Exhibition Review: The International Style of Muriel Spark


Part of Muriel Spark 100, a programme of events celebrating the centenary of the birth of iconic writer Dame Muriel Spark, this exhibition in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh takes a journey through the various places Spark lived – Edinburgh, Africa, New York, London, Rome and Tuscany – showing the significance of these places to her work and charting her career. Mirroring the often unusual structure of Spark’s novels, the exhibition is not arranged chronologically, and it is possible to wander from section to section and explore Spark’s life and writing. I also love the design of the poster and postcards for the exhibition, as pictured above.

Featuring letters and telegrams from such illustrious names as Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Burton Taylor, Evelyn Waugh and Maggie Smith (to name but a few), the manuscript of Spark’s most famous novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and dresses Spark wore for publicity shoots; this is exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the writer’s world. Spark said that ‘since 1949 onwards I have thrown away practically nothing on paper’ and the NLS holds an impressive personal archive of her work and correspondence.

Image of Muriel Spark from NLS website

The only Muriel Spark novel I have read to date is Loitering with Intent (a brilliantly comic satirical book) but having been to this exhibition I am keen to read more of her work! Myself and the friend I was visiting in Edinburgh stumbled across this exhibition, it was a wonderful surprise and definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

I would highly recommend seeing this exhibition in person, entry is free and the National Library is a gorgeous building, but plenty of information and some of the exhibits can also be seen here on the National Library of Scotland’s website.

The Private World of Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) at the Ulster Museum, Belfast

This exhibition, bringing together both landscapes and family portraits, offers a fascinating insight into the private life of this prolific painter. As both a society painter and a war artist, Sir John Lavery tended to paint elaborate and grand works. The paintings on display in the Ulster Museum are more muted, showing a quieter side to his art. The works were all part of Lavery’s private collection, and he donated them to the museum. Lavery donated 34 paintings in total to the museum, a selection of these works appear in this museum. My favourites are discussed below. I would highly recommend visiting the Ulster Museum to see this exhibition (and others!) in person.

2015-08-06 12.41.23Eileen in Primrose Yellow (1926)

Eileen was Lavery’s daughter from his first marriage, and she appeared in a number of his paintings. In this painting, Eileen is elegantly posed but there is a sense of warmth and intimacy that differentiates this portrait from society paintings. In another work in the exhibition dating from 1901 we see a young Eileen making her First Holy Communion.

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Alice (1919)

Alice was the daughter of Lavery’s second wife, Hazel. This painting is unusual among Lavery’s oeuvre not only for its small scale, but also as it is painted on board. In this painting, there is a sense of calm and repose as Alice is immersed in her reading, seemingly unaware of the viewer. The quiet mood of this work contrasts completely with The Artist’s Studio (1909-13, National Gallery of Ireland) a large scale, ostentatious family portrait painted by Lavery that has echoes of Las Meninas by Velasquez. As one of the gallery attendants pointed out to my friend and I, Alice is set in Lavery’s studio as can be seen when the work is compared to Daylight Raid from my Studio Window 7 July 1917 (discussed below).

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The Green Coat (1926)

Lady Hazel Lavery was the artist’s second wife, and frequently modelled for his paintings. Lavery was enthralled by his wife’s beauty, painting her time and time again. She even appeared on Irish pound notes in the guise of Éire, the female personification of Ireland. Lavery depicts his wife as graceful and elegant. He often accentuated her height in his paintings, as he has done here by painting a mantlepiece behind her. She is an almost ethereal figure, like a fairy queen in her green  coat. The green could be read as patriotic, and it is possible to see this as another depiction of Hazel as Éire. The way she looks off into the distance lends an air of mystery to the work. The mirror behind her shows her opulent costume to its full effect, and Hazel’s bare shoulders and neck give her a seductive appearance. She often appears wearing exotic outfits in these works – such as in the aforementioned The Artist’s Studio, in which she wears a tall feather headdress.

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Daylight Raid from my Studio Window 7 July 1917

This work can be seen as an intersection between Lavery’s private life and his work as a war artist. The painting is set in his studio, in which we can see canvases and paint brushes. The blackout blinds on the window allude to the ongoing conflict. Hazel Lavery can be seen at the sofa, looking out the window. The window and the scene of the air raid are enormous, dwarfing all other elements of the composition. This is a very deliberate decision which shows the overwhelming impact of war and how it makes everyday life seem small and insignificant. The work is rapidly painted, capturing the planes in the sky.

The Private World of Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) is an engaging and enjoyable exhibition that offers a glimpse into the artist’s life. The small number of works on display makes it possible to study each, and makes the exhibition accessible. The attendant working in the gallery when I visited was very friendly and helpful, and I really appreciated all the extra information he gave myself and my friend.

The Frick Collection, New York


In the Sculpture Garden at The Frick Collection

It has been a while since I’ve had any art on the blog! Visiting The Frick Collection was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to New York. The collection is located on Fifth Avenue, across the road from Central Park, in the mansion of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). The collection opened to the public in 1935 and visiting it is a wonderful experience, as it is still designed to look like the Fricks’ home. It is a Gilded Age mansion, and the richly decorated interior complements the artworks perfectly. Objects from the silver collection and the decorative arts collection are also  on display, giving a sense of the domestic life of this mansion. There are no cordons or barriers, making for a very intimate and very relaxed atmosphere. The fact photographs cannot be taken (except in the Sculpture Garden) also adds to this sense of calm. I think it also encourages visitors to look at the paintings and enjoy the experience of seeing the works in person.

The museum is small enough, which really gives the visitor the chance to enjoy the works on display, and it is easy to cover the collection in a single visit, unlike some of the larger art institutions in New York! The Boucher room is beautifully laid out, with works on the theme of the Arts and Sciences – they have such subjects as Painting and Sculpture, Poetry and Music and Architecture and Chemistry. The paintings are oil on canvas, but appear like wall paintings. In another room there are four beautiful paintings by Boucher depicting the seasons. He uses a woman as an allegory to represent each season, winter wears a cloak and a muffler and is seated in a sleigh. As well as wonderful 18th century paintings like these, the collection features much 18th century French furniture. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of paintings and sculptures with decorative arts throughout the museum.

Among the Impressionist works on display is La Promenade by Renoir. Visually similar to Les Parapluies, this work depicts a governess out walking with two young girls. Renoir’s light feathery brushwork is distinctive in one of his many depictions of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Another Impressionist work I enjoyed seeing was Degas’ The Rehearsal. One of the artist’s many depictions of dancers this painting shows a group of ballerinas practising, with a violinist playing in the foreground.

The Sculpture Garden in the centre of the Frick is beautiful; the statuary, fountain and greenery making a very calm space. In this garden, and really in the Frick in general, it is easy to forget you are in such a busy city!


Seeing the three Vermeers in The Frick Collection was definitely a highlight of my visit. Mistress and Maid (the last painting purchased by Henry Clay Frick) reminds me of Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid, the Vermeer in the National Gallery of Ireland. Letter writing is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s work, and indeed in Dutch genre scenes of this era. This work also shows Vermeer’s fascination with light – in the reflections captured in pearls, glass and silverware. There is also an ambiguity so often found in Vermeer’s work, as we wonder about the contents of the letter.  Officer and Laughing Girl  also features subtle storytelling. It seems that the girl is entertaining a suitor, and the map on the wall hints to the officer’s profession and his travels. The setting is familiar from other works – it is Vermeer’s studio. Having written an essay on Girl Interrupted at Her Music, I was delighted to see it in person. The theme of music is also prominent in Vermeer’s work, featuring in 12 of his paintings. There are many interpretations of this painting – the man may be the girl’s music teacher, or her suitor ready to partake in a duet with her. However, the empty chair and the way the girl gazes out of the painting could suggest that she is waiting for someone to arrive.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Frick Collection. With its opulent interiors, fascinating collection and very calm atmosphere, it has been one of my favourite galleries. Find out more about the collection here.




Vermeer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

When I was in New York last month, I visited the wonderful Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent hours wandering through the different galleries. The Met has a vast collection, so I have decided to do a few posts focussing on specific works I enjoyed. Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) is one of my favourite artists, his mastery of lights and textiles is enchanting, and I am always intrigued by the quiet and mysterious stories in his paintings. Five of his works are in The Met – it was wonderful to see so many together! I hope to see them all in person – I have seen eighteen so far. The selection in The Met were quite varied – including an allegorical painting, a tronie or character study that has links to the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, and some of his meticulously painted genre scenes.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (c.1670-72)


In some ways this painting is rather different from other Vermeer paintings I have seen – rather than being a genre scene, it is a purely allegorical work. However, some aspects such as the tiled floor or the curtain drawn back to reveal the scene, are familiar. The painting is very interesting, and on closer examination it contains much symbolism – a bible crushes a snake, an apple on the ground recalls the Original Sin, the lady (representing Faith) stands on a globe and a glass ball suspended above her represents heaven.

Woman with a Lute (c.1662-63)


Music is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s art, featuring in twelve of his works. This reflects the importance of music in seventeenth century Dutch society, in which it was a popular pastime. I really enjoyed the Vermeer and Music show in the National Gallery of London last summer. The setting (Vermeer’s studio) and the ermine trimmed jacket are also familiar features of his work. The way the woman looks out of the window, the viola de gamba on the floor, and the songbooks on the table suggest that she is expecting company. These subtle hints of stories and relationships are part of the enigmatic charm of Vermeer’s work.

Study of a Young Woman (c.1665-67)


As in Girl with a Pearl Earring, the subject of this portrait stands out from the dark background. It is quite a small work, and is very striking. It is a tronie, or character study, in which the sitter is dressed in a costume. For all its simplicity, it is also a very technically skilful piece – the folds of the fabric are rendered beautifully, and the young girl’s face is very soft and distinctive. Like many of the women in Vermeer’s paintings, she wears a pearl earring, which catches the light, but the effect is less dramatic here than in other works.

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (c.1662)


Another distinctive Vermeer painting, with the light falling from the left and his familiar studio setting, this work reminds me of The Milkmaid. The seventeenth-century Dutch costume is another attraction of these works, the attention to detail in their depiction shows the garments were expensive and valued. Vermeer’s genre scenes act as a record of social history. The small scale of the works, and their domestic themes reflect the economic prosperity of the Dutch Golden Age, in which the middle class or bourgeoisie formed a greater part of the market for paintings. This harmonious painting, capturing a moment of reflection in which the woman gazes out of the window, reflects the domestic life of this newly prosperous middle class.

A Maid Asleep (c.1656-57)


Unusually, this work is not set in Vermeer’s studio. However, the different setting is interesting as it gives us an insight into the seventeenth-century Dutch interior. The detail is exquisite – such as the embroidery on the table cloth. The empty chair at the table is intriguing – suggesting that the maid may have has company, and the open door behind her gives a tantalising glimpse into the rest of the house. The contents of the still life on the table and the maid’s rich attire further suggest that she may have been entertaining a guest, as does the painting of Cupid behind her. The painting within a painting often holds a clue to deciphering the story in Vermeer’s works, and adds another intriguing layer of interpretation.

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

MOMA was the first art gallery I visited on my trip to New York. We took advantage of the UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, which gives visitors free entry to MOMA between 4.00 and 8.00pm. Of course this meant it was very busy, but that added to the atmosphere and I feel I got to see the works on display well, and enjoy them.

The collection is very impressive, and includes works by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, to name but a few! Below are some of my favourite works from the collection.

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

This was the painting I was most looking forward to seeing on my trip to New York, and it was definitely the highlight of my visit to MOMA. There was quite a crowd around this painting, but I managed to get to the front and spent a while admiring Van Gogh’s brushwork. It was amazing to see this familiar artwork in person, to see how richly textured the paint is in some places, while in other parts of the painting the canvas is still visible. The sense of movement created by the swirling brushwork makes this a powerful and expressive image. Seeing this painting in person was a very emotional experience, and I was quite moved.

Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat, Evening, Honfleur (1886)

I enjoy Georges Seurat’s pointillist technique, and I loved that it was used here not only for the painting but for the frame too! The application of tiny dots gives the painting an interesting, shimmering technique from afar, the dots are only visible up close. I love the technique of pointillist works, but I also enjoyed the use of colour in this work – particularly the pale sky and the pink tones in the clouds.

Pablo Picasso Desmoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Pablo Picasso Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

Another painting with a big crowd! It was great to see this famous Picasso painting in person, especially as it has played such a pivotal role in the development of Modernist styles. A key Cubist work, it highlights the fragmentation and flattened perspective that were to become so characteristic of the movement. Picasso’s interest in African art can also be seen in the use of masks, which give an eerie atmosphere to the painting.


Naum Gabo, Head of A Woman (c.1917-1920, after a work of 1916)

This was one of the works I spotted wandering around the gallery, and thought was very interesting. At first glance, I thought it was sculpted from paper but it is actually composed of celluloid and metal. It is displayed high up in a corner, giving the impression that this woman is looking down at the viewer.


Frida Kahlo, Fulang-Chang and I (1937)

I greatly admire Frida Kahlo’s work, and this was the first work of hers I have seen in person. I love the intensity of her self-portraits, and how distinctive her style is. I feel her self-portraits are very striking and unusual, and give a real sense of her inner life. There was a quote from the artist on the information panel that I feel sums up her work very well: “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” The frame was also very unusual, it was made some years after the painting, from glass which was then painted.


Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl (1963)

Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein’s works and their use of Ben Day dots are a familiar part of pop culture. I was surprised by the large scale of this work, but not by the melodramatic subject matter! This is an early work, and is based on imagery from a DC Comic. This use of popular imagery increased the appeal of his work. He not only sourced subject matter from comics and advertisements, but also copied commercial printing techniques creating a playful style.


Anselm Kiefer, Wooden Room (1972)

This large scale work caught my eye in one of the galleries for its masterful rendering of the texture of the wood. The unusual medium – charcoal on burlap – also added to its tactile appeal. The ‘wooden room’ is the artist’s attic studio, and this added to the interest of the work for me as it is such a personal and creative space. This, combined with the high level of skill evident in the work, made it very memorable and engaging.


Edward Ruscha, OOF (1962)

I enjoyed this work because it is good fun, something Ruscha has acknowledged when speaking about his work at this time: “I was interested in monosyllabic word sounds that seemed to have a certain comedic value to them.” It was another work that I just came across in the gallery – but it is certainly one that makes an impact!


Andy Warhol, Campell’s Soup Cans (1962)

It was really interesting to see two works by the famous Pop Artist Andy Warhol. The Campbell soup cans are so iconic and recognisable that it was strange to see them in person. Created using screen printing techniques, they offer a critique of advertising and commercialism. There are 32 canvases, each depicting a different soup flavour.


Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962)

Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe is also on show, playing on the popularity of the star and how often her image has been reproduced. He creates her likeness in a Pop Art style, against a gold background.

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko’s work makes striking use of colour, and the large scale gives an enveloping effect. It is one of many works the artist created using these hazy rectangular bands of colour. The softened edges of the different blocks of colour gives an effect of blending or blurring.

This is only a small selection of the works on display at MOMA. It is a very interesting and varied collection, well worth a visit!

Bookshops of New York!

I am just back from a fantastic holiday in New York, where I had a lot of fun adventures. I will be posting soon about the wonderful art galleries I saw there, but first here is a little bit about the bookshops I visited!

The Strand Bookstore (http://www.strandbooks.com/)

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18 miles of books! Established in 1927, this bookshop is a haven for book lovers, packed with new and old books and much more! What an amazing shop…there are many towering shelves, packed with books. It is also the setting of the wonderful YA novel Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I could spend hours browsing the shelves – and there is a huge selection of art books too!

I managed to resist buying all the wonderful books in The Strand, but I am delighted with my new owl tote bag – can’t wait to use it.


Books of Wonder (http://www.booksofwonder.com/)





Books of Wonder has an excellent selection of children’s and YA books, but what I loved most was the exhibition of illustration. It is a fascinating selection – with prints by artists such as Oliver Jeffers, Chris van Allsburg and Steve Light, works based on the Wizard of Oz, some fantastic illustrations of the Narnia books and much more! It is an enchanting exhibition – and they have so many great books to browse too.



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I bought Dangerous by Shannon Hale in Books of Wonder. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I have read a lot of Shannon Hale’s other books and really enjoyed them. Goose Girl is one of my favourite books, and I am looking forward to reading Dangerous – it seems quite different from her other work. Expect a review soon!


I would highly recommend both of these shops to any bookworms in or visiting New York City!


“I go to seek a Great Perhaps” Young People Curating in Limerick City Gallery of Art


Today I’m writing about an exhibition I saw in the Limerick City Gallery of Art recently that got me very excited. I was down in Clare with my family as my sister (a harpist) was performing with the Clare Memory Orchestra, and my mum and I headed off to visit this gallery.

Look at the cool sculptures on the outside of the building! There are lots of these tiny little bronze figures – my favourite is the little guy climbing the ladder, pictured below. Other figures were reading, hanging from ledges and more!


The gallery houses mostly modern art – other exhibitions included a lot of installations and video art. The show I was most interested in though was ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps’. The name comes from a Rabelais quote, used in John Green’s popular YA novel Looking for Alaska. This ties in nicely with the premise of the exhibition – it was co-curated by young people from the area working with Shinners Scholar Aoibheann McCarthy. The young curators, aged between 14 and 20, chose 3 works each and their responses to the works are used on the information panels.

Isn’t this just a fantastic idea? It is a great way to get young people into galleries, and to encourage them to engage with art. It’s the kind of scheme I would love to be involved with myself, and I found the exhibition very enjoyable. The responses were very well-written – describing how works linked to fears for the future or difficulties in having your voice heard as a young adult, or engaging with art historical methodologies such as feminism. I found their commentaries both insightful and interesting – Caoimhe Taylor Moloney’s analysis of Vivienne Bogan’s work Stitched Pail No.2 made me look at it in a whole new light, and I loved how Owen Mulligan connected Janet Mullarney’s sculpture Waiting for Illumination to the state of transition and the vulnerability experienced as a young person. The aesthetic responses too shows an engagement and appreciation of the works and their themes. Familiar artists in the exhibition included Mary Swanzy, Jack B Yeats, Alice Maher, Daniel Maclise and John Lavery but I was delighted to discover many new artists as well. The selection made was varied and interesting, and overall it was an excellent exhibition.

I hope this scheme will be taken up by other galleries around the country – it is a great chance for young people to engage with artworks, and learn about curating, and the resulting exhibition was a definite success. For more information, and some images from the exhibition, see: http://www.agreatperhapslimerick.com/

I would also like to say a quick thank you to the lovely staff at the gallery who were very helpful, and gave me a lovely little book about the gallery’s collection. 🙂


The Courtauld Gallery

I have long promised posts about my arty adventures in London, so here we go!

The Courtauld Gallery is located in Somerset House and the adjoining Courtauld Institute is a prestigious centre for the study of the history of art. The Gallery is a treasure trove of European art, with displays spanning from Medieval and Renaissance works to the 20th century. I would recommend visiting on a Monday, as entry is cheaper then!

The Courtauld has a wonderful collection, below are some of my favourites.

In the Medieval and Renaissance rooms, I loved this painted wooden panel which had a portrait on the front and a painting of holly at the back. The portrait is of an educated man – he holds an open book, and his cameo ring shows an interest in antiquity, It is possible that the sitter is Guillaume Fillastre.


Workshop of van der Weyden, Portrait of a Man.


There was also a painting by Botticelli, which I didn’t know was in the Courtauld’s collection. I am more familiar with his mythological work, so it was interesting to see one of his paintings with a religious theme. Also – the paintings in this room had marriage chests displayed below them. I had read  about these marriage chests (which have scenes painted on them) before, but I had no idea they were so big! I liked how they were displayed beneath the paintings, as they probably would have been at the time.


Alessandro Botticelli, The Trinity with Saints


Adam & Eve, in a rather Gothic or Dutch style. I enjoyed all the exotic animals in this depiction of the Garden of Eden. There’s even a tiger!


Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam & Eve

I love this painting of Cupid and Psyche by Joshua Reynolds, largely because of the use of light. It captures the moment when Psyche sneaks a glimpse of her mysterious lover by candlelight. There is a glow of moonlight coming from the top right hand corner, further shedding light on the scene. It is quite a peaceful and intimate scene, however it is only a brief moment as a drop of burning wax wakes Cupid, who is enraged that Psyche has disobeyed him.


Joshua Reynolds, Cupid & Psyche

I was delighted to see these Cézanne paintings. The first, a still life, shows the artist’s distortion of perspective, demonstrated in the way the floor seems to tilt toward the viewer. The second painting was one of the highlights of the collection for me. The mountain shown here is Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne painted many times in his life. The patterning of colour seen in the fields, and the beautiful purple shades in the mountain make it a joy to look at. The placement of the tree shows an influence of Japanese prints.


Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cupid


Paul Cézanne, The Montagne Sainte-Victoire


And then there was a Renoir! It is a late work, and has quite a sketchy feel. I love the softness of Renoir’s style, and while this is not one of my favourites of Renoir’s work, it does capture his warm use of light, and creates an intimate moment. It reminds me of Degas’ works showing ballerinas backstage.


Pierre Auguste Renoir, Woman tying her shoe

I was also quite excited to see a Rodin sculpture. This small bronze piece was part of a collection examining movement, and it certainly captures a very dramatic pose. The bronze has quite a rough finish, and a greenish hue. It captures the power and physicality of the dancer in an unusual pose.


Auguste Rodin, Dance Movement


Isn’t this Monet painting beautiful? The brushwork is so light, resulting in a very soft impression overall. It almost looks like oil pastels were used. The way the flowers break out of the edge of the picture gives a sense of movement and energy, stopping the picture from becoming too static. It is signed in red on the bottom right hand corner.


Claude Monet, Vase of Flowers

Another Monet – quite similar to the one in the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection. I love the use of reflections in the water here, and the reds, browns and oranges of autumn seen on the left of the painting.


Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil

I was delighted to see a painting by Berthe Morisot, one of the female Impressionists. This work is quite polished compared to some of her other paintings which retain an Impressionist ‘sketchiness’ of finish. A favourite of mine is A Summer’s Day (currently in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin shared with the National Gallery of London).


Berthe Morisot, Portrait of a Woman

This Manet painting was one of the highlights (if not the highlight) of my trip to the Courtauld. I have studied it several times, and it was amazing to see it in person. It is a very arresting picture, and I spent a long time just taking it all in. We couldn’t find the signature at first, then my sister spotted it on one of the wine labels (see detail below). It is hung almost at eye level, allowing the viewer to engage with the painting. It is as though we are standing at the counter, waiting to be served by this sad-eyed barmaid. The mirror behind is fascinating, and gives a glimpse into the lively Parisian nightlife of Manet’s time.


Edouard Manet, Bar at the Folies-Bergere


Note Manet’s signature on the bottle on the far left.

This Manet was one of his most ‘Impressionist’ works. It appears to be a plein air scene – the dappled light on the water and the thick short brushstrokes show a rare moment of Impressionism in the artist’s style.


Edouard Manet, Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil

I love this Van Gogh landscape, as ever, I think his handling of paint is amazing. I love how thick the paint is on the canvas, and his expressive brushstrokes. The different textures in the landscape are so exciting, and the self-portrait too is very compelling. The self-portrait shows his use of streaky brushwork, and the intensity and power so often seen in his paintings.


Vincent van Gogh, Peach Trees in Blossom


Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

I love Seurat’s Pointillist technique – it’s incredible, and fascinating to look at. The difference between viewing the painting up close and from afar is really striking. It is a very interesting painting in many ways – technique, composition and subject matter – the young woman in question is the artist’s mistress.


Georges Seurat, Young Woman Powdering Herself

This footman holding a lantern was one of a pair flanking a doorway.  I wouldn’t mind having some statues like this myself!


This is the original poster for the hugely influential Post Impressionist exhibition of 1910 arranged by Roger Fry that was to have such an impact on modernism. The image used is one of Gauguin’s. Many of Gauguin’s works were on display as part of a temporary exhibition.


Roger Fry, 1910 exhibition poster

Speaking of modernism, here is a painting by Vanessa Bell, sister of renowned modernist writer Virginia Woolf. A strong influence of art can be seen in Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse. Just as Woolf’s work offers an insight into the mind and mentality of female protagonists, we see in this painting a focus on the intellectual life of women. The women in the painting are engaged in discussion, perhaps not unlike Bell’s and Woolf’s experiences as part of the Bloomsbury Group. In this work, Bell makes simplified use of colour and form, showing her modernist style. The women are positioned right at the edge of the canvas; it is as though the viewer can join in the discussion.


Vanessa Bell, A Conversation

I was immediately attracted to this painting by the lime green background, and the jaunty hat which this young woman wears. Munter has quite an illustrative style, and uses very heavy outlines. The use of colour is bold and blocky, creating a very striking portrait.


Gabriele Munter, Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat

I was very interested to see some paintings by Kandinsky, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his works before. I was amazed by the variety shown in the paintings on display – the style (and indeed the signature) of each painting was completely different. I loved the bold forms and colours in this work – it really makes an impact!


Kandinsky, Red Circle


There was also a Picasso work on display! This however, was not a Cubist affair, and is very different from the kind of work for which this artist is best known. The brushwork is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s work, but overall it is quite traditional compared to Picasso’s later work.


,, Pablo Picasso, Yellow Irises

Unfortunately the Degas room (which I was really looking forward to) wasn’t open when we visited, but I think you can see from this small selection of works on show at the Courtauld that there are many wonders to be seen there!

Exhibition: Vermeer and Music

What: Vermeer and Music The Art of Love and Leisure.
An exhibition examining the role of music in 17th century Dutch painting, including 5 works by Vermeer.
Where: National Gallery of London
When: Until 8th September 2013
Cost: Entrance: £7, Audio Guides £3 – but definitely worth it!

Vermeer & Music, at the National Gallery, London

Vermeer & Music, at the National Gallery, London

This temporary exhibition in the National Gallery of London explores the theme of music in 17th century Dutch painting. The exhibition culminates in five beautiful works by Vermeer, and also features works by artists such as Carl Fabritius, Peter van der Hooch, Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu as well as 17th century instruments and songbooks. It’s well worth getting the audio guide (£3) as you’re going around the exhibition – as well as comments by the curator of the exhibition, it features music experts from the Academy  who discuss the instruments and play pieces of music from the period.

My ticket, and the exhibition leaflet.

My ticket, and the exhibition leaflet.

It’s a rare thing to see so many Vermeers in one room – the five paintings on show represent a seventh of the artist’s total body of work. Prior to visiting this exhibition, I had only seen one Vermeer in person (Woman Writing A Letter, in the National Gallery of Ireland); to see so many Vermeer paintings together was quite an experience! Three paintings of women playing music hang on the same wall, representing a popular theme in Vermeer’s work. One of these, The Guitar Player, is on loan from Kenwood House. Another painting on display is The Music Lesson. This is an interesting work in that the figures are at the very back of the painting, meaning the viewer is looking in on a very intimate scene. All these paintings showcase what is so wonderful about Vermeer’s style – his mastery of light and detail.

Vermeer goodies! Bag, catalogue and postcard.

Vermeer goodies! Bag, catalogue, leaflet and postcard.

When I visited with my sister and a friend, we spent two hours going around the exhibition. It’s really wonderful, the detail of the Dutch paintings is incredible, and the theme of music is certainly an interesting one. My sister is a music student, so she particularly enjoyed seeing all the instruments on display. The paintings in the exhibition are mostly genre scenes, but there are also portraits and still lifes featuring musical instruments. This is a fascinating exhibition, one that any fan of Vermeer, or Dutch art in general, should definitely see!

The Cross of Moone


This is my 20th post, which is very exciting, and I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, commented and followed. You’re all wonderful! And without further ado, the Cross of Moone:

West side

West side

Park at the green door, and slip through the slit in the wall. After a lot of driving around, these were our instructions to reach the high cross. The cross is located in the ruin of a church, and has a wonderful glass roof to protect it from the elements. It also provides shelter for the visitors, something we were glad of on a very rainy Irish day! The cross dates from the 12th century, it is tall and slender with a small ring. The long shaft leaves ample room for decoration, and most of the panels are decipherable.

East side - note Adam & Eve panel at the base of the shaft

East side

On the east side we have a familiar Adam and Eve motif. The tree is quite unusual in that the leaves curve over the figures and reach the ground. This panel is a little weathered, but is still legible. Below this panel is first a scene of Abraham about to execute Isaac, and then Daniel and the Lions. Again we see a geometric arrangement, with the lions biting onto the blocky figure of Daniel.

Adam & Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Daniel and the Lions

Adam & Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Daniel and the Lions

East side, Christ in Majesty spread across intersection of the cross

East side, Christ in Majesty spread across intersection of the cross

The north side of the cross features scenes from the life of St Anthony, my favourite of these panels is the many-headed beast which St Anthony hallucinated in the desert. The twisting necks are reminiscent of Celtic interlace.

Temptation of St Anthony, and the desert beast

Temptation of St Anthony, and the desert beast

The west side of the cross is topped with an abstract swirling pattern. Just below the shaft is a crucifixion scene, a common theme for high crosses. One of my favourite scenes on the cross is the twelve apostles on the base – I love the blocky figures, and their geometric arrangement.

The three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and the twelve apostles

The three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and the twelve apostles

Finally, the south side of the cross features the delightful scene of the Flight into Egypt, with the baby Jesus’ head popping over Mary’s shoulder. The bottom panel is that of the loaves and fishes. Interestingly, the fish are depicted twice. Perhaps those at the top of the panel are a later addition? It is a very abstract composition.

Flight into Egypt, Loaves and Fishes

Flight into Egypt, Loaves and Fishes. Note the beast like fish on either side of the loaves – perhaps these are the originals?

As well as the handy roof protecting the cross, there is plenty of information at the site. I found the panel about the holed cross particularly interesting, I hadn’t heard of this type of high cross before. There were some fragments on site, and a drawing of how the complete cross would have looked.

DSCF4334 DSCF4332

I loved this image on one of the information panels, which gives an idea of what the Cross of Moone would have looked like when it was fully painted. This can be quite hard to picture, especially given that we are so used to seeing all these monuments and buildings as made of plain stone. Images like these completely alter our idea of how these sculptures were intended to be seen.


The Cross of Moone is well worth a visit, it is of great interest historically, artistically and religiously and is remarkably well-preserved. A real piece of heritage, and an artistic treasure.