The National Gallery's Raphael Is an Old Master Exhibition to Look Forward to - but Not the Only One
Byline: BRIAN SEWELL
EXHIBITIONS for the rest of the year are not quite as "thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks in Vallombrosa" or the fountain dedicated to Diana, but three are of some international importance and lend weight to a programme that is otherwise a little thin. This is not to denigrate the minor exhibitions, but even the most passionate of art-jingoists must admit that Alfred Wolmark, Gwen and Augustus John, William Nicholson and George Frederic Watts (again) are scarcely names to make the blood run hot and fast. To re-hang the paintings by Boucher in the Wallace Collection and call it a major exhibition is almost a deceit.
The season opens with Rediscovering Wolmark (5 Sept-7 Nov, Ben Uri Gallery, 108a Boundary Road, NW8, 020 7604 3991). Born in Warsaw in 1877 but brought to London in 1883 and trained in the Royal Academy Schools, he was essentially a British painter on the fringe of modern movements early in the 20th century, reflecting the interests of Roger Fry, Gaudier-Brzeska, the Camden Town Group, and Wyndham Lewis, but close to none of them; some critics see connections with German Expressionism and the Scottish Colourists. His handling of paint was often astonishingly bold and brave, his sense of colour daring, but he was, perhaps, his own worst critic and allowed too many ill-considered pictures to survive and do damage to his reputation. At his best, however, he was an intrepid adventurer who deserves to be rescued from neglect.
The first blockbuster of the autumn is Ancient Art to Post-Impressionism (18 Sept-10 Dec, Royal Academy, 020 7300 8000), a portmanteau show from the Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Like all such exhibitions its success depends on the random whim and chance of choice: should the Glyptotek have sent all its Gauguins (sculpture as well as paintings) and all its bronzes by Degas (a complete set) so that these could be studied in depth, or should it (as it has) have sent a thin sample from all its varied collections? Is there really any point in despatching to London bulky Greek and Roman antiquities of the second rank when the British Museum has so many of the first? My recollection of their display in Copenhagen is that gardeners could make better use of them as bower ornaments. I would far rather have raided the collection of more early 19th-century Danish paintings (the so-called Golden Age), of which its many examples are sublime. In all there will be some 250 exhibits of the "something for everybody" type.
Far more instructive will be Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 (23 Sept-5 Dec, V&A, 020 7942 2000), an exhibition of the applied arts aesthetically and stylistically cross-pollinated by European and Asian craftsmen. It is an extraordinarily rich field of study and delight, its beginnings demonstrated in the connoisseurship of court culture five centuries and more ago. …