All Too Human

Bacon, Freud & a Century of Painting Life

val from behind looking at paula rego pastel
Val with Paula Rego pastel
val in gallery tate britain
Val poised between Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

At Tate Britain

A really fabulous show – not to be missed – Despite some niggles!

to Aug 27 2018

As with most exhibitions we can always highlight obvious ommissions and inconsistencies, and this exhibition is no exception – why no Hockney or Chantal Joffe for example? However that said, it should not detract from its merits and the chance to see or see again some great paintings. The following is by no means meant to be an exhaustive review of the exhibition but simply a personal opinion.

The exhibition takes us loosely chronologically, in painting terms, through the 20th Century. The first room we enter brings together  a disparate group of artists, David Bomberg, Walter Sickert Stanley Spencer and bizarrely Chaim Soutine, brought together for no other apparent reason than that they all were active in the first half of the 20th Century. Yet get beyond the incongruousness of it and we still have some great painting on display. The two Stanley Spencer paintings of his lesbian wife Patricia Preece, both clothed and nude, displayed here either side of the door in the manner of Goya’s “Maja”,  shine out, with an almost forensic examination of the sitter – so out of reach for Spencer, down to the depiction of the veins under her skin. In a different way it was good to see Bomberg’s work up close, especially the painting of the gorge of Tajo at Ronda, just to see the colour and paint application.

Stanley Spencer - Patricia Preece 1933
Stanley Spencer - Patricia Preece 1935

No doubt the two biggest draws in the show are Bacon and Freud and they duly get the star treatment with their own rooms – separate but playing off of each other, although it has to be said some of the earlier Bacon’s on display were not the best examples, but there were some good pieces nonetheless, some not having been on display for a long time.

As for Freud, used as we are to seeing his in-your-face nudes it was interesting to see such tour de force of painting as “Two plants” of 1977.

It was also interesting to be able to compare an artist rarely seen in exhibition today – William Coldstream, Professor of Fine Art at the Slade in the 1950’s and his analytical approach to painting taken to the next level by his student Euan Uglow – the painting “Georgia” in the show showing the tell-tale signs of the obsessive, mathematically precise  measuring that characterised his work, apprently took 5 years to complete – I will leave it for you to decide if it was worth it!

freud two plants
Lucien freud - Two Plants 1977

A special treat for us was seeing the Michael Andrews paintings again after the last big retrospective of his work back in 2001, especially looking up close to the painting of himself swimming with his daughter , “Melanie and Me Swimming”, 1978-79, but also his larger ‘constructed’ compositions like “The Deer Park” of 1962.

michael andrews deer park
Michael Andrews - Deer Park 1962

The last two room in this exhibition are devoted to female artists, the first of which that showcasing Paula Rego is outstanding, not only in the complexity of the subject matter but also in the bravado technique, which merits close inspection for those wanting to learn how to use pastels effectively, particularly on a larger scale.

The final room has some fine paintings, The Jenny Saville is imposing, as her larger than life paintings always are and the works by Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye interesting, but for me the Celia Paul works were the stand outs here, especially “Family Group”.

Family group celia paul
Celia Paul - Family Group 1985-86