Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions Living Moments

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions Living Moments

Article excerpt

Looking at the View Tate Britain, until 2 June Most of us like to look at a view, though not all are fortunate enough to live with one, in which case art can offer an alternative, a window on the world. Landscape is a great solace, and particularly refreshing for the tired urban spirit, but we want more than holiday snaps of foreign places briefly visited. We need the deeper exploration of art to feed hearts and minds, an investigation through the procedures of painting and drawing, a reordering of shapes and a fitting together, a showing again under other than a purely mimetic guise. With luck and application, through bearing witness to that process of recreating, we come to greater knowledge of our world and our place within it. As D.H. Lawrence said: 'The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe, at the living moment.'

Looking at the View is a stimulating mixture of painting, photography, drawing, relief sculpture and film, a free display in the main galleries at Millbank. In the anteroom to the exhibition is a lovely theatrical Ivon Hitchens painting entitled 'Winter Stage' (1936), mixing inside and out in plunging perspectives and uplifting paint flourishes. At the opening to the main exhibition space, a witty acrylic by Patrick Caulfield (a taster for his solo show opening here on 5 June), entitled 'After Lunch' (1975), presents a photorealist view of the Chateau de Chillon set like a postcard within the painting, or like a trompe l'oeil panel set into the wall of the restaurant, a fish tank in front of it. To the right hangs Henry Lamb's masterpiece - his portrait of Lytton Strachey (1914). To be honest, I've always been so interested in looking at the long drooping figure of Strachey that I've never really paid attention to the rather fine landscape background, seen through the window. Although it is the figure that still takes and holds the eye, the dialogue with external nature is also rewarding:

consider the great bifurcated elms (compare Lytton's legs) and the dense foliage cover (his beard). Thus a new context makes one look differently at an old favourite.

Of course there are terrible things here too, such as the ghastly fashionable 1930s portrait of Count Zouboff by Annie Louisa Swynnerton. Just compare this fop with Wright of Derby's marvellously languid Sir Brooke Boothby, a follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and a man of profound philosophical bent. Joseph Wright's painting is in a sense a society portrait too, but there is a timeless quality to this image, completely missing from the Thirties Count. Both these pictures push the boundaries of 'view' painting by focusing on the human individual within a more or less individualised rural setting.

For 'pure' landscape, notice the excellent Tristram Hillier, 'La Route des Alpes' (1937). There's a slightly hallucinatory, even threatening quality to Hillier's best paintings, perhaps deriving from surrealism as much as from the Flemish and Italian masters who inspired him. Here the pronounced colour contrasts promote a sense of heightened realism, and make an interesting comparison with the slightly unusual Lowry hanging next to it. This painting, 'Hillside in Wales' (1962), is another trailer picture - this time for the long-awaited Lowry exhibition at the Tate also opening in June - and offers a view of serried rows of cottages like a Roman amphitheatre or a Celtic monument, reminding us that Lowry was always more various than his stereotype suggests.

This is a rehang of the Tate's permanent collection and a welcome reminder of the hidden wealth in the store rooms. …

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