Communing with Suzon

I’ve just returned from the annual Association of Art Historian’s conference in Reading. The conference was great, rather inspiring, largely due to the session I was fortunate enough to take part in. Reading itself wasn’t the ‘hole’ that I was warned about, and had some rather charming architecture. However, my hotel was disappointing. Pro tip: a 15th century building that has been converted into a hotel is STILL a 15th century building. Remodelling does not make the floor any less crooked, nor take away the weird smells. Plus, room on the top floor with no lift, stuffiness requiring open window, and being on a noisy street meant very little sleep!

The Routemaster passes by Kensington Gardens.
The Routemaster passes by Kensington Gardens.

So after a few less-than-comfortable nights, followed by a lovely stay at a friend’s West Kensington flat on Saturday, I could not bear to leave London as scheduled on a sunny Sunday morning. The whole reason I paused in London before returning home was to see the ‘Manet: Portraying Life’ exhibit at the Royal Academy before it closed Sunday, and I am very glad I did. It was a lovely show, but with 10pm tickets after the long days/sleepless nights, I was rather shattered. In truth, my stiff and aching limbs could not face 5+ hours on the crowded London-Glasgow Sunday trains. A walk and fresh air were in order for my physical and mental health!

2013-04-14 14.33.07
Somerset House on a sunny Sunday.

I also realised that my Manet fix was incomplete, and that the RA show made me yearn to see my favourite, ‘A Bar at the Follies Bergere’ at the Courtauld. So after a walk along Kensington High Street I hopped on a classic Routmaster to Somerset House. As an added treat there was a small but wonderful exhibit called ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901‘, which reminded me how much I loved the artist’s early work. The show – which comprised only two rooms and perhaps 30 paintings – was comprised entirely of works made in 1901, when Picasso set up his studio in Montmartre and had his first show with the famous dealer Ambroise Vollard (who also had an important place in the Manet exhibition). The wonderful thing about small exhibits like this is that every single work can be an absolute gem, and the rich colour in these was exquisite.

I was particularly happy to be able to see Picasso’s lovely ‘Child with a Dove’ as it will soon leave the UK for a collection in Qatar, which purchased it for £50 million last autumn. The painting has been part of a potential export embargo, but funds were not raised to keep the work, and so off it now goes, sadly. Read more on this here.

Picasso, 'Child with a Dove', 1901.
Picasso, ‘Child with a Dove’, 1901.

Finally, I made it to sit in front of my old friend Suzon, looking so unhappy at her post serving the boisterous customers at the Folies Bergere. Although I confess I am not the biggest fan of Impressionism, this painting is just so compelling. The way in which Manet balances the noise and the quiet of her gaze is masterful.

Manet, 'A Bar at the Follies Bergere', 1882. Oil on canvas, 96 cm × 130 cm (37.8 in × 51.2 in). Collection: Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
Manet, ‘A Bar at the Follies Bergere’, 1882. Oil on canvas, 96 cm × 130 cm (37.8 in × 51.2 in). Collection: Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

I’ve been having the urge to sketch and paint for a while now, but I’ve been too pressed for time to do anything about it. However, as this was already a stolen day off, I thought I might try my hand at the Sketchbook Pro app on my iPad. It’s a bit tricky, and I’d like to try it with a stylus, but here is the result – not too bad I think.

A wee sketch made on the iPad, 14/4/13.
A wee sketch made on the iPad, 14/4/13.

Despite the complication of the digital medium, I was still able to ‘commune’ with the work via this sketch. It was a very good reminder of the kind of close study that a sketch enforces. It was also rather lovely to sort of mentally ‘check out’ and focus completely on the art for about an hour. It’s meditative, and I forget that. When I was done, I felt more mentally rested than I had in ages.

Must sketch more.

Author: Robyne Calvert

Cultural Historian... art, design, architecture, fashion, etc.

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