Exhibitions Neglected Master Exhibitions Neglected Master

By Lambirth, Andrew | The Spectator, October 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Exhibitions Neglected Master Exhibitions Neglected Master


Lambirth, Andrew, The Spectator


Mark Gertler: Works 1912-28 Piano Nobile, 129 Portland Road, W11, until 16 November Simon Casson: Smeech and Hrain Long & Ryle, 4 John Islip Street, SW1, until 3 November Every so often, about once a decade, the work of Mark Gertler (1891-1939) is rediscovered and exhibited. I remember seeing excellent shows of his work at the Ben Uri Art Gallery in 1982 and in 2002, and at Camden Arts Centre in 1992. Each time a wellselected body of his paintings is gathered together, we are reminded of the extraordinary talent of this young artist, who tragically took his own life. Yet for many of those who care about art, Gertler is still best remembered as the wild bohemian obsessed with the Bloomsbury siren Dora Carrington.

Certainly, Gertler's 1913 portrait of her, a striking example of his Neo-Primitive tempera style in the key of blue, and one of the many treats of this exhibition, doesn't quite explain the attraction. More beautiful and more mysterious is the girl he portrayed as 'The Violinist' in 1912, a painting of seductive colour and mesmeric clarity.

The show opens with 'The Artist's Brother Harry, Holding an Apple', a Gauguinesque postlapsarian come-hither painting of surprising simplicity and much presence.

At right-angles hangs a subdued but effective self-portrait of the youthful artist at his easel. Gertler drew like a Renaissance master, as can be seen in his pencil study 'Old Man with Beard' on the wall opposite. Here, too, is the very peculiar 'Creation of Eve', its focal point the fork of Eve's widely parted legs. Another superb drawing, this one a study for the famous portrait of Natalie Denny, and then comes a lively oil landscape from 1916, entitled 'The Pond, Garsington'. X-rays have just revealed that this is in fact painted over the only known oil study for Gertler's most famous painting, his 1916 anti-war statement 'The Merry-Go-Round', now in the Tate. If you look carefully, you can see the outlines of the tented top of the carousel on its side on the left of the picture, coming through the green of the trees. There are many more fine things, and a luxurious hardback catalogue (£25), all of which give a good account of this distinctive artist.

By concentrating on the early period of his achievement, this exhibition makes an acceptable and coherent argument for Gertler's greatness. It would be interesting to see if a show of his later, more School of Paris paintings would pack the same aesthetic punch. But Piano Nobile has done us a great service by bringing an undeservedly neglected British master back into the limelight. Let us hope the gallery will continue to reacquaint us with the little-known. What about an exhibition of paintings by Alfred Wolmark (1877-1961)? He's an almost forgotten figure today, though I see that a couple of his radically decorative still lifes are coming up for sale at Sotheby's Modern and Post-War British Art sale in November.

Another figure ripe for reassessment: let's hope someone takes the time to show him to us properly once again.

At Long & Ryle, Somerset dialect and folk culture infuse Simon Casson's more usual classical imagery. Casson (born 1965) is a master of baroque fantasy, uniting the fruit or flower still life and allegorical portraiture of Old Master paintings with the squeegee surface gestures of Gerhard Richter. This imagery remains his staple, with landscape, drapery, rabbit masks and roses all playing prominent roles here, but his interpretation has developed new depths. …

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