Art Reviews

Welcome to the fine arts page of Jolyon's Review.

10th November 2011

Art of Madrid

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

I was in Madrid on 12th October this year - the 12th October is a national holiday in Spain - so I took advantage of Spain’s museums being open to members of the public for free that day.  I visited two of Madrid’s most important art galleries: the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia (Reina Sofia Museum) and the Museo Nacional Del Prado (Prado Museum).  If I had wished to be chronological, I should have visited the Prado before the Reina Sofia, as the Prado exhibits art from the 12th century until the early 19th century, while the Reina Sofia exhibits 20th century art.  However, as most of Paseo del Prado had been cordoned off that morning, because King Juan Carlos was reviewing a military procession, it was easier to see the Reina Sofia first.  Later in the afternoon the cordon had been removed so I made my way to the Prado.

There is quite an interesting collection of work by the Surrealist artists of the 1920s and 30s on the second floor of the Reina Sofia Museum.  As well as paintings and drawings by artists such as Joan Miró, and Salvidor Dali; their lives and work are put into context by historical texts such as the very ordinary poster advertising an exhibition of Miro’s work that took place in Paris between the 12th and 27th June 1924.

In one of the Surrealist galleries, a short film by the Spanish film director Luis Buňuel (1900-1983) is projected repeatedly onto a white wall.  The film was called Un chien andalou and made by Buňuel in collaboration with Salvidor Dali in Paris in 1929.  The film was limited by the technology of its day, in that it is in black and white and silent.  However, even today the scenes in the film are bizarre, unsettling, sometimes hilarious, and definately unforgettable as was intended by the film’s creators.  In one scene a man with a razor is standing next to a woman sitting on a chair, in the next frame a very thin cloud passes across the moon, in the following frame a blade cuts an eyeball.  In another scene a man holds his hand out and there is a hole in the middle of his palm, out of which ants are crawling.  There is a scene where a man struggles to drag something very heavy across a room.  In the next frame you see his rope is attached to two grand pianos, each piano has a dead horse on it, also adding to the weight are three Roman Catholic priests.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, is probably the most famous painting on display at the Reina Sofia.  It was painted as an anti-war and anti-fscist protest against an air raid which killed 1650 men, women, and children in the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.  I have previously seen a copy of Picasso’s Guernica in the form of a tapestry at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which I reviewed in an article entitled: History as art at the Whitechapel Gallery, published on this website on 11th June 2009.  The Spanish Civil War is well documented with drawings, cartoons, paintings, photographs and films of the artists who lived during the conflict from 1936 to 1939.

Both the Reina Sofia Museum and the Prado Museum tell us much about the history of Spain.  Many paintings in the Prado were at one time in the Royal Collection of the Kings and Queens of Spain.  These paintings were very political when first painted: take for example an equestian portrait of Emperor Carlos V of the Holy Roman Empire - who was also King Carlos I of Spain - that now hangs in room 27 on the second floor of the Prado.  That painting was commissioner in around 1548 by the Emperor and painted by Titian (Vecellio di Gregorio Tiziano) to commemorate the victory over the Protestants at the Battle of Mühlberg.

Following the death of King Carlos I, Titian continued to receive commissions from Carlos’s son King Felipe II of Spain.  The Battle of Lepanto is commemorated in two of Titian’s paintings on display at the Prado.  The Battle of Lepanto was a naval battle which took place on 7th October between the Holy League (Spain, Venice, and the Vatican) and the Ottoman Turks.  Both Titian’s Lepanto paintings are allegorical: in the painting entitled ‘Religion Saved by Spain’, a female figure representing Spain rescues another female figure representing the Christian religion from the Turks represented by a chariot on the sea.  In the other painting entitled ‘Following Victory at Lepanto, Felipe II offers Prince Fernando to Heaven’, the figure of a captured Turk is in the bottom left hand side of the painting, while Felipe offers up his son Fernando to Heavan in thanks for the victory.  Fernando was born shortly after the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and died when only 7 years old.

One of the most famous paintings in the Prado which hangs in Room 12 is ‘Las Meninas’ painted in 1656 by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velàzquez.  Velàzquez was a court painter to King Felipe IV of Spain, and Las Meninas captures a scene where the King’s daughter, the Infanta Margarita is having her portrait painted by Velàzquez.  The Meninas, or ladies in waiting (Agustina de Sarmiento and Isabel de Velasco) are either side of her.

An equestian portrait entitled ‘Felipe IV on Horseback’ painted by Velàzquez in the 1630s also hangs in Room 12 of the Prado.  This painting was probably the inspiration for a 19th century equestian statue that stands in Plaza de Oriente facing the Royal Palace.  The Spanish inscription on the back of the plinth of the statue tells us that Isabel II erected the statue for the glory of art and the ornamentation of the capital, but Felipe IV’s name is not mentioned on the plinth.  However after seeing Velàzquez’s equestian painting of Felipe IV we can recognise that the figure on the horse’s back, is that of the 17th century king.  On the front of the statue’s plinth another inscription says “REINANDO ISABEL SECUNDA DE BORBON ANO DE 1844” which translates as: The reign of Isabel II of Bourbon 1844.

Queen Isabel II is commemorated at the Plaza Isabel where there is a statue of her.  She was responsible for setting up the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) which stands on the west side of the square named after her.  Queen Isabel II seemed to have been genuinely interested in the improvement of Madrid for the people of the city.  However, her reign was not a particularly lucky one as she was forced to abdicate as the result of a military coup in 1868.

On Thursday 13th October I went on an excursion by local train from Atocha station in Madrid to El Escorial.  The Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Royal Monastery of Saint Lawrence of Escorial) is situated on a hill which is about 20 minutes walk from Escorial station.  This Royal monastery and palace was commissioned by Felipe II in 1562 and not completed until the 1580s.  From here Felipe II ran an empire which included most of Central and South America and the Philippines.  The monastery has provided a place of burial for Spain’s Monarchs from Carlos I as well as other members of the Spanish Royal Family until the present time.  The site also houses the Royal Library, a school, and a Royal art collection - first brought together by Felipe II and added to by later Monarchs - comprising of paintings by Bosch; El Greco; Goya; Ribera; Rubens; Veronese; Velàzquez; and van der Weyden amongst others.

In one of the large rooms in the palace there are paintings of Spanish military victories against Protestants in Flanders and the Netherlands.  Three of the place names of the battles are recognisable as Antwerp, Nijmegen, and Maastricht.  These type of paintings - like the Mühlberg and Lepanto paintings - are examples of how art has been used for properganda purposes over the centuries.

At 7 p.m on 14th October I left Madrid on the night train to Paris, but had enough time beforehand to visit the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum).  The paintings on display at the museum were brought together as a private collection by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife Carmen.  The collection has been on public display in Madrid since 1992.

There are some very fine medieval religious paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection.  Begin your visit on the second floor and you are taken through the history of art from the middle ages to the 20th century.

There are many paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza which would interest an English visitor such as: Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1537 Portrait of Henry VIII of England; or Canaletto’s 1748 painting of the South Facade of Warwich Castle; or John Constable’s, The Lock painted in 1824.  In Constable’s painting I noticed the cloud formations which reminded me I was soon to return to England.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2011

Useful Information

The Prado Museum

The Reina Sofia Museum

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

El Escorial

21st December 2009

A portrait of Henri IV of France

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

A rare oil-painting of King Henri IV of France - also known as Henri de Bourbon, or as Henri de Navarre - has recently come onto the art market in London.  The painting which is on sale at Daniel Hunt Fine Art in Chelsea, had previously been in the possession of the same family since 1911.  The painting dates from the 1590s and is thought to have been painted by one of Henri IV’s servants.

Henri was a key figure in the Wars of Religion in France during the 16th century.  He was born in 1553, a time when the Protestant Reformation was seriously challenging the authority and power of the Roman Catholic Church.  His father Antoine de Bourbon supported the Huguenots - the term Huguenot is a word used to describe a French Protestant - and Henri’s mother, Jeanne D'Albert, was a Calvanist and heir to the Kingdom of Navarre.

Henri was recognised as the leader of the Huguenots in France in 1569, and he fought on the side of the Protestants at the Battle of Jarnac.  The event of his wedding to Marguerite de Valois in August 1572 proved to be the catalyst of another outbreak of violence between Catholics and Protestants, underlining the religious differences within France at that time.

Marguerite was the daughter of Catherine de Medici and the late King Henri II of France, and brother to King Charles IX of France.  Catherine de Medici was hoping that the marriage of her daughter to Henri de Bourbon would reconcile the Catholic and Protestant factions in France, however events following the wedding turned nasty, resulting in the murder of 3,000 Hugenots in Paris with thousands of others being killed elseware in France.

This event is referred to as the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre, because it took place on 24th August which was St. Bartholomew’s day.  It is thought that the atmosphere in Paris became tense following an assassination attempt on Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, who was a Huguenot.  Thousands of Huguenots had gathered in Paris for the wedding of Henri and Marguerite, and following the assassination attempt against Coligny, Charles IX - fearing an uprising against the Catholic monarchy - ordered a religious riot against the Protestants which resulted in the massacres.  The historical events of the royal wedding and the St. Bartholomew’s days massacre, became the theme of an epic film called La Reine Margot, made in 1994 starring Daniel Auteuil as Henri de Navarre and Isabelle Adjani as Marguerite de Valois.

At the time of the St. Bartholomew’s massacre, Henri was held captive by his inlaws and forced to convert to Roman Cathoicism on pain of death.  Later Henri managed to escape from the French court, repudiate his Catholic conversion and once again become the military leader of the Huguenots in his own kingdom of Navarre.

In 1574, Henri III became King of France on the death of his brother Charles IX.  The “War of the Three Henris” was a power struggle over the confessional and dynastic future of the Kingdom of France.  Henri de Guise - who had formed the Catholic League - wanted to prevent the Protestant Henri de Navarre from succeeding Henri III to the throne of France.  The Guises were supported by Spain, but Spanish military might had been weakened following the failed Armada mission to invade England in 1588.  This created an opportunity for Henri III to have Henri de Guise and the latter’s brother, the cardinal of Lorraine assassinated.  Henri III was assassinatinated in 1589, and was succeeded by Henri de Navarre who became Henri IV of France.

The problem of religious hatred persisted in France throughout Henri IV’s reign.  He was later forced to convert once more to Roman Catholicism, in order to placate powerful Catholic factions in France.  However, Henri IV worked hard to create an atmosphere of religious reconciliation and toleration in France.  Henri signed the Edict of Nantes in 1598 giving Protestants religious freedoms in France.  Unfortunately religious violence would cause Henri’s own death, as he was assassinated by a fanatical Jesuit in 1610.

At the time of writing this article, a photograph of the portrait of Henri IV can be seen on the website of Daniel Hunt Fine Art at

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

3rd December 2009

An exhibition of paintings by Michael Bennallack Hart at the Medici Gallery, London

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

A selection of new paintings by Michael Bennallack Hart, is currently on exhibition at the Medici Gallery in Cork Street, London.  The exhibition - running from 1st to 23rd December - consists of some brilliant representations of the artist’s favourite places in England, Italy and the United States.  This exhibition of landscape oil-paintings, is a sign that good art will always be in demand inspite of the recession.

Hart has painted daylight and night scenes capturing the feeling of the day, hour and place of the locations represented.  In the painting entitled ‘Santo Stefano, Puglia’ of a walled or fortified building overlooking a bay, the brightness of the sunlight is contrasted sharply against the few shaded areas of rocks, stones and greenery.  In a completely different painting entitled ‘New Years Eve’ of a winter scene on a misty day, the branches of the trees are much less sharply defined.

Hart deals with the contrasts of darkness and light in the night scenes well.  In ‘The Albert Bridge’, the artificial light on the bridge defines its structure well against the darness of the night.  In the painting ‘Moonlight’, the reflection from the moon into the clouds gives the painting depth.

Michael Bennallack Hart was born in 1948 and studied at Ravensbourne College of Art in London from 1966 to 1970.  He began his career as an illustrator designing film posters and record covers, as well as painting landscapes and sports scenes.  During the 1970s and 80s he worked as an advertising director.  He has exhibited paintings in many galleries including: The Spectrum Gallery, New York; John Mitchell, London; the Royal Academy of Arts, London; and The Medici Gallery, London.  He is also a member of the Chelsea Arts Club.

The paintings in the exhibition of Hart’s work at the Medici Gallery, are hung in gold frames, and would suite an older house quite well.  They are modern paintings, painted in a traditional style.  The paintings in the exhibition make a pleasant change from some of the conceptual art, which became symbolic of the excess prior to the credit crunch.

For more information on this exhibition and Micheal Bennallack Hart visit and .

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

11th June 2009

History as art at the Whitechapel Gallery

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

The study of a work of art can be used as a method of understanding the historical period in which it was created.  Not only can a painting be appreciated for its beauty or its message, but if we know the date of its creation, for whom it was created and why it was created, then we learn something about the politics and society behind its inception.  For example we can learn much about the court of King Henry VIII of England by studying the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger.

Goshka Macuga turns this process completely around, where a piece of artwork on display is actually formed by items associated with a historical period.  For example a museum display cabinet containing items from the 1930’s is in itself a piece of artwork in an exhibition.  The separate items in the cabinet are equivalent to the different colours and tones in a painting.

In an inaugural exhibition entitled ‘The Nature of the Beast’ Macuga has chosen the theme of Picasso’s Guernica painting and the story behind it to form a work of art.  The original Guernica painting was briefly exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1939, at the time intended to bring public awareness to the plight of Republicans who were fighting Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War.  Today’s exhibition features a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica in the form of a tapestry along with artifacts and documents relating to the original painting, the reproduction, the United Nations Security Council, and the War in Iraq.  The narrative of the exhibition links all of these things together in one story, that forms a work of art itself.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica was painted for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition held at Paris in 1937.  Picasso had been commissioned to paint a work of art for the exhibition in support of the Spanish Republican government, which at the time was fighting for its survival against Franco’s Nationalists.  By coincidence the tragic event of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, happened shortly before Picasso was to start work on his commission.  The atrocity committed against the civilian population of Guernica - in which more than 1,650 men, women and children were killed during an air raid, by German bombers in support of Franco - would provide the anti-war and anti-fascist theme for Picasso’s painting.

Picasso’s Guernica was exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery from 31st December 1938 until 14th January 1939.  The exhibition had been organized by the Stepney Trade Union Council with the purpose of giving material support to the refugees of the civil war - with pairs of leather boots or financial donations - and to enlist volunteers who were prepared to go out to Spain and fight for the Republican cause.

Goshka Macuga’s exhibition re-creates the memory of the 1938-1939 exhibition through the artifacts and documents on display.  It was not possible for Picasso’s original Guernica painting to be put on display again at the Whitechapel Gallery, as it is today one of the main attractions at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

The tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s painting, itself forms part of the sequel to the anti-war narrative of Guernica.  The tapestry was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1955 and woven by Madame J. de la Baume Dürrbach at the Dürrbach atelier in Paris with the approval of Pablo Picasso.  In 1985 Mrs Rockefeller allowed the tapestry to be put on display outside of the Security Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, in memory of her husband and as a deterrent to war.

The narrative of Macuga’s work of art at the Whitechapel Gallery brings the viewer to recent historical events.  Some of the photographs and documents in the display case tell of how the tapestry - which used to hang outside of the Security Council Chamber - was covered with a blue curtain on 5th February 2003.  That was at the place and on the day, when the then US Secretary of State Collin Powell made a presentation before the world’s media that Saddam Hussein supposedly had weapons on mass destruction.  The presentation made the case for war against Iraq.  Somebody covered the tapestry because its anti-war message was too much of a condradiction of the other message delivered by Colin Powell that day.  Today the tapestry forms the focal point of the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

The Nature of the Beast exhibition by Goshka Macuga is being held at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX, from 5th April 2009 to 18th April 2010.  For more information on this exhibition and others at the Whitechapel Gallery visit .

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

14th May 2009

An exhibition of paintings by Peter Goodfellow

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

A painting of Barack Obama on his presidential campaign will catch your eye, if you walk past The Air Gallery at 32 Dover Street, London at the moment.  One of the jobs of art has always been to make a comment on current affairs and politics, which this painting does well.  The painting is optimistic and draws a line between now and the previous eight years of world history.

The painting of Barack Obama is by the artist Peter Goodfellow and is part of an exhibition of his work, which runs until 16th May 2009.  Other paintings in the exhibition concentrate on the themes of ‘3 Passions: Bull Fighting, Landscapes, Football’.  Peter Goodfellow has come down from Scotland personally, to organize this exhibion and welcome visitors to it.

The bull fighting paintings are inspired by the work of the Spanish artist Goya, capturing the movement of the matadors.  The essence of the ‘La Tauromaquia’ oil paintings, is the malice in the group of men who taunt the bull they are about to kill.

Peter Goodfellow’s use of light and colour in his mountain landscapes capture the power of nature.  These beautiful oil paintings depict the remoteness of the mountain ranges untouched by human activity.

The three paintings of the footballers Alan Shearer, Shola Amoebi, and Jermaine Jenas capture the expression of the players during a match.  From these paintings the artist indicates that he is a Newcastle United supporter.

The temporary exhibition of the Lost Gallery hosted at the Air Gallery in London, also includes some intricate sculptures of animals by Susan White-Oakes.

Peter Goodfellow and his wife Jean run the Lost Gallery at Glen Nochty in Scotland.  More information on the career and work of Peter Goodfellow and other artists, can be seen on the Lost Gallery website at .

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009

21st November 2008

Review of The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth

by Jolyon Gumbrell

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth is unique because it was built both as a home and an art gallery, by its founders Sir Merton and Lady Annie Russell-Cotes.  Construction on this beautiful villa which overlooks Bournemouth beach, was begun in 1898 and completed in 1900 and is said to be the last Victorian building built in Bournemouth.  Then known as East Cliff Hall, it was designed by the architect John Frederick Fogerty.  Sir Merton Russell-Cotes specified that the building should be a combination of Renaissance with Italian and old Scottish baronial styles.

Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes first came to Bournemouth in 1876 and bought the Bath Hotel, later to become the Royal Bath Hotel.  During their years as proprietors of the hotel, they built up both their art collection and a prestigious list of guests who stayed there.  Among the guests were the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII; Prince Henry of Battenburg; Sir Benjamin Disraeli; Empress Eugenie of France who had been the wife of Napoleon III; Oscar Wilde; Sir Henry Irving; and Sir Hubert Herkomer.  Sir Merton and Annie's art collection would have been a focal point of the hotel, with every area of wall space being taken up with paintings and objects collected on their travels around the world.

When the couple moved to their new home at East Cliff Hall in around 1900-1901, they would have taken many of the paintings and artifacts on display at the Royal Bath Hotel with them.  In 1908 Sir Merton and Annie gave their home to the town of Bournemouth as a museum.  The house was at first only open to the public for two hours each week, as Sir Merton and Annie were still in residence there.  Annie died in 1920 and Sir Merton died in 1921, after which Bournemouth Borough Council took possession of the house and collection opening it as the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in 1922.

During his lifetime Sir Merton collected the work of Many British artists including that of Edwin Longsden Long, R.A (1829-1891).  Many of Long’s paintings on display in the gallery have a religious or historical theme.  The large canvas entitled ‘Anno Domini’ by Long, depicts an account taken from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, of the time Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape from King Herod.  In 1874 Long travelled to Egypt and Syria, which would have given him inspiration for this type of subject.  Long’s skill is his ability to bring a mythical or historical story to life.

Long does this well with the painting entitled ‘The Moorish Proselytes of Archbishop Xiemenes, Granada, 1500’ which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873.  The painting is based on an episode in Spain’s history, when Muslims and Jews were forced to convert to Christianity in the years following the conquest of Granada by forces loyal to Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

In 1884 and 1885 Sir Merton and Annie travelled the world bringing back artifacts from Russia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Hawaii, the Middle East and Japan.  On route to South Africa the ship on which the couple were travelling stopped at the island of St.Helena, where Napoleon Bonapart had been sent to by the British following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  While the ship was at St.Helena, Merton and Annie got the chance to quickly view Longwood House where Napoleon had lived from 1815 until his death in 1821.  Many years after their visit Sir Merton purchased an octagonal table that had come from Longwood, after it had been passed down through the Bonapart family and finally sold at auction following the death of Princess Eugenie.  This table can be seen today in the dining room near to a wine cooler, which was also once in Longwood House.  The wine cooler was donated to the collection of the Russell-Cotes Gallery & Museum in 1944.

Viewing the paintings, sculptures, furniture, and other artifacts in the museum tells the visitor much about the tastes of two Victorian collectors.  As well as being avid art collectors Sir Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes must have been shrewd business people, because their collection itself would have also played a part in attracting wealthy clientele to their hotel.  However, this was not their sole motive in collecting as they wished it to educate the public and bring beauty to a wider audience, which is why they left their home and collection to Bournemouth Borough Council.

Temporary exhibition

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is hosting ‘Secrets of the Saucy Seaside Postcard’ which traces the artwork behind the comic postcard.  The exhibition will run until 1st February 2009.

Useful information

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is open from 10.00am to 5.00pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday (Closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day).

Address: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Russell-Cotes Road, East Cliff, Bournemouth, BH1 3AA, United Kingdom.

Tel: + 44 (0)1202 451858 or + 44 (0)1202 45100 (answer-phone)


©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

22nd September 2008

An Exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) and Walker Evans (1903-1975).  The exhibition entitled Photographing America (1929-1947), consists of 43 photographic impressions from the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson belonging to the Foundation’s own collection, and 43 photographic impressions from the work of Walker Evans which are on loan to the exhibition from various institutional and private collections in the United States. The photographs were taken in the United States from 1929 to 1947, and the subjects include urban environments in New York, Washington, Chicago and California, as well as the deep South States of Mississipi, Alabama and Louisiana.

In 1929 the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed, had a profound impact on America and the world.  The economic collapse of the 1930’s caused mass unemployment throwing millions into poverty overnight.  Some of the images in the exhibition capture the misery of the people who were living in those times.  It is coincidental that recent events have made the Photographing America exhibition relevant.  Today a similar economic crash is happening called the credit crunch, the final result of which is yet to be felt.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work is brought together with that of Walker Evans, because Evans was one of the photographers whose work Cartier-Bresson most admired.  Evans also had equal regard for Cartier-Bresson’s photography.  The exhibition which opened on 10th September and will continue until 21st December 2008, is part of the celebration of the life and work of Henri Cartier-Bresson marking the centenary of his birth. Other events marking the centenary of the photographer’s birth are two symposiums: the first entitled Henri Cartier-Bresson: Images de l’histoire will take place at the Centre Culturel International in Cerisy-la-Salle from 4th to 7th October 2008; the second entitled Revoir Henri Cartier-Bresson will take place at the Petit Palais in Paris on 14th and 15th November 2008.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008


More information on the exhibition and symposiums celebrating the life and work of Henri Cartier-Bresson can be found by conacting the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson or visiting the Foundations website.

Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2 Impasse Bebouis, 75014 Paris,France.
Tel: +33 1 56 80 2700, Fax: +33 1 56 80 2701

22nd July 2008

Astarte Gallery, Paris

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

Paris has many commercial art galleries where an art collector can purchase the work of a living artist, who might be the next Pablo Picasso or Lucian Freud. It is quite difficult to anticipate whose work will become the most sought after from an investment point of view, but one should never be motivated into purchasing a work of art solely as an investment. One has to love a piece of art before purchasing it, and understand what the painting or sculpture is saying.

Astarte Gallery in Paris, has an interesting selection of exhibits by artists who are leaders in their field. The work of all these atists is memorable: take for instance the painting by Fabio D'Aroma called 'Spiritual Growth'. This painting depicts Jesus playing basketball with two boys.

In the work of the artist Gerablie Denis, one can see by his style and use of colour, an influence of the cubists and fauvists of the early 20th Century. The painting entitled 'La Tour de Babel' is a good example of his style.

The Canadian artist Ginette Beaulieu, has been influenced in her work by the Renaissance. She uses her knowledge of the old techniques of the great masters, to create paintings of beautiful women from our own time. The two women in the painting 'Deux Ames Complice' are eye catching and demonstate how the artist captures the beauty of her subjects. Ginette Beaulieu was one of a group of Quebec artists, whose work was exhibited by the Société Nationale des Beaux - Arts de Paris, at the Carrousel of the Louvre Museum in December 2007.

Many of the artists whose work is exhibited and on sale at the Astarte Gallery bring together the old and new. For example Fabio D'Aroma and Gerablie Denis, have used the old genre of religious painting in a modern context, whereas Ginette Beaulieu has used an old technique to paint modern women.

Astarte Gallery can be visited at 18 rue des Saints-Pères, 75007, Paris, France.  The website of Astarte is

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

27th April 2008

Oasis, watercolour by Albert Marquet, c. 1920-22

Albert Marquet: Voyages

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

The Connaught Brown gallery in Albemarle Street, London is presently hosting an exhibition of watercolours and line drawings in ink by the Post Impressionist artist, Albert Marquet (1875-1947). The exhibition entitled ‘Albert Marquet: Voyages’ consists of sketches of places in Europe and North Africa made by the artist between 1900 and 1936.

Although many of the ink sketches in the exhibition use just a few lines, each one gives the sense of time and place when it was created. These sketches and watercolours were drawn and painted while Marqet was visiting various locations such as the Doges’ Palace in Venice, a flower and cypress field in Algiers, an Oais, and the port of Boulogne. Marquet would have carried a sketch pad and box of watercolours around with him on his travels, so he could quickly make a sketch in each place he visited.

Albert Marquet was one of the Fauve artists, who - along with Henri Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and others - shocked the artistic establishment, by the way they used primary colours in their paintings exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1905. The art critic Louis Vauxcelles gave the artists the nick name of les fauves, which is French for wild cats or beasts. The artists found inspiration for their use of colour from Van Gogh.

There are none of Marquet’s oil paintings in the ‘Albert Marquet: Voyages’ exhibition, as it is specifically dedicated to his works on paper. Many of his oil paintings are in the permanent collections of large institutional art galleries around the world such The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Sketches in the ‘Albert Marquet: Voyages’ exhibition have been authenticated by the Wildenstein Institute in Paris. There are 65 works of art listed in the exhibition catalogue, varying in price from £900 to £24,000, some of which have already been sold. The Albert Marquet: Voyages exhibition is running from 14th April to 17th May 2008.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

8th April 2008

The Cranach Exhibition

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell

The study of history and art history complement one another. If a student is studying the Reformation in Europe during the 16th Century, then seeing a painting of Martin Luther, will help the student make a visual connection with the historical period. Likewise if another student is studying 16th Century German art, then a knowledge of the historical period will help this student understand, why a work of art was commissioned and created. The Cranach Exhibition does this well, as the visitor gets a good idea of the religious upheavals, politics, social attitudes, and not least the demands of patron and clients, that influenced the work of Lucus Cranach the Elder (1472 - 1553).

Little is known about Lucas Cranach’s life prior to 1500, except that he was born in the town of Kronach in the state of Franconia in Germany, from where he took the name Cranach. His father was the painter Hans Maler, from whom Lucas probably received his earliest training as an artist. It has been suggested that Cranach may have worked for a short time in the studio of Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) in Nuremberg. It is known that Cranach was living and working in Vienna around 1500 when he painted The Crucifixion, which is the earliest painting in the exhibition.

In 1505 Cranach was appointed as court painter to the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise (1463 - 1525) in Wittenberg. Cranach had a wide variety of duties in this role such as painting religious pictures; portraits; interior decorations; props such as banners, coats of arms and decorative lances for festivals and tournaments; designing costumes and masks; and producing illustrations of the Elector’s collection of relics etc. While Cranach was in the employment of Frederick, he visited the court of the Holy Roman Emporer, Maximilian I in the Netherlands.

It is likely that this trip led to the creation of the religious painting of 1509, Triptych with the Holy Kinship. This painting is of particular interest to the historian, because it demonstrates the purpose that wealthy and powerful people would have used art and religion for, during the 16th Century. The triptych was created originally as an altar-piece for a church. It consists of three painted panels depicting the Holy family. What is striking about the triptych is that the figure of Frederick the Wise is included in the left panel, his brother John is in the right panel, with the Emperor Maximilian I and a courtier in the central panel.

There is something narcissistic about the patron’s desire to be portrayed alongside Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Joseph and Mary’s mother Anne, but at that time it would have been considered a powerful propaganda tool. In an age of superstition, such a religious icon would have elevated the status of a prince to that of righteousness, merely by his juxtaposition with the Holy family. An analogy can be made between this 16th Century publicity stunt, and the way modern day politicians and business leaders like to be photographed alongside of film stars, pop stars and footballers.

As an historical figure Lucus Cranach is famous for his association with Martin Luther. The first editions of Luther’s books were printed under Cranach’s supervision in Wittenburg, with Cranach producing the woodcuts used to illustrate those books. Without the collaboration of Cranach and the technology of the printing press, it is doubtful whether Luther’s message or the Reformation would have got very far.

In 1511, Martin Luther had arrived at Wittenberg as an Augustinian monk, to teach theology at the university. He is famous for instigating the Reformation in 1517, by nailing 95 theses to the door of the castle church, which criticised corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was concerned by the Church’s practice of selling indulgences for the remission of sins. Luther felt that on a range of issues the clergy were not committed to the Christian faith, because their practices were not in accordance with what was written in the Bible.

Cranach not only supported Luther by creating woodcuts and supervising the printing of Luther’s books, he also produced many portraits of Luther as part of what would today be called a publicity campaign. One of these is a double portrait of Luther and his wife Katherine von Bora. This would have been extremely significant as Martin had been a monk and Katherine a nun, so their marriage would have been in defiance of Roman Catholic dogma of celibacy for the clergy.

In spite of Cranach’s role in the Reformation, he still managed to get commissions from Catholic patrons such as Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenberg. It is to Cranach’s credit as a businessman as well as a painter, that he was able to draw on such a diverse customer base. The painter’s workshop was similar to a small to medium sized company of today, with the master employing assistants just as a modern managing director employs staff to deliver the company’s product or service. This type of workshop could even be described as the forerunner to the modern factory, with standardised formats being used as templates for producing paintings that had been commissioned. However, although themes such as Venus and Cupid were often used, specific variations were applied to all works of art leaving Cranach’s workshop.

This image of Cranach as an entrepreneurial painter, is very different from the archetypical image of an artists as impoverished loner living on the margins of society. Cranach’s wealth and status would have been on a level equal to someone who would today have their profile in The Sunday Times Rich List. Like many influential people Cranach got himself involved in politics, getting elected to the council of Wittenberg in 1519 and serving as mayor from 1537.

The Cranach exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is taking place from 8th March to 8th June 2008. This exhibition allows the visitor to put Cranach’s work into a wider context, and make comparisons between the artist’s time and that of our own.


Harris, Greg, Cranach An Introduction to the Exhibition for Teachers and Students (Royal Academy of Arts, 2008)

Wallace, Peter G., The Long European Reformation Religion: Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity 1350-1750 (Palgrave 2004)

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2008

31st March 2008

Mad Meg by Pieter Breughel the Elder, painted around 1561-62. This painting belongs to the collection of the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp, Belguim. The museum's website is:

The review below was first written by Jolyon Gumbrell in May 1998 shortly after visiting the Breughel-Brueghel exhibition, which had been held at Antwerp in Belgium. The review was not published at the time and has remained in his file until now. It is published here for the first time.

The Breughels are in Antwerp.

by Jolyon Gumbrell.

It has been said, to understand a place is to understand its people their history language and culture, as well as the geography topography and industries of the country. Most people know that Flanders, the northern part of Belgium is flat and that Flemish (Vlaams) is spoken here, which is a Dutch dialect. It is also useful to know how a country is depicted by its artists.

To begin to understand Flanders in more detail, you could start by visiting Antwerp one weekend. If you visit the city between now and 26th July this year[1998], you will have chance to see the Breughel-Brueghel exhibition, which is dedicated to works of art by the brothers Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1637/8) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) held at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten).

The Brueghel brothers were the sons' of Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525/30-1569), who began the family's artistic dynasty. Pieter Breughel the Elder's exact place of birth is not known, but is thought to be near the town of Bree in northern Belgium. He spent some time in Antwerp, where he served his apprenticeship at the studio of Pieter Coecke van Aelst. In 1551 he became a master of the St.Lucas guild in Antwerp and later travelled to Italy, which would have been part of his formal training, to see the work of Italian masters. In 1563 he married Mayken Coecke the daughter of his former master and then moved to Brussels.

After visiting the Royal Museum of Fine Arts to see the Breughel-Brueghel exhibition, it would also be interesting to visit the Mayer van den Bergh Museum. Here you will see one of Pieter Breughel the Elder's most famous paintings, "Mad Meg". The character of Mad Meg is seen in the middle of the painting brandishing a sword. She is surrounded by mutated creatures and people fighting amongst themselves. The sky is filled by fire representing a scene of horror and chaos. When Pieter Breughel the Elder created this painting, he was probably being effected by the horrific events of a civil war that took place as a result of a dispute between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France.

When Pieter Breughel the Elder died in Brussels in 1569 his sons Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder were very young. Although they never knew their father properly, they would have been influenced by his work.

The Breughel-Brueghel exhibition in Antwerp is a rare opportunity to see the work of both brothers side by side. Pieter Breughel the Younger is often referred to as the "Infernal Breughel", while his brother Jan has been referred to as "Flower Brueghel","Velvet Brueghel" and "Paradise Brueghel".

Themes covered by the brothers are biblical, weddings, and peasant scenes. It is very interesting to note that many of the biblical scenes seem to represent more the countryside in Flanders around the late 16th Century, than that of the Holy Land at the time of Christ.

Pieter Breughel the Younger is often accused of being just a copier of his father, which seems unfair as he helped keep alive a chronology of everyday Flemish life. Jan Brueghel the Elder is most famous for his still life paintings of flowers. Many of these are on show in the exhibition and their technical accuracy is hard to be surpassed by any artist past or present.

The exhibition is taking place thanks to the museums and private collectors who have lent their precious works of art. These include The Mildred Andrews Fund, Ohio-U.S.A, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Montreal-Canada, the Sammlungen des Furstens von Liechtenstein, the Musee du Louvre,Paris, Vaduz and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 1998