Eastside Projects: Eloise Colbourne on volunteering at the gallery and their current exhibitions

I have just completed my first year at the University of Birmingham and I have been volunteering at Eastside Projects since Easter. It was a trip to Eastside Projects during my Object and Medium module that inspired me to start volunteering there because I am very interested in contemporary art and I like the gallery’s culture and ethos. Working at Eastside has provided me with many invaluable opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge of this area of the art world, including helping during gallery installations. Furthermore, I have been able to attend very interesting talks and late night gallery openings, as well as being introduced to curators, artists and like-minded students. Volunteering at Eastside Projects is something I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in contemporary art and information on becoming a volunteer can be found on the gallery’s website (http://www.eastsideprojects.org/volunteering/). The current exhibitions are Silks by Samara Scott and YOU AND ME HERE WE ARE by Roger Coward, and I hope that this post explains a little bit more about how the gallery functions as well as serving as a taster of the current exhibitions.

Eastside Projects

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Eastside Projects is a contemporary art space in Digbeth. The gallery is curated by artists who commission experimental contemporary art exhibitions in order to demonstrate the use of art in society. The city of Birmingham’s motto is ‘Forward’ and this is displayed all over the city through official documents, civic buildings and street signs. However, Eastside Projects believe that Birmingham should have a new motto: ‘Layered’. This is because, as described in Eastside Projects User’s Manual, Birmingham Council can be symbolised as a hammer; forever knocking things down in order to move ‘forward’ and start again. In response to this, Eastside Projects propose that instead of always knocking things down with the negative connotations of Birmingham’s motto of ‘forward’, art and artists should be involved in every level of the development of the city. In this way, the city could have an ‘alternative urban landscape’ where cultural history could coexist. The gallery is an interesting and eclectic mix of artworks past and present. When exhibitions finish, the gallery holds on to parts of the exhibitions (for example the door handle, black pleasure, chairs and table cloths) to create the ever evolving and layered landscape that is Eastside Projects. Currently at the gallery are the exhibitions ‘Silks’ by Samara Scott and ‘You and Me Here We Are’, by Roger Coward which are open until July 11th. Further information on both of the artists is available to explore at the gallery. Eastside Projects is very inviting and friendly, with an endless supply of tea available at the honesty café. It is well worth the visit Wednesday – Saturday 12-5pm during the week, and particularly on Digbeth First Fridays.

 

Samara Scott, Silks

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Noodles, glitter hairspray, household chemicals and pistachio shells are just some of the misused materials poured and pooled into the recently dug up holes in Eastside projects concrete floor. Samara Scott’s new exhibition ‘Silks’ combines and contrasts products you could find in a supermarket and demolishes our intrinsic desire for order and perfection. Realistically, the very notion of order and perfection is flawed. We walk into shops daily and scan the isles methodically and meticulously for the products we want. We never question why a yam from Africa is in the same location as Ribena manufactured in Poland. Products are ordered by their packaging and advertising materials, but Scott argues this is only to make us feel in control. In Silks, Scott blends these materials together in her pools of disorder and chaos, she works with no clear structured idea of what she wishes to produce because this would destroy the emphasis of the show. In this way, the flat paintings in the ground depict instances of beauty clashing together with moments of scum, like the splodges of milk plopped into the pond of oil.

The works are alive and fragile, with the materials constantly evolving as they decay, rot, and in the instance of the salt crystals – grow. So called man-made materials are not stable, and these microbiomes are in a continuous state of flux. The publication ‘Lonely Plant’, which is about Scott’s residency in Turin, discusses the way she explores ‘the life span of materials in their interaction with processes of decomposition and intermingling’. The very title of the exhibition ‘Silks’ connotes the artist’s desire to express movement and fluidity. Scott’s works take influence from Wabi-Sabi, which is the Japanese world view or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The miniature worlds are sensual, tangible and above all mysterious. The swirling colours and contrasts of textures make this exhibition a sensory delicacy and the exhibition is a fascinating visit. It will be interesting to watch the ponds change as they evolve and decay throughout the exhibition.

Roger Coward, YOU AND ME HERE WE ARE

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The Artist Placement Group (APG) was established in London in the 1960s. The organisation’s aims were to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including government and commerce. It also played a key part in the history of conceptual art during the 1960s and 1970s. Roger Coward is a filmmaker who created a series of films and plays with residents and this exhibition explores Coward’s 1975 APG in Small Heath, Birmingham. Coward was the first artist to be placed in a government department on an open brief as negotiated by AGP and the Department of the Environment. The purpose of the urban studies, which were initiated by the Department of the Environment, was to develop a new approach to making improvements to environments such as Small Heath.

Coward worked with four other artists – Gavin Brown, Roland Lewis, Evadne Stevens and Frances Viner. Crucially, the group emphasised the importance of art in society. They trained three community groups to use video in order to present their views on the environment to the City Council officials and these are included in the film ‘Spaghetti Junction’. By encouraging the use of VTR (video tape recording), local residents were able to communicate effectively and vividly with political representatives and officials as well raising awareness amongst their own community. Coward offered video training so that the community could produce films about the issues they faced and said ‘all I did was supply the equipment needed and explained how it worked. They then made the film on their own.’ The exhibition is a fascinating exploration into the integral use of art in society and the way it can function to deliver a comprehensive and articulate argument to people in power.

The exhibition includes original material from 1975, such as the film ‘The Most Smallest Heath in the Spaghetti Junction’ as well as a symposium ‘The Studio in Society’ (Saturday 4th July), and a revival of two plays which were performed in Digbeth in 1975 which will take place on the 5th and 6th July.

Eloise Colbourne

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Cleaning Charles Le Brun’s Portrait of Everhard Jabach and his family at the Met

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A fascinating video below documenting Michael Gallagher’s painstaking, 10-month restoration of Charles Le Brun’s 1660 Jabach family portrait at the Met in New York.

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The picture, which is 355 years old, was it’s fair to say in much need of a bit of t.l.c. It’s surface was muddied by that all-too-familiar old, discoloured varnish, which, as this video amply demonstrates, really does make a significant difference to the appearance and impact of a painting. There was also a whopping great fissure in the canvas near to the top edge, as well as other, more minor, losses at various places on the picture’s surface. This video, as well as its associated blog, reveals the intricacies and work involved in repairing an old work such as this one and returning it to a former glory. It also demonstrates fairly effectively, I’d say, the hard and meritorious work that scrupulous restorers are continually engaged in in order to preserve major works of art for the future.

Jamie

THE MODERNIST FACE EXHIBITION – NOW OPEN AT THE BARBER

Frank Dobson, Sir (Francis) Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, c. 1922, National Portrait Gallery

Frank Dobson, Sir (Francis) Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, c. 1922, National Portrait Gallery

The department’s annual MA exhibition is now open at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. A collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, this year’s exhibition – The Modernist Face – explores the work of sculptor Frank Dobson and painter Matthew Smith, focusing on the relationship between the artist and the sitter.

The exhibition is open until September 27th and is a great summer activity, in particular, if you are coming up for any of our open days this week.

More information can be found on the exhibition’s webpage: http://barber.org.uk/modernist-face/

If you would like to learn more about the exhibition there are also a number of complementary talks and events running:

Tuesday 30 June, 1.15pm

The People Behind the Portraits in ‘The Modernist Face’: Roald Dahl, Jean Simmons and Others

Josephine Male and Rachael Hill, MA students and co-curators

LUNCHTIME LECTURES

Wednesday 17 June, 1.10pm

An Introduction to Matthew Smith and Frank Dobson

Rosie Broadley, National Portrait Gallery

Wednesday 1 July, 1.10pm

The Birmingham Group: Icons and Ideals

Brendan Flynn, Freelance Curator

Wednesday 8 July, 1.10pm

The Sitwells: An Ornamental Modernism

Dr Deborah Longworth, Department of English Literature, University of Birmingham

ADULT WORKSHOP

Saturday 4 an 11 July, 11am – 4pm

Figurative Painting and Creative Colour

With artist Adrian Clamp

WRITING WORKSHOP

Saturday 18 July, 1.30 – 4pm

Body Language

With writer Jacqui Rowe

Sir Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, Self Portrait, 1932, Estate of Sir Matthew  Bracy Smith

Sir Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, Self Portrait, 1932, Estate of Sir Matthew Bracy Smith

Abstraction at the RBSA: Undergraduate curator Emily Robins explains what it takes to put together an archive exhibition

Thirteen artworks, two volunteers, one exhibition. This autumn the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) will present their latest archive exhibition, Abstraction at the RBSA. The show is being curated entirely by two University of Birmingham undergraduate students, Tate Gronow and me, Emily Robins.

I’ve been volunteering at the RBSA for a while now, primarily in their archive department. I usually spend my time responding to archive enquiries from members of the public and updating the museum databases, while also researching and organising collection and archive material. In November 2014 I was offered an opportunity that would be the envy of art history students across the country, a chance to curate in its entirety a public exhibition at a prestigious local gallery. It was, quite clearly, an opportunity not to be missed!

Tate and Emily are pictured here with Joan Woollard's  'The Races', which is one of the Artworks up for adoption. Woollard was the first female president of the RBSA.

Tate and Emily are pictured here with Joan Woollard’s The Races, which is one of the Artworks up for adoption. Woollard was the first female president of the RBSA.

Since January, Tate and I have been working on this rather exciting undertaking. Our chosen theme for the exhibition is ‘Abstraction’ and we began by searching the archive for interesting pieces which fitted that category. We came across a wide variety of works and decided on a roughly chronological approach to the exhibition, charting abstraction as a concept from works in the Impressionist style towards pieces such as Caged Yellow (1996, RBSA) by William Gear, which are fully abstract in their use of line, tone and colour. We were then able to start preparing all the written interpretation needed for the exhibition, including text panels and exhibition labels, as well as marketing material such as articles and press releases.

Initially, I have to admit, I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of this project, but find myself facing each new challenge with enthusiasm, continuing to push myself out of my comfort zone. The sheer amount of written material required for the exhibition was something which I found daunting at first, but, I have now come to enjoy this part of the process the most! My eyes have well and truly been opened to the nitty-gritty aspects of curating and all that it involves, and I am relishing the entire experience.

The RBSA is first and foremost an artist-led charity, and therefore, fundraising remains a core part of the gallery’s ethos. Without the dedication and support of volunteers and donors, opportunities like this, a chance to curate my own public exhibition, would not be possible. Having worked behind the scenes as a volunteer I’ve been lucky to see some of the treasures in the RBSA’s collection which cannot be on display because of their fragile condition. The Adopt-an-Artwork fundraising scheme helps to restore these beautiful works, so that they can go back on exhibition and be appreciated by RBSA visitors for years to come.

We are currently fundraising for some conservation costs of objects in the exhibition, please visit RBSA’s website to find out how you can ‘adopt an artwork’ to support us! – http://www.rbsa.org.uk/collection-archive/new-adopt-an-artwork/

'Seascape' by Norma Rhys Davies, shown here, is in desperate need of conservation in order for it to be included in our exhibition.

Seascape by Norma Rhys Davies, shown here, is in desperate need of conservation in order for it to be included in our exhibition.

While volunteer roles often focus specifically on one particular department such as marketing, conservation or education, this project has allowed us to dip our toes in a whole variety of roles. Each week we are gaining new experiences, skills, and insights, not just on gallery practice but the arts sector more broadly. Although it has been hard work I think we can both agree that we’ve benefited from gaining curatorial experience as well as being involved in less familiar aspects, like public engagement and fundraising. Overall, this opportunity is definitely proving to be a fully hands-on, immersive and irreplaceable experience for budding art-world professionals such as ourselves!

Of course, Tate and I still have much more left to do over the coming months, including the exhibition install, preparations for our opening private view (watch this space for invites!) and a full events programme of talks and workshops to finalise. Look out for further blogs on the Golovine updating you on our progress!

Abstraction at the RBSA opens on the 5th of October.

History of Art students have been filming ‘Projecting Culture’! Emily Robins tells us all about it ahead of next week’s screening…

‘Projecting culture’ forms the name and basis of an exciting student-led project, which has been made possible thanks to the university’s generous Education Enhancement Fund. The funding scheme is designed to provide students with up to £1,000 to realise a project which engages directly with, and contributes to, ‘the enhancement of students’ educational experience at the University’.

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Back in summer 2014, History of Art students Hannah Welfare and Sarah Theobald crafted an intricate proposal which aimed to expand UoB students’ cultural engagement. The aim was to highlight events and venues not only right under their noses on campus, but across the whole of Birmingham. From the offset it was decided that, in order to showcase the wealth of places on offer we would create two short films – one focusing on campus-based attractions and the other on places further afield in the city. With helpful support from the Centre of Learning and Academic Development, ‘Projecting Culture’ was born.

As a History of Art student I was aware of the many galleries and activities open to students across the local area – Digbeth Dining Club and First Friday, Eastside Projects and Grand Union, just to name a few. However, I also understood how my experience fed naturally into my degree and that it would be fantastic to raise the profile of these great, interesting and, most importantly, cultural places to all students, not just those studying Arts-based subjects. ‘Projecting Culture’ also showcases to prospective students what is on offer beyond the university, demonstrating why Birmingham is a wonderful place to study.

The Projecting Culture team filming at the Barber Institute on campus

The Projecting Culture team filming at the Barber Institute

Since September 2014, the team has seen the project really start to heat up, with liaisons across the board between staff, gallery professionals and enthusiastic volunteers. For everyone taking part this project has certainly allowed for the development of new skills and experiences outside the practical and academic structure of degree studies. Fellow Art History students Jess Stallwood and Oliver Stevenson have been working behind the camera to jointly direct and edit the production. With the large body of filming primarily under our belts, we are currently in the editing phase of the project, polishing up the footage of some great local ‘gems’- including the Ikon Gallery, the Digital Humanities Hub and Winterbourne House and Gardens. Each new location, whether on campus or in the city, brings with it new and exciting challenges. Despite the majority of students involved in this project being from the Art History department, our tastes are quite diverse, which allowed us to explore and select a real variety of locations, as well as choosing the ones which really showed Birmingham as the thriving city we all know and love!

Filming at the new Library of Birmingham

Filming at the new Library of Birmingham

When ‘Projecting Culture’ was getting off its feet back in the first term I never could have imagined the broad range of skills I would develop as part of this team. All in all, I have continued to step outside my comfort zone to engage with the local cultural offer and appreciate a novel way of expanding fellow students’ cultural horizons. Also, it has been refreshing to examine these places from a more practical perspective, assessing whether they were suitable for filming as well as selecting which elements we should emphasise in order to appeal to a broad range of students’ interests.

The grand screening for the ‘Projecting Culture’ films is being held on Wednesday 3rd of June at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, commencing at 5.45pm with free popcorn and wine all round. All are welcome, so if you are interested in attending, don’t hesitate to email Jess Stallwood (contact JMS367@student.bham.ac.uk), or see our facebook page for more information. For a taste of what to expect, check out the trailer here!
Applications for this year’s Education Enhancement fund are now open, so if you have an idea on how you could spend that £1000, I would thoroughly recommend giving it a shot!

Emily Robins

Barber Association trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall

Barber Association members, Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood and Sarah Theobald, tell us about the New Art Gallery Walsall and some of their favourite works on display…

Earlier this year, the Barber Association organised a trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall for its members. This was certainly a treat as none of us had visited the gallery before. We had a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the collections with curator Julie Brown, which made the trip even more exciting for those of us art historians who see working in galleries as our dream jobs.

The Walsall gallery was built in 2000 and is a very modern and impressive building. Once inside, the gallery space is very intimate with a number of small rooms and big wooden staircases leading between floors. A great feature of the gallery is the fact that it offers artwork to suit all tastes, from panel paintings from the Renaissance to post-Impressionist and Modern works of art.

The main attraction of the gallery is its Garman Ryan collection, which was donated to the borough of Walsall by Kathleen Garman, the wife of well-known English sculptor Jacob Epstein. The collection is on permanent display and has a wealth of interesting artworks by a number of significant artists, such as Gauguin, Monet, Turner and Constable. We found the curating of the gallery very interesting; instead of the usual chronological grouping or the organisation of work according to artist, the artworks are arranged by general themes, such as landscape and townscape, animals and birds, portraits and religion, to name a few.

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The New Art Gallery Walsall

Here are some of our favourite works of art from the trip:

Lucian Freud, Portrait of Kitty, 1949, Oil on board, 32 cm x 24 cm

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This is a portrait by Lucian Freud of his first wife Kitty Garman, daughter of Kathleen Garman (donor of the main collection) and Jacob Epstein. Kitty was married to Freud in 1948 and therefore this portrait is from very early on in their marriage. Although their marriage together didn’t last very long, what strikes me about this portrait is that it is incredibly intimate. The viewer is left with the impression that they are very close to kitty, leaving us to imagine that she is right in front of us. The muted green and brown colours also make her delicate, pale skin glow and her beauty stand out to the viewer. The viewer takes on the role of the artist and we perhaps see her through his loving gaze.

Hollie Pimm


Epstein Archive

What fascinated me the most was the archive interventions provided by leading contemporary artist – Bob and Roberta Smith, in his ‘Epstein Archive Gallery.’ Smith’s two year residency at Walsall has resulted in an installation which not only illuminates the interesting history of the Epstein Family, but allows viewers to interact and engage with archival items and gain a deeper understanding not just of the family, but of the collection itself. Furthermore, the artistic response to the letters, photographs and diaries which form the archive basis is in keeping with the themes present in the permanent collection at Walsall, whilst remaining committed to the gallery programme which seeks to explore the diversity of contemporary art.

Emily Robins

 

Gauguin, Auti Te Pape, c.1893-1894, woodcut

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While wandering round the New Art Gallery Walsall I found myself amongst a great number of artworks by some of the most important artists in history, such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Personally, I have always been fascinated by the life and work of the French post-Impressionist and I was excited to discover that Auti Te Pape (c.1893-1894), a woodcut by the artist, was part of the collection.

As a man who chose to abandon his family and ‘civilized’ life in Europe, Gauguin developed a reputation as an artist attempting a return to man-kind’s so-called ‘primitive’ origins and connection with nature. His time living and painting in Tahiti towards the end of the nineteenth century was seen by many as an escape from the artifice of modern and industrialized France. This particular print depicts two Tahitian women, supposedly unaware of the artist’s gaze. The stylized impressions made by woodcut prints were perhaps used to represent the seeming honesty and purity of the Tahitian people. The simplified and inky markings perhaps symbolise the exotic and erotic myth which Gauguin presented to his stifled and constrained Western world.

Jess Stallwood

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife, pencil on paper, 23cm x 19.5cm

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‘This particular drawing depicts Lizzie being interrupted whilst reading, with her head propped on her hands as her famous copper hair cascades down her back.’

Being a fervent admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, spotting this painting was a pure delight. I immediately thought that it was a very intimate portrait of Lizzie Siddall, with her dream-like gaze from her heavily hooded eyes and the soft touch of her hands on her jaw line. Although Rossetti’s speed can be seen in his pencil strokes, he has arguably taken great care to capture his beautiful wife. Another thing to note about this work is its title. It is hoped that ‘Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife’  was the title that Rossetti himself gave to the drawing because it suggests that he was accepting commitment as they were married the same year in which this drawing was made. By titling the drawing of Elizabeth Siddall in this way, it might suggest a grand loving gesture from him to his new wife who was suffering from depression. It is unlikely that he would have named a sketch, but it was found on the wall of his studio after he died.

Sarah Theobald

Overall, we all thoroughly enjoyed our trip organised by the Barber Association, and we were very lucky to get a sneak peak behind the scenes of the gallery. The gallery is definitely worth a visit – it is only 20 minutes away from Birmingham by train and has lots of hidden treasures in its collection…

Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood, Sarah Theobald

Departmental Research Seminar: Thursday 7 May

Trouble at the Vale:
Chelsea Anarchists in the 1890s

Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins
(University of Reading)

Thursday 7 May, 5.15 pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room

The Vale, Chelsea, where the artists Ricketts and Shannon lived between 1888 and 1894 was one of the centres of bohemian London. Their circle included the poet John Gray, Oscar Wilde, the poets Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper who published under the names Michael Field, Lucien Pissarro and many others. Lucien Pissarro had well-established links with the French anarchists in exile in London and also in Paris, and several of the others were declared anarchists. This paper looks at this network, and discusses the ways in which their anarchist beliefs impacted on their art.

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Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Imogen Wiltshire: ixw713@bham.ac.uk

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN: House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticities

Yayoi Kusama, I'm Here, But Nothing, 2000/2001.

Yayoi Kusama, I’m Here, But Nothing, 2000/2001.

Registration is now open for the conference House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticitieswhich will take place on 3 and 4 July 2015 at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. The conference has been co-organised by our very own Fran Berry and Jo Applin (University of York).

The keynote speakers are Mignon Nixon (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) and Julia Bryan-Wilson (University of California, Berkeley).

Other speakers include: Sarah Blaylock (UC Santa Cruz), Amy Charlesworth (Open University), Agata Jakubowska (Adam Mickiewicz University), Teresa Kittler (UCL), Alexandra Kokoli (Middlesex University), Megan Luke (University of Southern California), Barbara Mahlknecht (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna), Alyce Mahon (University of Cambridge), Elizabeth Robles (University of Bristol), Harriet Riches (Kingston University), Giulia Smith (UCL), Catherine Spencer (University of St. Andrews), Amy Tobin (University of York).

For further details and to register (tickets £10), please visit the conference website.

House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticities is co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham, University of York, and the Oxford Art Journal.

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Remembering Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Esther Newman, student of English Literature and Classical Civilisation and a volunteer at the University’s Research and Cultural Collections tells us about the artist behind one of the Barber’s most iconic images…

Today, Thursday, 16th April, marks the birth, 260 years ago, of Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755 – 1842), a pioneer in women’s art and the artist behind the portrait of Countess Golovine who gave her name to this blog. Through her work, Vigée-Lebrun radically changed the perception and respectability awarded to female artists. She is recognised today as the most prominent female painter of the eighteenth century; during her impressive career, she was one of the first women accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783 and was granted the patronage of Marie Antoinette for six years.

Her style, while generally considered Rococo, also shows an interest in Neoclassicism. In reflecting the Age of Enlightenment, late eighteenth century art rejected the excesses of Rococo in favour of the style and spirit of classical antiquity. While Vigée-Lebrun’s work echoes these transitions, her work, and especially her portraits of Marie Antoinette, are now considered exemplary of Rococo.

Vigée-Lebrun was born in Paris on April 16th 1755 to a hairdresser mother and artist father. Her father, Louis Vigée, a noted portraitist, was her first teacher. By the time she was in her early teens she was painting portraits professionally of various members of aristocracy and her works were exhibited at the Académie de Saint Luc. In 1779 her big break came when she was summoned to Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette. Having previously disregarded other portraits of herself, the queen was impressed by Vigée-Lebrun’s style; Vigée-Lebrun continued to paint the queen for six years, resulting in over thirty portraits.

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, 1783 (Versailles)

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, 1783 (Versailles)

 

Given that this was a pre-photographic society, portraiture was incredibly important in the presentation of public figures. In 1785, Vigée-Lebrun was commissioned to paint the queen and her children. In response to ever-growing hostility, Vigée-Lebrun’s Marie-Antoinette and her Children (1787), which depicts the queen as a devout motherly figure, was instrumental in improving public opinion and in making her more relatable to the French people. Even today, Vigée-Lebrun continues to shape how we see Marie Antoinette.

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children, 1787 (Versailles)

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children, 1787 (Versailles)

 

Due to her connection with the queen, in 1783 Vigée-Lebrun was begrudgingly accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture alongside three other women.

With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Vigée-Lebrun, a strong Royalist with close connections to the royal family, left France. For 12 years she lived and travelled abroad, visiting Rome, Naples, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow and London, and painting portraits of aristocrats and prominent social figures.

During her time in Moscow, Vigée-Lebrun met and befriended Countess Varvara Nikolaevna Golovine (1766 – 1821). Her portrait, which is housed in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, depicts the Countess almost entirely enveloped in a red cloak. What leaps out of the portrait is her gaze; her eyes fix upon the viewer unwaveringly, and with unnerving candour. A ray of light falls into the portrait at an angle, cutting the background diagonally into a dark side and a light, with which the artist heightens the dramatic nature of the pose. There is an aspect of spontaneity and informality about the Countess’ pose which, along with her fixed stare, draws in the viewer.

Vigée-Lebrun, Countess Golovine, 1797/1800 (Barber Institute of Fine Arts)

Vigée-Lebrun, Countess Golovine, 1797/1800 (Barber Institute of Fine Arts)

While travelling, Vigée-Lebrun maintained a place in high society and, as such, gained respect and influence. In 1810, she returned to Paris to live, remaining here and continuing her work, until her death on the 30th March 1842.

In her memoirs, Souvenirs de ma vie (1835 – 1837), Vigée-Lebrun accounts that, during her career, she painted 900 pictures, including some 600 portraits and 200 landscapes. Her depiction of the French aristocracy before its downfall sees a world of decadence and luxury; her work, which pays great detail to the fashion and clothing of her subjects, documents a time in history that we will never see again. Her legacy is of a woman who, despite contemporary attitudes to female artists, proved herself one of the most technically skilled portraitists of the age, and perceptively aware of what her art could achieve socially.

 

If you would like to write for The Golovine on art-related subjects in Birmingham and beyond, send us an email to thegolovine@gmail.com

First-year Camila Poccard reviews ‘Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona’ in Buenos Aires

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I was in Argentina recently and whilst I was there I visited an exhibition Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona at the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latino Americano de Buenos Aires/ Museum of Latin-American Art of Buenos Aires). The exhibition displayed a large collection of the work of Argentine artist Antonio Berni, the majority of which was created from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. The MALBA is one of the only art galleries in Buenos Aires that was purpose built to be an art gallery and consequently it has a modern, bright and clean interior, which seemed juxtaposed with Berni’s hectic and vibrant work.

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Berni, ‘Juanito y su familia mirando el televisor’, 1974

The exhibition focused on a period in Berni’s career when he began to paint two fictitious characters he invented, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, to help explore social issues of large Latin American cities. This exhibition was the first of its kind to gather so much of Berni’s ‘Juanito and Ramona’ works, and MALBA collaborated with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to do so.

Juanito Laguna is portrayed as a young boy from a poor neighbourhood or shantytown, who collects garbage. Although his situation is bleak, he still retains his hopes and dreams, which Berni himself discusses in this video. This sense of hope can be seen, for example, in the painting of Juanito playing with a toy airplane and gazing up at a spaceship, dreaming of opportunities. As this was painted around the time of the moon landings, Berni makes Juanito like any other boy of his time who dreams of going to space, perhaps making him a relatable, contemporary character.

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Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna y la aeronave’, 1978

Ramona Montiel, on the other hand, was created as a character to represent lower-class women. She becomes a prostitute in order to earn enough money to live and, through her character, Berni comments on the sex trade, the status of women, and also the lack of professional opportunities afforded to women.

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Berni, ‘El Examen’, 1976

 

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Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna going to the factory’, 1977

The paintings of Juanito in particular are large in size and striking. Berni was a very experimental artist and used new techniques in his artworks. Whilst he uses oil paints for the background and to paint Juanito himself, the work is dominated by collaged industrial waste and garbage that Berni collected. These objects protrude from the paintings, creating a 3D effect. The amount of metal used in the paintings is also quite jarring, as it reminds the viewer of the environment in which poor children represented by Juanito live. Instead of painting Juanito’s clothing, Berni places real items of clothing onto the canvas, often using popular clothes of the time, suggesting further how the character represents a particular class of children. However, the artist is also perhaps making a statement about how capitalist society and consumer culture fuel poverty. By using real, relevant and contemporary objects and popular culture to explore social issues, Berni creates in a way more ‘real’ characters. In fact, his characters have since taken on a life of their own in Argentina, becoming folks legends, incorporated into the lyrics of tango music and folks songs, as well as in poems and stories.

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Berni, ‘Juanito the Scavenger’, 1978

In Juanito the Scavenger, the child is lost in a sea of industrial waste and garbage, and his face looks despondent. This painting depicts the common practice of children in slums rummaging in garbage for things to sell. Even though the scene is bleak, Berni’s use of colour brings life into the painting. I found that even though the paintings are gripping and have a serious political message, Berni’s use of colour makes them accessible and almost child-like. It suggests the vibrancy of Latin America, whilst also reminding viewers that Juanito is just a boy.

Overall I found the exhibition fascinating; it compiled so much of Berni’s work and was a testament to this experimental stage in his career. The exhibition was large and comprehensive, spread across different rooms over three floors, encompassing printmaking, sculpture as well as painting; I think it was a triumph. The exhibition opened in October in 2014 and proved to be very popular. Although Berni’s paintings were created in the late 1950s through to late 1970s, the social and economic issues they explore still plague many large Latin American cities today, so the political meaning of these paintings is still gripping and relevant.

Camila Poccard (1st-year History of Art student)

 

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