Thursday, May 07, 2009

Exhibition review: The Intimate Portrait

I went to see The Intimate Portrait: drawings, miniatures and pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence at the British Museum last Friday afternoon. My guess is that anybody who enjoys drawing, portraiture or art history will enjoy this exhibition. I find it's one which I keep wanting to go back to in order to spend more time studying some of the techniques for drawing domestic portraits in the different media used in the eighteenth century.

Inside the Great Court of the British Museum

This is the first major exhibition to have been held in the UK which focuses on Georgian and Regency portraiture in terms of the smaller works created in pencil, chalk, pastels, watercolour and miniatures on ivory - all the sorts of works of art which I love looking at! It includes nearly 200 works from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland and the British Museum.

By the very nature these portraits are - as the exhibition title suggests much more intimate than those typically seen as paintings in the drawing rooms of great houses. These are the private portraits done for domestic consumption by friends and family - or the artist - rather than for public display.
It includes many self-portraits as well as intimate portraits of the artists’ families and friends. Sitters vary from the merchant and middle classes to the aristocracy, actors and celebrities including Lady Hamilton, and political and literary figures such as Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Wellington, Robert Burns and the young Queen Victoria.
The artists include leading artists of the time including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Girtin, Allan Ramsay, Sir David Wilkie and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

You can view a selection of the portraits on display in a virtual exhibition on the British Museum website. As ever, the drawings and paintings when seen in person are much better than those in this virtual exhibition. I loved the self-portrait by Gainsborough of himself sketching plein air! Apparently it's the only known self-portrait drawing by him in existence. There's also an interesting portrait of the artist Angelica Kaufman engaged in apparently planning a painting - and it made m smile wondering how we'd handle trying to paint in the costume of those times.

I was particularly taken with a drawing which was a self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds and tried to make a copy of it.

Copy of self-portrait (1750) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
"black and white chalk and stump on blue paper"
graphite in sketchbook

It's not very satisfactory and I ran out of time (unlike much of the museum this gallery closes at 5pm on a Friday), however I do find the process of drawing 'in the lines of' artists who are masters of their craft teaches one a great deal about different ways of drawing. They bring to life aspects of drawing which may have been touched upon in books and by tutors but which have a much greater meaning when the drawing is right in front of you and you're trying to work out how it works.

I forgot to make a point of checking the events associated with the exhibition in good time and most of these are now over.

I'll be reviewing the catalogue which goes with the exhibition over on Making A Mark Reviews - but first I need to read it!

The exhibition continues until 31st May in Room 90 of the British Museum (go to the back of the Museum and take the lift to the fifth floor). Admission is free.


Deborah Paris said...

How I envy you getting to see this exhibit! Looking forward to your review of the catalog- can it be purchased at the Museum shops? Also, the photo of the Great Court is wonderful-really makes me want to be there!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review of the exhibit! And do you remember any works by Edward Lear? I am reading "Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer" by vivien Noakes and am floored by his output and travels...

Lee B.

Joanne Licsko said...

Thanks for bringing this very interesting exhibit to our attention. I wish there was more to see online, but each work of art available through the highlights link carried a lot of weight.

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