13 March 2011

Pictures in a gallery

Somehow this was my first ever visit to Tate Britain.

It's not that I'm a stranger to art galleries, I've been to Tate Modern many times and the National Gallery several times, but never to Tate Britain.

I'll blame its location for this. Tate Modern has a prime position on the rejuvenated south Bank, the National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square in the heart of London but Tate Britain hides among the mansion blocks of Westminster a safe distance from any tube station.

I discovered where Tate Britain is, and how to get there, in my regular morning walks to work from Vauxhall Station and that's the route I took this time, over Vauxhall Bridge and then a right-turn towards Millbank.

The first stop was the busy and slow cafe for my usual latte that was just about worth the wait. The cake helped the mood too.

Tate Britain offers a map but it's a quid and there's only one main floor so how hard could it be? With no particular objective in mind I headed upstairs and into a room promising Blake and Physiognomy and then just moved on to whatever room looked most interesting.

One of the first pictures to catch my eye was Edward Wadsworth's Bronze Ballet with its fresh colours and clean lines.

 I also like the low vantage point, high horizon and the ships in the distance.

Next up was Winifred Knights' The Deluge.

Here it is the figures that I like.

The sharply angled poses and the definitive hand gestures make this look like a scene from a modern ballet, not that they had modern ballet in 1920 when this was painted.

The anguish in their expressions also reminded me of Nick Cave's Weeping Song.

The lack of colour adds to the bleakness but, somehow, despite the negative subject and portrayal, it's a very attractive picture.

The Pre-Raphaelite section was especially popular and was thronged with visitors.

One of the more famous pictures here is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

The river was painted from real life in Kingston. It's part of the Hogsmill that joins the Thames in the town centre. Ophelia was added in later, probably using PaintShop.

I love the Pre-Raphaelite thanks to the comic artwork of Barry Windsor Smith who was clearly a big fan too. It's the magic and the mystery. There's a story in every picture.

Tate Britain houses a large collection of paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner and it's easily worth visiting just for that.

They can be found in the Romantics exhibition, but not easily due to some renovation works. Perhaps I should have bought that map.

The exhibition covers all of Turner's career and it is interesting so see how the traditional early works morphed in to the later abstracts for which he is most famous for.

This picture is called Sun Setting over a Lake, but that hardly matters. Love it for its colours.

And this story ends as it began with William Blake.

One of the Romantics galleries has a series of small book illustrations by Blake drawn with watercolour and ink on paper. These were originally done in just ink and the colouring was done much later.

This is a plate from The Book of Urizen written by Blake in 1794 which is a parody of the Book of Genesis.

The style is definitely Romantic and brings another comics illustrator to mind, this time it's P Craig Russell.

I'm not sure how much of Tate Britain I got to see in the end (I should have bought that map) but there is plenty left for another visit. Soon hopefully.

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