Issue 11 : Summer 2001
7th June - 19th August
Paul Signac, St Tropez: View from the Citadel Hill, 1899, watercolour, detail
Paul Signac is best known for the Neo-Impressionist paintings that he executed in close association with Georges Seurat in the later 1880's but throughout his long career he devoted much of his energy to drawing and watercolour. He explored the full potential of watercolour as a means of representing open-air light and colour; in his hands it became the ideal Impressionist medium, as he placed accents of vivid colour freely across the white of the paper. His subjects ranged from the sunlit shores of the Mediterranean around Saint Tropez where he established a home in the 1890's, before the place became fashionable, to the ports of France, to which he devoted a long series of views in his last years. The exhibition is a selection from the James T. Dyke Collection, recently donated to the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock.
Fauve Painting 1905-7: The Triumph of Pure Colour?
July and August
Courtauld Exhibition Patrons
André Derain, La Danse, c.1906, detail
An Apollo in Action:
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake's The Spartan Isadas at the Siege of Thebes at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1827
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, The Spartan Isadas at the Siege of Thebes, 1827, Chatsworth, detail
When the painting was shipped to England from Eastlake's studio in Rome in 1826, it was preceeded by a letter from the artist to his patron, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, in which he expressed his anxious wish that 'this picture be exhibited at Somerset House next year.'* The artist eloquently enumerated the advantages of public exhibitions - the spur of competition for the artist and the improvement of taste for the visitor - and concluded that 'an artist cannot be certain of his merits or defects till criticism is ratified by the testimony of many.'* Having received the admiration of over a thousand visitors to his studio, Eastlake was well aware of the importance of public approbation to a rising artist's reputation, and it was clear that he wished to repeat the experience in London's leading venue for the display of modern art.
As one of the few history paintings at Somerset House - the scarcity of works in the 'highest walk of art' in the Academy's shows was perennially lamented by the reviewers - the painting attracted considerable attention and was praised by the critic of the Literary Gazette , as one of the 'first-rate pictures of the year.' Irreproachably lofty in subject-matter , drawn from Plutarch's Life of Agesilaus, King of Sparta, the picture illustrates the scene in which the Spartan Isadas, unprepared and armed only with a spear and sword, flies to the defence of his city against the onslaught of the Thebans. The youth's god-like stature was said to have so inspired his fellow defendants and overawed his enemies, that he was able, against all odds, to lead the Spartans to victory.
Eastlake worked hard to find a suitably 'classical' treatment of the subject - by his own admission he wanted to impress John Flaxman. He elected a hard-edged, 'sculptural' style, reminiscent of that of his first teacher, Benjamin Robert Haydon and of Jacques-Louis David's revolutionary neoclassicism of the 1780s and 90s - ironically, two of the Academy's (former) bêtes noires. This treatment, however, enchanted not only the Director of the French Académie at Rome who had never seen a 'physionomie plus antique et classique' but also many of the leading artists and critics in London. 'Isadas is an Apollo in action', wrote the critic of the Literary Gazette. The painting is, in fact, a tour de force of composition and execution, conceived to draw the attention of the public in a crowded room, and it earned Eastlake the election to Associate member of the Academy - the start of his glittering career in the contemporary art establishment.
Paul Mellon Curatorial Research Fellow
*Quote from ms letter: Devonshire Mss.; Chatsworth: 6th Duke's Sculpture Accounts (fol.51).