Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bodleian Treasures and Painting by Numbers

If you're ever in Oxford, as I was on Friday, I urge you to go to the Weston Library on Broad Street Oxford (opposite the Sheldonian Theatre). There are two displays of note involving natural history and botanical artwork from the past.

Bodleian Treasures: 21 pairs and a tropical forest

(Bodleian Treasures: 21 pairs and a tropical forest until 11 February 2018)
This is the first is a periodically rotating exhibition which pairs up two items from some of the best treasures of the 12 million items in the Bodleian Library Collection.

At the moment one of the major displays included covers a Tropical Forest (see below)

Tropical Forests display
It also includes a copy of Audubon's Birds of America

The owl in Audubon's Birds of America
Plus a volume of Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora on display (see below). “The Temple of Flora” is the third and final part of Robert John Thornton’s New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. 

I couldn't find a digital copy on the Bodleian website - so here's the version contributed by the Misssouri Botanical Library to the Internet Archive

Double page spread from Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora
In addition, the display included an 11th century Herbal -  translation of a translation of the Herbarius of Pseudo-Apuleius. The plants were drawn first and the text added afterwards.
The Herbarium Apulei was one of the most widely used remedy books of the Middle Ages. Over 60 medieval manuscripts of the text survive.
Copy of the Pseudo-Apuleius Herbarius (11th century)
Dropwort is illustrated on the left and Narcissus poeticus on the right

Painting by Numbers

(Painting by Numbers until 9 July 2017) - This is about a Leverhulme sponsored scientific project to decipher Ferdinand Bauer's colour code - used for annotating his sketches made while accompany expeditions around the world. It's explained in this article Bodleian display showcases scientific research into Bauer's botanical masterpieces.
The display is in the main entrance hall - next to the entrance to the Treasures exhibition.

The Painting by Numbers Display
One of Bauer's annotated sketch for the Flora Graeca
Bauer made hundreds of pencil sketches of plants and animals when he explored the eastern Mediterranean in 1786-87.
Bauer's Colour System - a numerical colour code and pigments in mussel shells
There will be a lecture next Wednesday lunchtime (24th May) about Reconstructing Ferdinand Bauer's mysterious colour code by Dr Richard Mulholland, Leverhulme Research Fellow, Bodleian Libraries. Dr Mulholland is an art historian who is usually involved with lots of scientists in relation to the conservation of art from the past.

The project aims to decipher Bauer's numerical code used on one of his expeditions (for the Flora Graeca - also a Treasure of the Bodleian) and identify the numbers back to colours and pigments. (You can see a digital version of the Flora Graeca online)

I'll also be writing in more depth about this project and last Friday's lecture by Rosemary Wise, the botanical illustrator working with Oxford University in Botanical Art and Artists - News next week

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Sketch" 2017 - sketchbook exhibition opens at Rabley Drawing Centre

The 2017 SKETCH Open Sketchbook Drawing Prize aims to promote diversity and the importance to contemporary creative practice of both:
  • drawing and 
  • the role of the sketchbook

100 artists’ sketchbooks selected for the Prize - selected from over 500 submissions - are now on exhibition at the Rabley Contemporary Drawing Centre and Gallery at Rabley Barn, Mildenhall, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 2LW - opening today and on display until 17th June 2017.
The exhibition will also tour to the following venues
There are less selected artists than sketchbooks which I guess means some had more one sketchbook selected! The artists who created the selected sketchbooks are listed below. I've highlighted artists I know or know of.

If you want an image of your sketchbook displayed on this page please contact me with an image of your sketchbook and preferred website address.
  • Nidhi Agarwal, 
  • Nilofar Akmut, 
  • Lucy Austin, 
  • Peter Avery, 
  • Michelle Avison, 
  • Naomi Avsec, 
  • Richard Baker, 
  • Garry Barker, 
  • Brian Bishop, 
  • Andy Black, 
  • Kate Black, 
  • Patrick Blower, 
  • Julie Bolus - a reportage artist based in Norwich who I know from Urban Sketchers
  • Neil Bousfield, 
  • Meg Buick, 
  • Robbie Bushe, 
  • Tom Cartmill, 
  • Becca Collins, 
  • Eugenia Cuellar, 
  • Yael David-Cohen, 
  • Mel Day, 
  • Anne Desmet RA - an artist who specializes in wood engravings, linocuts and mixed media collages - and a member of the RA
  • Clare Dudeney, 
  • Cameron Duke, 
  • Richard Eastwood, 
  • Peter Esslemont, 
  • Anny Evason, 
  • David Ferry, 
  • Coral G Guest - a flower painter I know who now also draws and paints landscapes. I was extremely pleased to get to include her drawings in my book about drawing and sketching
Iceland - Light into Dark by Coral Guest
The page shows a sketch of snow capped mountain in the Thorsmork Valley, Iceland.
James Hobbs's Sketchbook - double page display
  • Louise Holgate, 
  • Hilary Owers & Graham Hooper, 
  • Laura Hudson, 
  • Neil Irons, 
  • Lily Irwin, 
  • Paul Jackson, 
  • Alexander Johnson, 
  • Anne Kristin Hages, 
  • Karen Lorenz, 
  • Christine Mackey, 
  • Tony Martin, 
  • Patrick Martin, 
  • Lynda Marwood, 
  • Anna McDowell, 
  • Ruth Miemczyk, 
  • Julie Moss, 
  • Stephen Mumberson, 
  • Liz Myhill, 
  • Maureen Nathan - wrote to tell me she has two sketchbooks included in the exhibition. An image of one of the pages from one of her sketchbooks can be seen below. She wrote about one of them in Not Moleskine on her blog
Maureen Nathan Sketchbook
  • Simon Nicholas, 
  • Maureen O'Leary, 
  • Alison O'Neill, 
  • Beñat Olaberria, 
  • Edith Pargh Barton, 
  • Simon Parish, 
  • Helena Park, 
  • Stephanie Parr, 
  • Chitra Parvathy Merchant, 
  • Caroline Pedler, 
  • Howard Read, 
  • Chloe Regan, 
  • Margot Shores, 
  • Julie-Ann Simpson, 
  • Serena Smith, 
  • Barbara Sykes, 
  • Sadie Tierney, 
  • Luke Treece-Birch, 
  • David Willetts, 
  • Melanie Wickham
The panel of Judges were
  • Tom Hammick, painter and printer; 
  • Peter Randell-Page RA, sculptor; 
  • Gill Saunders, Senior Curator (Prints), Word & Image Dept, V&A Museum

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pandora Sellars (1936-2017)

Pandora Sellars, whose paintings played a key role in the resurgence of botanical art in the UK - and across the world - died last week in her home county of Herefordshire.

Pandora Sellars - Blue Water Lily Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea, (1995), watercolour on paper
Pandora Sellars - Blue Water Lily Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea, (1995), watercolour on paper
For those of you who have previously followed my blogging about botanical art on Making A Mark, you may wish to read my tribute to her which you can find on my dedicated botanical art news blog. See Pandora Sellars - an appreciation of a great botanical artist to learn how much she meant to botanical artists all over the world.

Some of her paintings - including the iconic blue water lily - are currently on display in the British Artists in the Shirley Sherwood Collection at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens until 17th September 2017.

You can read more about that exhibition in my blog post back in March about British Artists in the Shirley Sherwood Collection - an exhibition at Kew

She doesn't have a website. However I will be building a page about her life and botanical art career as part of my section related to the Twentieth Century Masters of Botanical Art on my website.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Adele Block Bauer and 'Woman in Gold'

I've just watched the film Woman In Gold on BBC - about the portrait of Adele Block-Bauer by Gustav Klimt - and had to keep restraining myself from reaching for my iPhone to check what the outcome was. The nuisance of a memory which remembers some facts but not all of them!

Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer (the so-called "Woman in Gold") 1907
by Gustav Klimt
oil, silver and gold on canvas, 140 × 140 cm (55.1 × 55.1 in)
Current Location: Neue Galerie New York

So for those who were equally intrigued here's what I found.

You can see the film, made in 2015, on BBC2 channel on iPlayer (for the next 29 days)


  • painted in 1907 - and commissioned by Ferdinand Block-Bauer 
  • 1925 - Adele Bloch-Bauer died suddenly of meningitis, in Vienna on January 24
  • 1928 - lent for an exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 1928 to mark the tenth anniversary of Klimt's death
  • 1934 - displayed in London as part of the Austria in London exhibition
  • 1937 - lent for display at the Paris Exposition
  • between 1938 and 1941: nationalised by the German/Austrian State
  • December 1941 - Führer transferred the paintings Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and Apfelbaum I to the Galerie Belvedere (now Österreichische Galerie Belvedere)
  • 1945 - Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer (Adele's husband) died on 13 November 
  • 2006: restituted to Maria Altmann, the niece of the Bloch-Bauers by Österreichische Galerie Belvedere
  • purchased by Ronald Lauder ($135 million) from Maria Altmann
  • transferred to Neue Galerie in New York City from Ronald Lauder

Related Websites

About the portrait

About the key persona

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Pink Floyd's Fabulous Mortal Remains at the V&A

You might wonder why I'm reviewing an exhibition about a band on art an art blog.

There again you might wonder why a band like Pink Floyd is having a major retrospective exhibition at the Victoria And Albert Museum. The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains opens on Saturday (for 20 weeks until 1 October 2017).

Ummagumma repeat x repeat
However Pink Floyd were a very visual band. I don't find this surprising given that three of the band members were former architectural students who were used to thinking in terms of big designs and large structures. Plus right back at the beginning they knew some very smart design people in Storm Thorgeson and Po Powell aka as Hipgnosis (which it turns out was a word written on the wall of their flat by Syd Barrett. Plus they hooked up with some equally smart visual people as they progressed through their albums.

It's also because Pink Floyd were a constant backdrop to my time spent studying in Cambridge in the 70s.

Boyfriend was a big fan; Dark Side came out while I was in Cambridge and of course they are fundamentally a Cambridge band. My digs in my penultimate year were with a don who lived in Rock Road, literally right across the road from the house where Roger Waters spent his childhood and where his mother still lived. Syd Barrett lived just up the road etc etc. (I loved the Pink Floyd map of Cambridge!!)

I suspect The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains might just become one of the most popular exhibitions ever at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
this exhibition will be an immersive, multi-sensory and theatrical journey through Pink Floyd’s extraordinary world
The first three days sold out within hours of tickets opening for sale.

Before you read on, you need to understand that I am one of those people who got a ticket fast. It's been pinned on my wall above my desk for months and months!

I'll be back there on Monday to see the exhibition with my ex-boyfriend and his wife. Meanwhile I'll be emailing him to say he might want to go and buy himself another ticket - because I think the real fans are going to want to spend HOURS in this exhibition!

Not just because of the subject matter - but also because of how the exhibition has been put together.  That and the fact hard core fans never just go to a concert once.....

I wrote on Facebook while I was sat in the recreation of the Live 8 concert.
Just reached the end of The Pink Floyd Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.It's one of the most visually and aurally creative exhibitions I've EVER been to. It will take fans HOURS to go through. A retrospective with non-stop music on your headphones which changes automatically and constant visual stimulation. Absolutely amazing!
It satisfies on so many levels:
  • it's a retrospective based around the albums and there are masses of detail and memorabilia associated with each - some of it quite extraordinary.
The Early Years and first albums
Syd Barrett wall
  • the sound is constant. The audio is extraordinarily clever. The thing they give you for the headphones works out PRECISELY where you are in the exhibition and plays the music or audio interview which goes with what you are looking at. I've got a four page explanation about all the sound. Suffice to say it is AMAZING!
  • the visuals are quite overwhelming at times - right from the entrance through a giant version of their original van, past the Hipgnosis covers, via the 'unusual photography' and animations, past the huge blowups of the schoolmaster and Pink from the Wall, and Battersea Power Station - complete with Pig through to the end, where you can relive the miracle of the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park in 2005 when the band became four again - and the music plays with visuals on all four walls in a large room which is going to be packed as soon as the exhibition opens.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Review: Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters 2017

The 2017 Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters struck me as being very different this year.
To me, it seemed as if:
  • there are fewer portraits of celebrities - or maybe the "famous people" are just more low key (apart from Melvyn Bragg!)?
  • the commissioned portraits of the corporate and academic souls somehow seem less evident - which is a good thing. I know the commissions are the meat and drink of a portrait artist's life but they have made for a pretty dull main gallery in the past. 
  • the hang is better this year. There's a better mix of portraits in the main gallery and interesting work in all three galleries
  • this year the exhibition also seems to have caught up with current times as it reflects diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender much better than ever before
  • a model called Barrie is in four different portraits. If you visit the exhibition why not see if you can spot them all?
The exhibition is being held in the Main Gallery, North Galleries and Threadneedle Space of the Mall Galleries between 4th May and 17th May 2017.

Entrance to the Mall Galleries and the Annual Exhibition
of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters
This is the third exhibition for Robin Lee-Hall as President and she retires at the end of the month. A new President will be elected at the AGM after the exhibition.

End Wall in the Main Gallery - portraits by members of the Society
Threadneedle Space

The small portraits wall in the Main Gallery - spot Julie Walters and Jo Brand

Exhibition metrics - and the Open Entry

Below is some data which hopefully puts the open entries selected for exhibition into context and provides some useful background for those hoping to enter future exhibitions.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Prizewinners at the 126th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

This is a post about the people who were given awards at the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters on Wednesday at its very well attended Private View at the Mall Galleries. 

Tomorrow I'll write a review of the exhibition.

It was lovely to speak to so many of the members and those aspiring to be members who got portraits selected for the exhibition.

The exhibition opened yesterday and continues until 19th May (10am-5pm). It's open until 7pm on the 9th and 16th May. Admission is £4 and £2.50 concession plus 50% off to National Art Pass Holders. Free to Friends of Mall Galleries and under 18s

There is a list of artist demonstrations at the end of this post. Most of them cost nothing.

RSPP 2017 Prizewinners

Congratulations to the RSPP and the support staff at the Mall Galleries for having the complete list of prizewinners available when I walked through the door and having posted them on Facebook before I even got to the exhibition!

Hopefully this post enhances that communication by discussing aspects of portrait or artist or both.

The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture 

Prize: £10,000 + Gold Medal
Winner: Shawn McGovern for James

Winner of the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture
James by Shawn McGovern

oil, 83cm x 60cm £5,500
Shawn has a First Class degree (BA Fine Art Painting) from Wimbledon College of Art and he also did the Postgraduate Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School.

The painting is of his girlfriend's brother.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

New BBC Series - An Art Lovers Guide to three cities

"An Art Lovers Guide" is a new three part series on BBC Four about discovering a city through key aspects of its art and design.

An Art Lovers Guide - a new short BBC4 series
I watched the first programme on Amsterdam. It's definitely worth watching - particularly if you enjoy art history and/or you've not been to the cities covered but hope to do in future.

The two presenters Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke are both well qualified for the task of providing a guide. They're personable as well as academically credible, have both presented television series on art for the BBC before and, most importantly, they can both string words together on the hoof and make an intelligent comment.

Their pairing also gives us the benefit of one individual (Janina) who is enthusiastic about the past and another (Alastair) who is a fan of modern and contemporary art. Good choice! I think this might be a series which could run and run.

The cities being covered are detailed below with their BBC "blurb"

  • Links in the title are to the detailed pages by BBC Media identifying what they cover. 
  • The link to the iPlayer version of the programme is below the first one.

Amsterdam: An Art Lovers' Guide

With sumptuous palaces, exquisite artworks and stunning architecture, every great city offers a dizzying multitude of cultural highlights. So what should an art lover see on a flying visit?

This is the link to the programme on BBC iPlayer

Barcelona: An Art Lovers' Guide

In this second episode of An Art Lovers’ Guide, Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke are on a mission to get to know one of the most popular cities in the world through its art and architecture - Barcelona.

St Petersburg: An Art Lovers' Guide

In the final episode, Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke explore St Petersburg through its dazzling art and architecture.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

See Ed Sheeran in the National Portrait Gallery tomorrow

Tomorrow morning you can walk into the National Portrait Gallery and see Ed Sheeran with a big head.

NPG 7035: Edward Christopher (Ed) Sheeran (b.1991-)
by Colin Davidson (b.1968-)
Oil on linen, 2016 1270 mm x 1170 mm (50 in. x 46 in.)
© Colin Davidson

Or rather a rather large oil painting of his head.

It's the first portrait painting of Sheeran by a professional artist since he began his career as a musician.

The painting is by Colin Davidson who likes painting larger than life size paintings.  This particular painting is some around about four feet square - so that's a pretty "big head" (and there was me thinking we'd come to the end of the era of "big heads"!)

You can find it in Room 39, Ground Floor Lerner Contemporary Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, London, from 3 May 2017 (Admission free).

It appears that the proposal to paint a portrait followed a meeting between the artist and the singer's father John Sheeran (who, as it happens, is the former Curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery)

Ed then agreed to sit and the main sitting for the portrait was in August 2015. It's based on twenty drawings from life and reference photographs.

Davidson studied Sheeran intently for up to three hours which apparently Sheeran found fascinating, as the whole process contrasted to his fast-paced lifestyle.
‘When painting a portrait I am looking for the moment when the person is almost unaware of me being there and I feel I got it with Ed. I deliberately didn’t want Ed to perform and that was odd for him. But there is a youthful aspect to the portrait but also something experienced beyond his years.’ Colin Davidson
His larger-than-life paintings are explained as follows
‘They are all deliberately the same size; the idea is that everyone I paint is an equal and that format allows the face to become something else. If you see a painting of a face that is life-size, it never becomes anything else, it is a head. If it is smaller or bigger it can become something else’. Colin Davidson
Notable recent portraits he'd done include:
  • The Queen - commissioned by Co-Operation Ireland, of which the monarch is a joint patron - and unveiled by the Queen
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the cover of Time Magazine's Person of the Year edition in 2015 
Davidson is represented in the collections of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, the Ulster Museum in Belfast and the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Facts about the sitter and the artist

Ed Sheeran

  • singer-songwriter, actor, guitarist and record producer 
  • one of the most successful musicians in contemporary British popular culture. 
  • His 2011 debut album, + (‘Plus’), reached platinum status six-times in the UK. 
  • The album featured the hit single “The A Team”, which received the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. S
  • Sheeran’s second album x (‘Multiply’) released in 2014, 
    • achieved number one in both the UK and US charts 
    • became the most-streamed album in the world for 2014. 
    • won British Album of the Year at the 2015 Brit Awards and his single ‘Thinking Out Loud’ earned him two Grammy Awards at the 2016 ceremony. 
  • The British singer-songwriter's third album ÷ (Divide), released in March 2017, 
    • debuted at No 1 on the Official UK Album Charts 
    • achieved 672,000 sales in its opening week 
    • made history as the fastest-selling album by a male artist.
I think that certainly justifies his "person of note" status meriting a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. (i.e. additions to the Collection of the National portrait Gallery need to meet the criteria of those who have made an important contribution to British history and culture).

Well spotted Colin Davison for recognising an opportunity was there for the creating!

Colin Davidson

  • leading portrait artist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Art and Design degree (First Class Hons) from the University of Ulster, Belfast (1987-91) 
  • Honorary Degree for Art in 2016 from Queen’s University, Belfast. 
  • He has participated in the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award three times in 2011-2013, winning the BP Portrait Award Visitor’s Choice Award in 2012 (see below - which I found in my folder for BP2012!)
The Dialects of Silence (Portrait of Michael Longley)
by Colin Davidson, 2012
  • Davidson’s recent portrait series, Silent Testimony, exhibited in 2015 at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, depicted eighteen individuals linked by privately endured experiences of loss that transformed their lives during the Troubles years in Northern Ireland. Seamus Heaney, Brad Pitt, Sir Kenneth Branagh and The Queen are among his many portrait subjects.
  • website
  • Facebook Page

Monday, May 01, 2017

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth - an exhibition at the Bodleian

Next year Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will be on display in the Weston Library of The Bodleian Libraries in Oxford between 1 June-28 October 2018.
This exhibition will explore the full breadth of Tolkien’s unique literary imagination from his creation of Middle-earth, the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and his other works are set, to his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.
The exhibition focuses on the creative genius of Professor J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

It's an exhibition which is guaranteed to delight visitors of all ages as well as Tolkien fans and scholars.  It's also the first time, since the 1950s, that literary and visual materials produced by Tolkein - now held in the UK and the USA - will be on display in Oxford.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will feature:
Below are some of the images from The Hobbit (published on 21 September 1937) which will be in the exhibition.

Below is the final design of the dust jacket which many of us will be very familiar with. It's certainly one of the books I remember best reading as a child over 50 years ago. It's also a book which has never been out of print.

Hobbit Dust Jacket
Credit: © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
Tolkien not only illustrated The Hobbit but was also closely involved in its production process. He designed both the dust-jacket and the binding. Tolkien’s notes can be seen around the outside of the image.

Apparently he was very keen to use four colours for the printing of the dust cover: green, blue, black and red but this was too expensive. The note scrawled by the publisher across the  left hand margin says ‘Ignore red’.

Bilbo comes to the huts of the Raft-elves
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
Bilbo is seen sitting astride a barrel floating down the forest river,
having helped the dwarves (who are hidden inside the wine barrels)
to escape from the dungeons of the Elven King.
This was Tolkien’s favourite watercolour. It's a watercolour which would be regarded as an accomplished illustration from a professional illustrator. Instead it was painted by Tolkein himself who was the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford at the time!

This illustration appeared in the first edition and continued to be included in numerous other editions of the book. However, Tolkien was very disappointed to find that it had been omitted from the first American edition.