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."
Keane writes that "the show offers uninitiated visitors a chance to discover an American artist who redirected techniques of twentieth-century vanguard painting into a form of portraiture that is as much about the rhythms and processes of human recognition as it is about the diverse characters who were her subjects... her ability to paint this glimpse may explain her paintings’ intentional 'absences,' as discussed by critic Ann Eden Gibson. Gibson claims, in her penetrating essay, that Elaine de Kooning deliberately and variously integrated into her portraits incomplete features and implicit cognitive gaps. According to Gibson, she did so to generate an invisible, evocative vortex of sorts in each portrait, within which (as Roland Barthes claims happens in portrait photography) three human subjectivities can merge in a visual continuum – that of painter, sitter and viewer."
Harris recalls: "I had a break-through in my painting when I began thinking metaphorically. It started with a vein in a forehead, then the realization that everything could be vascular. So tendrils of hair became capillary, as did tendrils of light, stripes in a shirt were arterial, a scrunchie hairband a thrombosis. This was a key for me to unlocking invention... I want my paintings to function like an eyelid, veering from dry to wet, inside to outside, opaque to transparent, form to formless, mute to aggressive, space curved outward toward the viewer, held in by fragile surface tension, the picture plane as membrane, the entire painting an eyelid."
Carr writes: "Speicher studied painting with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri in New York City. Georgia O’Keefe and Edward Hopper were art school friends ... Despite winning early acclaim as a portraitist, by mid-career Speicher limited his lucrative commissions, preferring instead to paint friends or hired models in classical poses ... Unlike his contemporary Thomas Hart Benton, whose maximalist murals are loaded with information, Speicher’s art is restrained, with his motifs limited to portraits, landscapes and traditional still lifes. Speicher merged classical, idealized forms with observed phenomena in figurative canvases that are refreshingly clear."
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.