christian Thompson’s Heat which comprises a “large-scale three-channel projection of three young Aboriginal women, sisters, each on a separate screen”. We see only their heads and bare shoulders against a plain background. They stare into the camera – and therefore at us, the viewers – with only the occasional blink. Sometime during the projection, which runs for a little over 5 minutes, wind catches their hair which becomes alive and waves about their heads and faces, while they maintain their steady stares. (How they didn’t sneeze, I’ll never know!) The symbolism of the hair is complex and invites us to consider women’s hair, personally, historically and mythologically. It makes us think about the relationship between hair and wildness, beauty and, of course, the power held by and over women.

My third selection, for the purposes of giving you a flavour, is Nici Cumpston’s set of four large landscape works which were created by combining photography with inkjet printing, watercolour and pencil. The images all depict aspects of Nookamba Lake (aka Lake Bonney to “the interlopers”) which is part of the damaged Murray-Darling River System. The lake, now stagnant, was once part of a flourishing system supporting a rich indigenous life. Cumpston’s stark images – with their muted colours – contain evidence, if you know where to look, of that past life while also conveying the current degradation. And yet, paradoxically, the images are beautiful too. I sometimes wonder whether such beauty – though admittedly stark – can undermine the message?

The exhibition’s curators, on an the interpretive panel, describe Heat as saying:

 We are here; We are strong; We have survived.
And that is, indeed, what the whole exhibition says, loud and clear, and with a confidence that is inspiring. It is well worth seeing … I wonder if the triennial could turn into a biennial!

(Note: I have not included images of any of the artworks here for copyright reasons)

Post-impressionism redux

Musee d'Orsay

Main hall, Musee d’Orsay (Courtesy: Benh, via Wikipedia, under CC-BY-2.5)

It was almost 30 years ago to the day that I attended my first exhibition of post-impressionist art. That was in London: it was Post-Impressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, 1979-80, and we went on March 9, 1980, the last day of my first European trip. Last night, March 4, 2010, we went to the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. It is an exhibition of post-impressionist art sourced solely from the wonderful Musée d’Orsay. The Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, by contrast, contained paintings sourced from collections besides their own.

Now, being a librarian-archivist, bibliophile and all-round hoarder, I still have my catalogue from the 1980 exhibition, and so I did a little comparison. I loved that first exhibition – partly because the post-impressionist era is a favourite of mine – but when I compare the offerings from the two exhibitions, well, there’s a big difference. The Musée d’Orsay’s collection is outstanding and to see such paintings as Van Gogh’s “Starry night” and “Bedroom at Arles”, and Monet’s “Waterlily pond, green harmony” in my home town on the other side of the world is something to be treasured.

However, the The Musée d’Orsay exhibition is not only great because of these top masterpieces; it is full of treasures, big and small. Some of the small treasures that caught my attention included works by Maurice Denis. Now, I checked him out, too, in the two catalogues and found an interesting example of art on the move. In the 1980 exhibition was Denis’ lovely, colourful “Sunlight on the Terrace” (1890). The catalogue, as catalogues do, said it was “Lent by a private collector, St Germain-en-Laye”. Clearly that collector did not hang on to this gorgeous piece (and wouldn’t it be interesting to know the story behind that) because here it now is in the Musée d’Orsay’s collection.  This current exhibition catalogue says it was “purchased, 1986”. I liked this little work, as well as a few others by Denis.

As, I think, most of us like to do when we go to an art exhibition, I looked for a work or two that particularly appealed to me. Of course, it’s hard to go past the “biggies” like the Van Goghs, Cezannes, Monets, and the like. We’d seen some before, but they were then, and will remain always, stupendous. However, the fun is finding new artists or new works to take your fancy. For me, this time, these new works included a couple by Denis. They also included an artist I don’t recollect having heard of before, Théo van Rysselberghe. He worked quite a bit, though not solely, in the pointilist style, and two of his works are in the exhibition. The one that particularly appealed to me was “The man at the tiller” (1892). While the waves seemed a little clumsy to me, I was drawn to its simple but dramatic composition. I also like its allusion to Hokusai’s famous “The great wave of Kanagawa” (1829-1832) – and I like it because I am fascinated by pointilist painting.

The exhibition – of 112 works by 35 artists – is beautifully curated. The works, which cover the significant styles and schools – including Pointilism, Neo-impressionism, SynthetismSymbolism, the Pont-Aven School, and the Nabis – that loosely comprise the Post-Impressionists, are spread thematically across 6 rooms. This arrangement works well to demonstrate development within these styles as well as between them – and it resulted in several artists appearing in different rooms as they developed their style over the period. And, the lighting is magnificent. “Starry night”, for one, simply shimmers. It’s no wonder that the Gallery reached its target of 250,000 visits 6 weeks before closing. This is a blockbuster to end all blockbusters.

(Note: I have not included images of any of the artworks here due to copyright complications. While the works themselves are generally out of copyright there are arguments that images of these works are not. I am not willing to take on the “big boys” on this matter as the Wikimedia Foundation did last year. And anyhow, they are mostly easy to find with a quick Google search, if you are interested)