I was in Manchester for a few days last week and rediscovered how good her galleries are (I was a student there back in the 70s). They have the best collection of Pre-Raphaelites in the country, if you like that sort of thing. I always admire their technical skill, but the finished paintings often strike me as artificial and laboured.
This detail of Frederic Leighton’s Captive Andromache is an example. I think the technique is awe inspiring and the figures are beautiful, but they are all theatrical, and clothing, however clingy, never really folds and hangs like that. Andromache’s expression is exquisite.
The lighting on Arthur Hughe’s Ophelia is a bit odd, but otherwise I thing this is a real masterpiece. Far better than Millais’s much better known version, which is, literally, a girl in a bath tub. One of my favourite paintings since I first saw it all those years ago.
Two lovely nude neighbours but with some questions over them. Francis Derwent Wood’s Atalanta is just a beautiful statue of an attractive naked woman, but she had to be given a classical attribute to make her acceptable to an Edwardian audience. She is named after the Greek runner, who was only beaten by trickery, but there is nothing at all in the statue to indicate that is who she is. She is just a standing woman.
The painting of Syrinx by Arthur Hacker is another beautiful naked girl, again justified to a Victorian audience by her classical narrative. Her expression is unsettling. This is an abused child. In the myth, she was trying to escape being raped by Pan, but that horrible fact is glossed over by the use of the story as an excuse to show a naked girl. Was the artist trying to remind viewers of this, or was the model herself being abused in turn? The model is a real participant in a painting, but is nearly always silent and unknown.
This is a bad photo of one of my favourite paintings, Holman Hunt’s Scapegoat. A horrible religious custom, aimed at relieving humans of responsibilities for all their faults by loading them onto a goat and sending it out to die. Scapegoats have been dying ever since, to no one’s benefit. When I saw this painting as a student, I thought the colour of the landscape was the exaggeration of a fevered mind. In 1977 I was driven down into the Jordan Valley, standing on the rear bumper of a Landcruiser (long story) and saw this very landscape. The colours are true.
You can see anything in Manchester! This is not in a permanent collection there, but in a review of Britain in the 1950s. Quite how a Dutch de Styl chair fits into that I don’t know, but I always loved Rietveld’s work and this chair in particular. You can still buy it. It is not comfortable.