The Museum of Innocence

I visit Oxford towards the start of the year; there’s a small exhibition at the Bodleian on illuminated Armenian manuscripts and another exhibition at the Ashmolean on post-war Japanese prints; how the Sosaku Hanga movement used often very modern techniques to record the aspects of Tokyo lost during the war.  The Ashmolean also has some new exhibits; a silverware section featuring silver bears and owls and a porcelain section featuring white porcelain from Dresden. The following weekend I visit The Vyne; the chapel stained glass has been restored; standing on scaffolds you can get a close look at the Tudor designs.

The weekend after, I visit London for a series of free exhibitions. Firstly, I visit the Museum of Innocence exhibition at Somerset House. This divides into two sections; an eerie series of video pieces slowly traversing Istanbul streets late at night. The second section also mirrors the novel, showing a series of vitrines showing everyday objects in a manner that reflects those in the eponymous novel.  After that, I visit the Egyptian art exhibition at Two Temple Place; the most striking exhibits here include a series of Canopic Jars and Cartonnage Masks (especially one in gold created for a Roman), sarcophagi and Fayum portraits. Lastly, I head onto the Whitechapel Gallery for its Kibbo Kift exhibition, featuring a rather strange series of arts & crafts totems, emblems, lecturns, garments and photographs of the movement.

A few weeks later and I visit the V&A’s new seventeenth century gallery; things thta leap out include Portguuese ceramics, Dresden porcelain, Italian mosaics, plates showing the Montgolfier balloon, Delft flower vases, Amber altars and Flemish stained glass.  I follow this by visiting the Astrup exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Astrup’s work often dwells on sepuchral shades within the winter sun with muted colours. When he does paint bright sunlight, he applies an extraordinary glow to the landscapes. Most of the colours amount to shades of green; colours like the orange of cut tree stumps, the yellow of marigold flowers, painted white wood on the side of a parsonage, the red of rhubarb stalks or the flame of a bonfire emerge as rare highlights. Perspective can often be skewed to emphasise the azure blue of a lake rather than the sky above the mountains. The view of the landscape is a decidedly romantic one, dwelling on mountains and lakes and imparting a sense of animism to it. Grain poles resemble an army of creatures, a tree resembles a troll screaming in pain, coals are offered to frozen waters to hasten the growing season, while the midsummer bonfires show good christian bystanders look on longingly at the pagan revels. Much of the tone reminds me of Rousseau or Stanley Spencer.  Equally, many of the scenes shown very domestic interiors or family members gardening (I had no idea there were so many varieties of rhubarb). Two counterposing scenes show two figures staring out into a wet garden while another showing two children staring inside (albeit the reflections on the window stop the interior from being apparent). Like Gauguin and Munch, Astrup was alslo very interested in woodcuts, albeit with a process that made simply creating a new painting much simpler.

After Easter, I decide to visit the Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition of paintings by Hilma af Klint. My feelings are divided; some of her work easily pre-empts Malevich in its use of simple geometrical forms. I also visit the Royal College of Surgeon’s John Dee exhibition, containing a selection of his surviving books (mostly classical history and astronomy, typically liberally annotated by Dee) as well as objects like crystal balls and  scrying mirrors.  Lastly, I visit the National Gallery’s Delacroix exhibition. This is as much dedicated to his influence as to Delacrois himself and the gallery is filled with paintings by Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Bazille, Manet, Moreau, Van Gogh, Monet, Signac, Singer-Sargent and Redon. The choice of subjects reflects an equally diverse range from landscapes and sill lives through to portraits and mythological scenes. Frankly, many of the comparisons are not to Delacroix’s favour; the mythlogical scenes from Moreau, the landscapes from Van Gogh, the Orientalist scenes from Renoir all seem better than the Delacroix equivalent .The gallery also has a small exhibition of Dutch Flower paintings by the likes of Brueghel, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Jan van Huysum, and Rachel Ruysch.

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