Magazine article The Spectator

Behind the Lines

Magazine article The Spectator

Behind the Lines

Article excerpt

The Artist's Studio

Compton Verney, Warwickshire, until 13 December

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 9 February to 16 May 2010

Compton Verney, in the heart of Warwickshire, settles into its Capability Brown landscape like a grand old diva sinking into a sofa. Some surprise then, as this sparkling art museum constantly raises the senses with its refreshing series of exhibitions. Last year saw Giacometti, Oskar Kokoschka and Jack Yeats; this year Constable Portraits and The Artist's Studio; next year Francis Bacon and The Artist's Studio explores those places that are part workshop, part engine-room, part desert island, and their evolution as a source of creative energy through five centuries. Laid out in themes, the exhibition explains the evolving purpose of the studio, from academy, to meeting place, to lonely garret or bunker, to gallery, to shrine. While the artist is always kept company by his or her face, which makes the self-portrait an ever-available subject when all else fails, so, too, are the artist's personal surroundings.

When out of sorts, or short of ideas, what better subject to paint than, as John Bratby did, the dustbin in the corner; or, like Gwen John, the table in the window. This sense of intimacy, even of intrusion, provides the bedrock to the show, and drives it along in an elegant display, intelligently curated by Giles Waterfield and Antonia Harrison.

In addition to the obvious requirements of genius or talent, art is generally a collective endeavour: sculptors need their teams of assistants - six at least swarm about the c.1790 studio drawn by William Pyne; painters need their suppliers of paint and varnish - as depicted by Rodrigo Moynihan in his still life on a studio shelf painted 200 years later. But all artists need their human models, who, dressed and undressed, inhabit the show in works by Orpen, Nevinson, Bruce Bernard and others. …

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