The Belgian conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers once pondered about the question of how art contains meaning for its viewers. When looking at his beautifully fragile eggs exhibited at Hauser & Wirth at this year’s Frieze, one might wonder whether such meaningful art might be discovered beyond the spectacle of London’s renowned art fair.
A good starting point in the quest for meaningful art might be the variety of performance-based and participatory practice that one can find at Frieze this year. These art forms invite the viewer to take part in the construction of meaning so that one might suspect that they contain a high degree of meaning for the viewer when doing so. Given that these practices originated in the desire to create un-sellable art outside of any institutional contexts, it is surprising that Frieze incorporates these practices, which manifests somehow a reductio ad absurdum of their origins. Yet, does it work?
If one has a look at the re-staging of James Lee Byars’ performance ‘Four in a dress’ (a group of four performers is united through the same piece of cloth that connects all of them with each other) at Michael Werner, one quickly realises that it does not. Whilst Byars originally invited the audience to participate in the performance, a pedestal now separates the performers from their audience. The pedestal almost functions like an artificial value enhancer: the performance is declared to be an artwork of high value through the pedestal it is put on. This ignores the fact that the meaning of this piece might only be realised through the interaction with the audience. The irony is that the pedestal that was employed to emphasise the meaning of this artwork at the same time destroys it by drawing a gap between the artwork and its viewers.
Another piece that promises meaningfulness is Pilvi Takala’s ‘The Committee’, the recipient of the Emdash prize. The artist delegated her authorship to a committee of children from Bow who could decide what to do with her prize money. The committee concluded: “We want to build a five star bouncy castle” (http://the-committee.org). Takala’s work is certainly a nice and politically correct attempt to democratise discourse structures, but somehow the ‘Bouncy Castle’ evokes allusions to Angelo Plessas’ ‘Temple of Play’- a spectacular-sized word for ‘playground’ commissioned for the kids of those who can afford the exorbitant entry prices to Frieze (so probably not the children of Bow). Both promise easy entertainment and distraction. Is this why Plato was so worried about the shallowness of this kind of art that prevents us from understanding a significant meaning beyond mere appearances?
The work that best captures the spirit of Frieze is Dan Graham’s ‘Groovy Spiral’ at Lisson: spectacular and expensive. It directly captivates and engages the viewer and fulfills the promise of being entertaining. Probably exactly these pieces that prompt brief excitement work best within a context in which the spectacle rather than meaning counts.
Maybe, Broodthaers was right to wonder: Has art been drained of meaning, like an eggshell minus its egg?
Sarah Hegenbart is a PhD student at the Courtauld
The annual Frieze London exhibition was in Regent’s Park from the 17-20 October 2013.
Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: art fair, art market, conceptual, contemporary, Dan Graham, Marcel Broodthaers, Modern, Pilvi Takala | Comments Off
Does pictorial composition lead the beholder’s gaze when looking at pictures? Is abstract art a universal language? Is artistic perception culturally-based? Issues of art reception are central to the research of Professor Raphael Rosenberg, invited to speak at the third Frank Davis lecture on Art and Vision. Within the Institut für Kunstgeschichte of the University of Vienna, Professor Rosenberg leads the Laboratory for Cognitive Research in Art History, where quantitative methods are applied to the study of ‘the beholding of aesthetic objects.’
By employing eye-tracker instruments, Professor Rosenberg conducts cognitive surveys on the way in which eye pupils move on paintings’ surface. Thus, the main object of his research is composition, or the reception of the arrangement and organization of the pictorial surface, which had also been the subject of the first lecture in the Frank Davis series in October. Works in progress at the Laboratory include “The cultural eye”, a paper comparing how Japanese and Austrian individuals look at paintings (the former focus on nudes, the latter on landscape!) and “Is abstract art a universal language?”, an article tracing the difference in the way experts and non-experts look at abstract paintings, namely Karl Otto Götz’s Bild vom 5.2.1953.
In his presentation Professor Rosenberg claimed that the results of such experiments could support art historians by adding scientific elements to the troubled history of art criticism, concerned with the account of the beholder’s gaze in the exercise of ekphrasis and in the account of aesthetic experiences (from Procopius of Caesarea to Diderot). Although the eye-tracking system will soon be used on museum visitors, at the moment paintings are shown on the computer screen, altering greatly the results of the paintings’ appreciation. In the case of abstract painting or architecture for instance, the “materiality” of the work is a most prominent feature of the aesthetic experience.
Cognitive studies have been interested in art theory for some time now, as the Courtauld’s Frank Davis series demonstrates in gathering several scholars from different areas. Germany and the United States have founded (and funded) a good number of similar projects, stemming out of the possibilities first envisaged by Semir Zeki and John Onians. In 1994, the latter was the editor of a series of essays offered to E. H. Gombrich for his 85th birthday and dealing precisely with the problem of reception in a wide range of contexts. Included in the volume, an essay by Michael Baxandall was mentioned by Professor Rosenberg as a pioneering application of some studies in cognitive psychology and vision carried out since the 1970s.
But in that essay, Michael Baxandall had revealed his scepticism for such methodologies: “Records of scanpaths [what is now called eye-tracking] can often seem disappointingly uninformative. Features fixated are mainly those one might expect” (p. 409). Baxandall also distinguished between levels of analysis, and wrote that cognitive science deals with low level of the visual process, that is, the first phases of observation: “Higher levels of the attentive visual process introduce different kinds of problems, particularly when the attention is to complex paintings, and for various reasons I do not feel the cognitive sciences invoked here offer art criticism as much broadening suggestion for dealing with those higher levels: for that one must go elsewhere” (p. 413).
Similarly, my main concern regards the focus on physiological rather than cultural aspects of reception. In fact, art has methodologies that are proper to its historiography, and deals with complexity. Conversely, by isolating the issue of the eye movement on a flat (virtual) surface, and focusing on one element in artistic reception, this type of research (as yet) cannot seem to take into account the complexity of artworks and the cultural discourse surrounding their ideation, creation, and display.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Frank Davies, Gaze, Reception, science | Comments Off
Since its founding in 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts intended to create a venue to promote the exhibition and education of visual art. The Academy continues to teach the public with their new exhibition, Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris.
Honoré Daumier is displayed as a documenter of everyday life in nineteenth century Paris. He observed the people on the streets and the changing reception of art around him. Amidst the political and social climate, Daumier picked up his pen and created comical caricatures of the bourgeoisie for newspapers. Censorship was particularly adamant at this point, and while his images were continually published, it was not without consequence. His depiction of King Louis Philippe as Gargantua (1831) placed him in jail for six months. This dedication to art, despite public or authoritative opinion reflects Daumier’s pursuit for artistic expression. Visions of Paris enables the viewer to explore Daumier’s Paris in various media.
Even though Daumier didn’t create pictures from direct observation, his keen attention to human expression and behavior is readily apparent in his oeuvre. Each line, whether painted or etched is filled with such emotion that it begs the viewer for a second glance. At close range, the lithographs’ lines overlap and crisscross to create realistic, but also expressive, subjects. The technique used to shade every dip and curve transform a subject into an expressive gesture, like a string of letters that are linked to create a descriptive word. Each mark has its purpose, and even in his paintings, Daumier’s attention to line is clear.
In The Miller, His Son and the Ass (1849), Daumier’s brush strokes are deliberate. The use of pigments starts to parallel the cross-hatching of lines in Daumier’s lithographs. This is especially seen in figures’ flesh, which creates a landscape of shapes on the forearms. The flesh of the laborers begins to shimmer and become more than just a record of everyday life. As the exhibition notes in its pamphlets, Daumier makes memorable pictures of ordinary moments.
The lithographs are show-stoppers in the gallery despite the fact that they might be the reason why Daumier wasn’t considered a fine artist during his life time. A particular lithograph, Salon of 1857…Sad Expression, printed in Le Charivari, 1857, can serve as a metaphor for Daumier’s place among his contemporaries. In the image, the crowds at the Paris Salon are so overwhelmed with the paintings on display that they ignore the sculpture even though that it is coming to life. Sculpture, was placed lower on art’s totem pole, like Daumier’s caricatures. At last, Daumier receives the attention his caricatures in the Royal Academy.
Daumier’s wide-ranging talent is recognized in the display of 130 works. Two hundred years later, Daumier’s caricatures still seem relevant to contemporary viewers (I continually found myself silencing a few chuckles throughout the exhibition). The opportunity to see this didactic survey that emphasizes the artist Daumier as a painter, draughtsman and caricaturist for the first time in more than fifty years is not to be delayed.
Aimee Rubensteen is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Daumier: Visions of Paris is at the Royal Academy of Arts until 26th January 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Academy, Caricature, painting, Paris, Royal Academy, Salon, Sculpture | Comments Off
The Newsreel, the Daredevil and the Cameraman: character and play in the interwar newsreel, by Dr Sara Beth Levavy. Modern and Contemporary Seminar, Monday 4 November.
With a focus on the pivotal role of the cameraman in the newsreel films of the interwar years, the new Andrew Mellon postdoctoral fellow introduced Monday’s seminar participants to her on-going research project and subject of a PhD from Stanford University. Drawing from a wealth of observations on the function of newsreel as a representation of contemporary vision and experience, Dr Levavy’s paper provided plenty of evidence for the existence of a specific genre that belongs as much to the story of Hollywood as it does to the history of journalism. Clips of engineering triumphs and death-defying antics helped to relay the visual excitement of the extraordinary in the everyday as framed for an American public of the 1920s and 30s: footage which, once circulated in often purpose-built movie houses, would frequently be recycled into feature films by the big corporations.
Reflecting on a production policy of thrills, spills and modernity in motion, Dr Levavy explained how the industry specialised in the rapid repackaging of ‘news’ to offer what she describes as ‘a meditation on the new’. A key figure in the important illusion of real-time experience was that of the cameraman, who with a fluid position both inside and outside the frame could embody the roles of character and operator, thereby functioning as the human intermediary between audience and screen. And it really did come as news to much of the contemporary audience just how closely these crafted characters can be identified with the standard super-hero as personified by crusading journalist Clark Kent, aka Superman. Not only was this trope – combining an incorruptible search for truth with lightening speed and the all-important aerial view – consciously immortalised on celluloid in Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928), but there are acres of film depicting cameramen risking life and limb to bring the latest real-life spectacle to a news-hungry public.
For those of us with a passing familiarity with British or European newsreel, there was perhaps an expectation of a certain perspective on some of the grittier reality of this era, if not actual images of war, or indeed propaganda. Responding thoughtfully to such issues, Dr Levavy was careful to point out the deliberate suspension of ideological critique from her study. Partly this is due to a tacit acknowledgement of its established presence in the wider discourse. Chiefly, however, it is because she takes her methodological lead from a body of material constructed precisely to exclude such perspectives; a fact underlined succinctly by her consideration of an alternative title to her PhD, ‘There was always a monkey’. Instead, there are other questions to be asked of a genre that sits between entertainment and reportage. Concerning the standardised exhibition structures, these include the intriguing figure of the cameraman at the heart of a construction that is seen to represent a particular world – but one that only exists within the cinema.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: newsreels, Research Forum | Comments Off
Fifth Early Modern Symposium: Bringing Art into Being in the Early Modern Period (27th October 2013)
Convened annually by two PhD students from the Courtauld, the Early Modern Symposium is an opportunity for scholars of all levels to give papers covering a period of almost three centuries, from around 1550 to 1800, and to discuss theoretical and methodological questions relevant to current research in the field. Anya Matthews and Giulia Martina Weston, who jointly organised this year’s event, proposed to explore the vast array of processes that make possible both the conception and birth of the work of art. Such a proposal was a perfect complement to last year’s theme, “Art and its Afterlives.”
The programme of the day dealt with the problems related to the study of workshops, of failures and successes of the creation process, and of the question of material specificity. It also suggested that we reconsider the role of the artist-creator in the wake of twentieth-century art historical analysis. This was why it was important to have several contributions focusing on the Renaissance, for it was then that the ideas of the artist as heroic creator and their artwork as a unique creation gained prominence. In her paper on Raphael’s workshop, Anne Bloemacher returned on the gap between the conception of the artistic idea and the delegation of execution. Sefy Hendler, by revising the issue of the paragone in fifteenth-century art theory, showed how a studio drawing by Parmigianino attempted to bridge the arts and offered a variety of vedute on one sheet.
Interior decoration was considered by Claire Gapper’s investigation of the development of English plasterwork as a necessary interaction of a multiplicity of figures – architects, draughtsmen, decorators and their patrons, some of varying degrees of competence (see image). Other interventions extended across periods. The rather intensely theoretical approach of Vasco Nuno Figueiredo de Medeiros dealt with the history of the dichotomy heuresis/mimesis and proposed to integrate praxis into this paradigm, through the mediating use of iconopoiesis. Working on cultural and geographical distances, Carrie Anderson presented the case of tapestries with rather unlikely Brazilian fauna such as zebras and rhinoceroses donated by the governor-general of Dutch Brazil to Louis XIV as showing the exciting possibility of a transglobal exchange of ideas at an early period.
This is just a small selection from what was a long day, yet one which managed to retain its audience’s interest throughout with a wide variety of approaches and themes. The current interest in art-making processes is spurred by an increasing union of the old divisions of the historical field, encouraged by the universal assimilation of the issues raised by Aby Warburg and post-structuralist traditions. In recent scholarship, investigations across disciplines, bridging works and practices of different kinds and including material from science, popular culture and across time, are more the rule than the exception. However, if this conference was to be taken as a statement on the willingness of academia to deal with the question of process in art making, it would be inevitable to admit that, while the interest is there, it is too early to say which methodologies and themes will prevail in future scholarship.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Artist, Conference, Creation, Drawings, Early Modern, Idea, Renaissance | Comments Off
Thursday, 24 October 2013
Artists’ talks provide both the chance to observe an artist’s public self-fashioning, and to venture behind the scenes of art production. Shirin Neshat’s profuse account of her professional trajectory insists on the collaborative origin of her work. Her narration is marked by two moments of rupture: the first when she decided to quit her art education, which she deemed too conventional and too focused on the discovery of talent; the second when she decided to give up photography and take up video instead, creating double-channel projections that could circulate outside of the elitist world of contemporary art. In her words, she is “addicted to new beginnings,” such dramatic changes having ultimately increased her will to collaborate with other artists, actors, curators, or directors. (In fact, this very event was conceived as collaboration between the newly appointed member of the Courtauld faculty, Sussan Babaie, the director of the London Film School, Ben Gibson, and the independent curator, producer and writer, Vali Mahlouji).
The talk started off with the projection of a video entitled Passage (2001) conceived and realized with American musician and composer Philip Glass. Amidst a stark yellow desert, a traditional Islamic funeral ceremony is being prepared: the camera intercuts between the procession of men, carrying the body enshrouded in white cloth and the circle of women digging the grave with their hands. Nearby, a young girl plays with small stones. The procession reaches the burial site as the soundtrack climaxes and the overall tone becomes highly dramatic; a fire ignites behind the girl and encircles the gathered group.
This short film integrates all distinctive features of Neshat’s work: the portrayal of the two separate worlds of men and women, the reassessment of traditional rituals, the choice of contemporary political debates that are of interest both for Islamic and Western audiences (after all, the artist moved to New York as a young adult, in 1978, bridging both cultures in her biography). After being attacked by activists, artists and critics for her work, she has resolved to make highly stylised films and photographic installations, in the attempt not to take any political position. Even when asked about her personal religious belief, she is evasive: Neshat is careful to keep any matter of possible political conflict aside.
What emerged out of this talk, then, was the existential difficulty of being a successful artist directly confronting such politically charged issues: as a consequence of her success, Neshat is constantly pushed by galleries to make recognisable (and sellable) work all the while being criticised by members of the same artistic milieu. Confronted with a young audience such as the Courtauld’s, Shirin Neshat felt compelled to offer this advice: fight to make any creative work available to wider audiences, consider making tangents, and most importantly, collaborate.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: artist's talk, Research Forum, video art | Comments Off
Last night the Research Forum was celebrating the release of Thames and Hudson’s The Books that Shaped Art History, a collection of sixteen essays by eminent art historians on seminal publications from within our still anxiously young discipline. Chaired by former director of the Courtauld, the infinitely amiable Eric Fernie, the session invited three of the authors to reflect on their pieces in a packed Kenneth Clark lecture theatre.
John-Paul Stonhard both authored the essay on Clark’s The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art and was co-editor of the whole publication with Richard Shone. Shone had composed a list of seminal books in 2007, which subsequently disappeared. This “lost list”, generated much fascination in the audience but as much that was revealed was that it had one book in common with the final (Fry’s Cézanne), but mostly the authors were the same. A helpful paraphrase of Gombrich: “There is no art history, only art historians” recognised how much personality dominated this evening. Clark was embodied by his own concept of the Nude; “balanced and prosperous”, and there was little escaping the ghosts of these figures this All Hallows Eve.
Looming over Susie Nash was the spirit of Erwin Panofsky, grasping his Early Netherlandish Painting. His book is an enormous achievement, a synthesis of material and ideas into a seemingly impregnable fortress of apparatus, and perhaps this almost Biblical authority it seemed to exude led to antagonism towards it when Susie herself was a student. Yet it was also Panofsky’s relationship with the object that seems remarkable within current methods of art historical interrogation. For Panofsky, the back of a painting rarely meant evidence for its provenance and manufacture, because most often it was the matte reverse of a glossy photograph. His book was written almost entirely surrounded by reproductions, often black and white, and this is evident in his text where occasionally he clearly has no idea what colour a painting was.
Paul Hills had a much more portable tome to review, with no footnotes at all. Baxandall’s Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in Pictorial Style is often seen as the Rough Guide to Social Art History, yet Paul did remind us of its oft-forgotten subtitle showing that the inherent Form of paintings was still central to the investigation. Paul was the closest of all to his author, which allowed for a personal insight into its original context. Baxandall perhaps meant it as a challenge to the Courtauld, but in fact it was its sister institution the Warburg which was greater perturbed by his concept of “Period Eye”, seeing it as a redressing of the hoary old zeitgeist.
Inevitably, the thoughts at the end of this evening was if the presenters would be reviewed in “More Books that Shaped Art History”, who in the audience who would be considered for “Even More Books that Shaped Art History”, and the undergraduates in the Halloween Party downstairs who might make it into “Oh no! Not more books that Shaped Art History”.
Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: art history, Book launch, Courtauld, Historiography, Panel | Comments Off
Tate Modern’s freshest exhibition traces the artistic career of Paul Klee, commonly considered one of the most highly regarded artists of the early twentieth century. Beginning in Munich in the years 1912-13 through to the artist’s last years in Switzerland around thirty years later, the exhibition brings together works that exemplify Klee’s idiosyncratic pictorial constructions and use of line and colour in painting.
Curator and Courtauld alumnus Matthew Gale has carefully selected fascinating works by the German-Swiss artist, many of which are rarely given attention in the paradigmatic visual histories of Klee’s artistic developments. The most striking examples are perhaps found in Room 10 – where one can see how Klee combined drawing and sprayed or splattered paint in Sacred Islands or Clouds (both 1926) – and in Room 13 – where works such as Clarification and Memory of a Bird (both 1932) exemplify the artist’s use of pointillism.
The chronological principle privileged throughout the exhibition – which, in other contexts, sometimes feels reductive or simplifying – has the merit of organizing a quite diverse and, at times, not obviously reconcilable body of work, and of helpfully juxtaposing it – never too simplistically – to historical and social dynamics. The many inclusions of Klee’s own words and the division of space into relatively small rooms each introduced by section labels successfully avoid the now pervasive sterilization of gallery spaces.
My only misgiving is that I doubt that “Making Visible” is the most appropriate title for this exhibition. If at the start we are indeed led into thinking that the exhibition will address the various shapes that Klee’s concerns with vision and the visible took throughout his artistic career – the walls of the opening room are upholstered with the quotes “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible” and “Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things” – those concerns are not explicitly brought back in the subsequent rooms. Paul Klee: Making Visible rather takes the form of a survey – to be sure, a thorough and articulated one – of the artist’s pictorial techniques and innovations, which I would not have so easily identified with interests in vision and visuality. But this is a quite minor hitch when compared to the exhibition’s overall successful achievement of its aims.
Vincent Marquis is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Paul Klee: Making Visible is at Tate Modern until 9th March 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Abstract, Modern, Monograph, Paul Klee, Tate | Comments Off
“Visual Insights: What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain”
Professor Margaret Livingstone, Tuesday 22 October 2013.
For the second Frank Davis memorial lecture of 2013, the Courtauld community and guests were given a privileged glimpse into the workings of our own visual processing by Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School. Applying developments in neurobiology to a study of pictorial reception, Professor Livingstone’s research in recent years has explored the evidence that artists also spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we see. Along with plentiful information on the finely tuned operation of neurons within the visual pathway, it was the interactive experience – facilitated by red-green cinema specs – which cemented for the audience the evidence of how the brain processes retinal responses to pictures, faces, and pictures of faces.
Those who had turned up to hear the big neurological reveal on the secret of the Mona Lisa’s smile were not to be disappointed, but first we needed the basic picture. Through diagrams illustrating the opposing actions of ganglion cells on the retina, which can both fire or repress signals depending on the area receiving light, Professor Livingstone demonstrated the dominant principles of luminance and contrast at the base line of vision. This evidence helps to access the employment of light and shadow throughout the history of art, from the uniform brilliance of haloes in a Duccio altarpiece to Impressionist experiments with movement created by subtle variants in light value. Such effects were further explained by a diagram of the primate brain showing the division of two distinct functions: the ‘what system’ which has developed to recognise objects, colour and faces; and the ‘where system’ which takes the more general role of detecting spatial relations of depth, distance, figure/ground, and movement. These separate functions are behind the puzzling effects of optical illusions and those red-green patterns familiar from optical examinations; and, as illustrated with works by Monet and Mondrian, are expertly manipulated by visual artists. Correspondingly, we were shown how it could be the difference in acuity between central and peripheral vision which is behind the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa.
Returning to the visual peculiarities of artists themselves, the lecture concluded with an intriguing insight into the properties of stereovision and the likelihood of ocular misalignment or of dyslexia as a contributing factor in the artist’s particular facility in translating volumes into flat pictures. A graph based on Rembrandt’s depictions of his own eyes in a series of painted and etched self-portraits provided a convincing argument in favour of the research, as of Professor Livingstone’s parting comment; namely, that ‘if you can make a graph of the unlikeliest thing, you can get published’. The background to this science and its application to artistic vision are explained in Margaret Livingstone’s book, Vision and Art (2002), available in the Courtauld Library.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Frank Davis Memorial Lecture Series, Research Forum, vision science, visual art | Comments Off
Elizabeth I has been somewhat overshadowed by her namesake in recent years, but the curatorial team at the National Portrait Gallery, led by Tarnya Cooper, have sought to reestablish her as the mighty monarch she once was, as well as attempting to depict the lives of her subjects.
For a shy monarch the range of portraits of Elizabeth in the opening rooms are impressive, including rare examples of those painted from life. This was a time in which her image began to mean many things – from the power and prestige of its owner, to its reassuring qualities in the face of war. Her image was also one of the first to be mass produced, again evidenced in the exhibition with fine examples of coins, miniatures and portraits made from copies.
The largest room at the rear of the U-shaped exhibition space is concerned with the Nobility, Gentry and Court. This section opens, poignantly, with a portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh accompanied with a poem begging for Elizabeth’s forgiveness after his marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton. The rest of the room is given over to detailing the huge advancements made throughout this era. Travel and adventure are shown in the portraits of Elizabeth’s Moorish ambassador and the Arctic explorer Frobrisher, and the fruits of other exotic endeavours are scattered throughout, the highlight being the first depiction of a Guinea Pig as a household pet.
All of the advancements were made possible by the increasing trade during the Elizabethan era, and these men and women have their own room in the exhibition. Again what is truly astounding in the works in this space are the international ties and the draw London must have had during this period. There are a series of remarkable, candid family portraits of the Wittewronghele family as well as many others from what would have been at that time far-off lands.
Towards the end of the exhibition the works began to peter out somewhat. The section on Professionals, Writers and Artists is a little sparse, although the painting of the poet John Donne is a highlight. In an attempt to represent the entirety of Elizabeth’s people the curators have left a small space for the Working People and the Poor, but it is really inadequate to get a truly rounded picture of their lives. This, though, is not the curators’ fault. As they openly admit there simply are not many representations of the poor during this period, and I think it is nice that they end the exhibition with this admission, rather than simply trying to hide it in the beginning or middle of the exhibition.
The focus is undoubtedly on the well-off in Elizabethan society but this is purely because they were the only section of society that were recorded. Overall though, despite the shortfalls of breadth, the exhibition does what it sets out to do: show the lives the first Elizabethans lived to their current incarnations.
Harry Laughland is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Elizabeth I & Her People is at the National Portrait Gallery until the 5th January 2013.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: British art, Elizabethan, National Portrait Gallery, portraits | Comments Off