Scottish Portrait Gallery Edinburgh and Lavery’s war paintings

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has re-opened in its dramatic, neo gothic palace on Queen Street.  Ruskin would be delighted.   It is a rather rambling interior and quite difficult to navigate.  I wondered about with nothing really grabbing my interest, until I stumbled upon, entirely by good fortune, the exhibition of war paintings by Sir John Lavery.   Most of them I had not seen before and had never seen them collected together like this.   Many of the works were on loan from the Imperial War Museum.

Lavery never actually went to the war.  He wanted to. Very much so.  He joined the Artists Rifles in 1914 and for a few weeks drilled with them in the quadrangle of Burlington House and went on route marches into the country.   But he was 55 by then and was told he would make a better contribution to the war with his paint brush.   He got appointed as an official war artist and arranged for a van and for transport to the front.  But if never happened.  His wife became very ill following a motor-car accident and he never travelled to the front.   He was ever afterwards bitterly disappointed.  He admired greatly the works coming back from the front by other official war artists, in particular those of Orpen, and Eric Kennington, a private in the 13th London Regiment and later Nevinson, a private in the RAMC, and John Nash and his brother Paul, but he constantly remonstrated with himself at not being in at the action.

He was asked by the war office to complete a series of canvases depicting the home camps and activities and these works, now on display in Edinburgh are the result.  Lavery was unhappy with the works and felt they were a bit thin and not up to the standard of those artists who were in the thick of the action.

By this time Lavery was a rich and much sought after portrait artist and had completed portraits of almost every celebrity of his period.  He was Irish by birth but the Scott’s love him, far more in fact than the Irish.  They claim him as their own largely  because he trained in Glasgow and was one of the founders of the Glasgow Boy’s school of Artists.  During that period, heavily influenced by the French Impressionists, he had produced works full of colour and light and movement, works that put him alongside the finest impressionists and most certainly the finest British artists then working.   He had turned to the riches of portraiture work and although producing some quite outstanding portraits, particularly of Carson  and John Maxton the Scottish socialist,  he had, by the nature of the work, toned down his palette of colours and his impressionist brush strokes.

I think he was wrong to disparage these war pictures.   Some of his old colour and light from the Glasgow days reappears.   The picture of the air-ship attacking submarines springs particularly to mind.   And his painting of the submarines at Harwich is especially fine.   He also painted some of the military camps and bases. His painting of the naval air station (for air-ships) at Queensferry must surely capture one of the first ever naval air stations.   There is a very good portrait of a convoy sailor, an excellent interior of shell making by women workers in Edinburgh and a haunting landscape of ships lying at Scarpa Flow.  There is also an excellent display of his portraiture skills in the painting on board HMS Elizabeth at the surrender of the German Fleet.   Lavery specialised is such pictures, perhaps his most famous example being that of the appeal of Sir Roger Casement against a sentence of death for High Treason. (not in this exhibition but you can read about it here)  In both instances he was present at the scene.  On board HMS Elizabeth he dressed as a naval officer and hovered in the background behind a pot of flowers.  In court he sat in the empty jury box preparing his sketches of the scene.  Both are in fact fine war pictures.  

At the end of the war Lavery visited France and captured the rather poignant image of the cemetery being prepared at Etaples with it’s wooden crosses, What a pleasure this exhibition was.

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Picasso and Modern British Art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

60 outstanding Picasso’s gathered from around the galleries of the world and chosen to show the influence of Picasso upon Modern British Art and Artists. Placed between, amongst and about the Picasso’s are the works of those he so influenced. Henry Moore and Picasso; David Hockney and Picasso; Francis Bacon and Picasso; Wyndham Lewis and Picasso and so on. The exhibition establishes Picasso’s enormous influence on leading British Modernists. It is astonishing this has not been put together before now and it was a real privilege to see it during the festival. It runs until the 4th November 2012.

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Jimmy Carr at the Edinburgh Festival

British comedy has never before, been this desperate:

“Your boyfriend asked you to piss on him? Ha ha ha ha guffaw guffaw Did you like it? Ha Ha Ha Ha guffaw Ha Ha:  He shows a slide of a  drawing of a man masturbating using the dead arm and hand of a man in a coffin, sperm spurting onto his coat: Ha ha ha ha guffaw, so funnie..: Anal sex is a load of shit, Ha ha ha, And it hurts like buggery, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha And it bores my wife ha ha oh ha ha oh guffaw guffaw ha ha: Heckle from audience “where’s your accountant?” Ha ha ha. He’s at your place fucking your mum. Ha ha ha ha guffaw ha ha. Go home and wipe the cum off her mouth: ha ha ha guffaw ha guffaw ha ha, what a put down ha ha ha bloody brilliant ha ha guffaw guffaw; Invites woman from audience to join him in a “playlet” she reads from prepared script. “ I want you Jimmy for your large fat cock” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . There’s a collection at the end for abused children he tells us. With every £100 we can buy their silence; ha ha ha guffaw guffaw ha ha ha ha .ha ha ha ha”.

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The Age of the Geek – Edinburgh Fringe

This show doesn’t really work. It hasn’t joined the dots together fully, which is a great pity, for the writing is absolutely first class. A real poet of the interweb. If he has a book of poems then I’d buy it and recommend it to anyone I know. I hope he sticks to it. He has a great touch in the writing not so great in the performance. Hayden Cohen. We shall undoubtedly be hearing more of him.

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The Ginge, The Geordie and the Geek – Edinburgh Fringe, – a review

The venue for this three man comedy sketch group was in the old Cowgate section of the city. Cowgate is also known as Little Ireland and once housed the City’s large Irish immigrant community in squalid slum conditions. James Connolly, the Irish Trade Unionist and leader of the Citizen Army during the Easter Rising was born here. The same buildings are now used as venues for the Festival. This one was a deep arched cave, the arch about 120 feet above us, the walls wet with damp and a couple of old windows bricked in. It was no more than 18 foot across and about 30 foot long Sometimes in Edinburgh, the venues are more interesting than the acts.

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The History of the Jazz Piano at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Unitarian church of St. Marks, hard by the sheer cliffs of Edinburgh Castle, has an interior, as you would expect of the Unitarians, entirely unadorned, with any religious image. An odd place to listen to Jazz. There, where the altar should be, stands a great glossy black note of a grand piano.

The musician is the Professor of Jazz Music from St. Andrew’s University. How cool is that!

We begin with Scott Joplin, a bit of the “Entertainer”, and then a ragging of “Tea for Two” in Joplin’s style. We move to blue notes, a bit of Gershwin and then an illustration of Jelly Roll Morton hammering the blue out of the keys with his “version” of Tea for Two, giving it a real stomp. Then there was Fats Waller, decorating his tunes with Mozartian trills, at breakneck speed and morphing into one his great rag-time epics “A hand full of keys”

After that Oscar Peterson boogies, Fats Domino “Lulu back in Town” and then the prof’s own cool cool jazz versions of the songs of Robbie Burns. It was getting better, we now had gospel music jazz, “Amazing Grace” The church was rocking and all those dour Edinburgh Presbyterians were loosening up. A bit of hard core Charlie |Parker, stories of Dankworth, some be-bop from Count Basie, back to Oscar Peterson and some Tiger rag from Art Tatum. Surely any moment now the cocaine would be laid in lines on the ancient Unitarian pews. He closed it with Oscar’s Hymn to Freedom. Oh there were encores! We’d still be there if it was up to me. Look at that! I just wrote a piece on Jazz and I know feck all about it. Edinburgh must be doing me good.

You can get Oscar Peterson playing the Hymn to Freedom on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-mIHk2rM0Q

And a bit of the Prof’s lecture/performance here: http://richardmichaelsjazzschool.com/blog/history-of-jazz-piano-on-bbc-radio

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Ruskin at the Edinburgh Fringe

I have always had a considerable soft spot for Ruskin. My college days, brief as they were, were spent in Ruskin College Oxford, named for him because of his serious commitment to the teaching of the working classes as outlined in his monthly “letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Brittan” The college was filled with such workmen and labourers. Workwomen too. All mature students, with few or any formal qualifications, drawn predominantly from the Trade Union Movement and looking for a second chance in education.

In Edinburgh Ruskin was particularly known, notoriously known, for four lectures he delivered in 1853 on Architecture and Painting. Dr. Paul O’Keefe, an Art lecturer from Liverpool re-creates the four lectures in the National Gallery of Scotland. He dresses in the Victorian frock coat of the time. He looks remarkably like Ruskin, and he deliverers the four lectures, over four days, word for word,

They have for me been the highlight of the Festival so far. I doubt they will be surpassed. His first two lectures, on Architecture praise the gothic and attack, robustly, the Greek, in particular, but much more gently, the Athens of the North architecture of Edinburgh.

His third lecture is a hymn to the work of Thomas Mallard Turner. Hear it, or read it, and you will not look at a Turner in the same way ever again. His final lecture is a defence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, for Ruskin was the first to recognise their revolutionary contribution to the history of Art. To my delight the Pre-Raphaelite lecture is available as a download and you may listen to it here: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/podcasts/pre-raphaelitism_ruskin.aspx

The photograph is of Dr. O’Keefe as Ruskin.

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