T.J. Clark reviews Goya: The Portraits at the National Gallery, London, on view through January 10, 2016.
Discussing Goya's The Countess of Fernán Núñez, Clark writes that "never has a painting worked so hard to de-realise the setting and stance of its sitter ... and yet never has the resultant dream world appeared so much the condition of a terrible intimacy... Of course the setting is a fable. The great tree trunk glowering and growling over the ground at left like a gathering storm; the cottonwool glacier of cloud to the right; the pointing toe on the edge of the precipice; the Jezebel halo of red and black against the tree; the level after level of rock and scorched grass going down to darkness; and the stiff cantilevered arms: everything here is absurd and momentary and touching, a tableau, a stage set, a false confession. And the falsity is its truth. It is what convinces the viewer (and doubtless this too is an effect) that the picture was born from deep collusion, from a true mutual acknowledgment of distance – immense, unbridgeable, guarded by rampart after rampart – but also sympathy."
Gayford writes: "Although the works in the exhibition are ostensibly portraits, they have little sense of individual personality, psychology or even appearance. The people seem more like everyman and everywoman, staring out. The subject is more, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, ‘pure presence’: another human being looking back at you. That, and the sheer impossibility of adequately fixing that experience in paint or clay. The result is that the exhibition is simultaneously repetitive and compelling. Giacometti was saying more or less the same thing, again and again, but with an intensity that never flags."
Lampert writes: "With a portrait his aim is not exactly to convey likeness, more an experience: how the person looks (including under the skin); what’s going on in their life (and his); the conditions of that evening. Like an apparition, something totally unforeseen, possibly lasting for just seconds, may spring from making a few brush strokes, establishing an area of truth which ‘might actually expand into a whole truth’. The goal is a set of connections between the masses, the space, the sensations and a picture with a tense surface character."
Martin Oldham reviews Goya: The Portraits at the National Gallery London, on view through January 10, 2016.
Oldham writes: "If there is a disruptive element here, it is Francisco de Goya y Lucientes himself. He may have been the servant of the Spanish elite, but his frank and often unflattering portraits betray a human vulnerability behind his sitters’ social performances. By focusing solely on the portraiture, the curators successfully show just how diverse and unconventional Goya’s approach was, revealing the artist’s restless innovation and commitment to creating unique images that play off the tensions between personality and public persona. Few of them are pretty, some are decidedly peculiar, but viewed within the continuum of his career each work can be appreciated as an individual expression of Goya’s wilful defiance of artistic norms."
Malone writes that the show "is an opportunity to reassess the relationship between Sargent’s skill and his decision to retain a fidelity to nature that was in the last decades of the 19th century becoming understandably discredited by the sentimentality of official Salon painting. And it comes at just the right moment, because we have reached a point in our postmodern tangles where an unprecedented lack of skill, particularly among painters, is severely limiting the possibilities of a medium that ought to be as alive and as fluid as contemporary music. What’s needed is a fresh look at the work of painters like Sargent, who embody that crucial moment in art history just before things began to change so rapidly."
Peter Schjeldahl considers James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist's Mother), 1871, currently on loan from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris to the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
Schjeldahl writes: "The painting represents the peak of Whistler’s radical method of modulating tones of single colors. The paint looks soft, almost fuzzy—as if it were exhaled onto the surface. There is some bravura brushwork, where Anna’s lace-cuffed hands clutch a handkerchief, with unprimed canvas peeking through, and daubed hints of Japanese-style floral patterning on a curtain that commands the left side of the picture. A few of the daubs faintly echo the pink of Anna’s flesh. She wears a gold wedding ring: a spark of harmony with the muted gilding of the frame that Whistler designed for the picture. Practically subliminal whispers of reds and blues underlie areas of the silver-gray wall behind her, and a dark purple smolders in the curtain, where the artist’s signature emblem—a butterfly—hovers."
Yaniv observes: "Each of Burg’s portraits evokes a distinct sense of staged theatrical drama, in which both the artist and her animate or inanimate models co-inhabit. She affirms that her models have to be people who are close to her, preferably women, and adds that dressing them up becomes like 'a bond of two kids enraptured in a make-believe game.'"
From the poscast post intrduction: "In his own words, Auerbach is suspicious of too much thinking: 'thinking about thinking', he says, 'isn’t true thinking…If one’s really thinking, one’s not aware of it'. Doing, for the artist, is everything."
Johnson writes that Neel's images of "parks, beaches, political rallies, and even illustrations for the Brothers Karmazov (1938)—that offer some respite from a show otherwise defined by portraits that expose the sitter in some way. Take, for example, her portraits of Kenneth Doolittle, a drug-addicted sailor who was also her lover. In one watercolor rendering, he sits in a rocking chair, smug, with his legs split open. He looks like the actor Sean Penn. In another piece, he sits hunched over, his eyes half open and his body withered. He’s pathetic, and Neel’s pen is unsparing. For me, those portraits were amongst the best in the show because they show people exactly as Neel sees them. And Neel is unusually perceptive—sensitive to both her own feelings and those of others."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.