However, Anthony J. Lester still finds enough to keep all but the most fanatical ‘exhibitionholic’ engaged.
For me, the overriding ingredient in any work of art is quality, with the occasional bit of waggishness thrown in! After sixty years, what I have learned when considering the merits of fine art is that there is neither old or new, only good or bad. Call me a dinosaur if you like, but I find it difficult to understand the logic of some ‘art’. For example, in April at Sotheby’s, Paris, somebody paid £710,000 (plus buyer’s premium) for an invisible painting by the French artist, Yves Klein (1928-1962). What the purchaser acquired was just a paper receipt dated 1959, for a “Zone de sensibilité picturale immatérielle” (“zone of empty space”). To me this is classic ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome, so what I recommend here is art to give joy to the eyes.
Given the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (continues until 21st August) is the most contentious annual showcase of art, I will start by saying that this event represents the ‘good, the bad and ugly’ of contemporary art. The public love it, the critics often ridicule it! This year’s exhibition’s central topic is global warming but, writing in the Guardian (15th June), Jonathan Jones admirably sums it up as “Wilting flowers, soppy woodlands …. This climate kitsch is about as concerning about the environment as Boris and Carrie Johnson.” I spent nearly two hours scrutinising the 1465 works and decided that some of the best quality pictures are prints in room IV. My eye was taken by Gregor Smith’s (b. 1944) etching Passing Lismore (no. 456, £400) and Paul Hodge’s thought-provoking linocut Seeking Refuge I (no. 478, £350).
If like me, you find the Royal Academy exhibition disheartening, cross over the road for a calorie-infused, uplifting afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason – the celebrated food emporium, which was founded 61 years before the RA! Refreshed, leave via the Duke Street exit, cross the road and enter the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, 28 Duke Street, SW1Y 6AG. Running until 26th August, the gallery presents The Art of Still Life, which features works by Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005), Bruce McLean (b. 1944) and William Tillyer (b. 1938). However, the show’s highlight must be the five oils by Georges Braque (1882-1963), which includes Légumier, citron, oranges painted in 1924 and Nature morte à la grande cruche, created in 1955.
Between 5th and 9th September Gallery Eight, 8 Duke Street, SW1Y 6BN, stage an exhibition entitled Dazzling Water. It is a solo show of oils (from £4,200) and oil pastels (£500-£670) by Nick Schlee (b. 1931), who’s highly spirited work is inspired after watching the sparkle on the Pang, a fast-flowing stream, as it joins the slow-moving Thames. The water theme continues at Messum’s, 12 Bury Street, SW1Y 6AB, between 3rd to 26th August, when the gallery walls are bedecked with over 70 articulate paintings of Martyn R. Mackrill (b. 1962), generally considered to be Britain’s leading maritime artist. Little wonder Mackrill is currently Honorary Painter to the Royal Yacht Squadron.
Art does not get more traditional than that offered in the Annual Summer Show, which continues until 3rd September at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8-10 Ryder Street, St. James’s, SW1Y 6QB. With over 100 fine watercolours, oils and etchings, highlights include a remarkable group of watercolours by Rose Barton (1856-1929) – I was smitten by her atmospheric A Promenade in the Park, Kensington (£22,500). There are several fine etchings by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), including Cleopatra’s Needle, Waterloo and Shipping and Gulls Below St. Pauls, each priced at £950.
Beyond St. James’s there are other shows worthy of a viewing. Continuing until 3rd September the Purdy Hicks Gallery, 25 Thurloe Street, SW7 2LQ present Painting, which brings together the work of Pat Harris (b. 1953), Andrzej Jackowski (b. 1947), David Quinn (b. 1971) and my favourite, the thickly painted oils depicting sea waves by German painter, Ralph Fleck (b. 1951). Modern British Art is the path taken at the Crane Kalman Gallery, 178 Brompton Road, SW3 1HQ with their Summer Selection until 2nd September. Names that are well-known are a strong point here – several works by L. S. Lowry (1887-1976), including Old Buildings, Edinburgh, an oil, painted in 1937; Sugar Beet, East Anglia, a large, striking watercolour by Edward Burra (1905-1976) and a vigorously drawn pencil and chalk drawing, of a seated nude, by Henry Moore (1898-1986).
Artistic icons don’t come much more impressive than those being offered until 28nd August at the Maddox Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, W1S 2QE. Entitled Post-Pop! and set across four floors in a converted Victorian house, this impressive space is hung with works by Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Jeff Koons (b. 1955) and a current art market favourite, Banksy (b. 1974).
Looking ahead, here’s one for the diary – PAD (www.padesignart.com), the only UK fair exclusively dedicated to 20th century and contemporary design. Between 10th and 16th October, 67 galleries will proffer everything from jewellery to tribal art in an elegant tent on Berkeley Square, in the heart of London’s affluent Mayfair district.
Anthony J. Lester, FRSA
Man Made Nature, mixed media by Ben Edge (b. 1985), £12,000. Royal Academy
Deux Poires, oil by Georges Braque. Bernard Jacobson Gallery
The Pang River on its way to the Thames, oil by Nick Schlee, £4,200. Gallery Eight
A Good Run Home, oil by Martyn R. Mackrill, £36,500. Messum’s
Charing Cross Bridge, watercolour by Rose Barton (1856-1929), £14,500. Chris Beetles Gallery
Cockerel Design, oil by Duncan Grant (1885-1978). Crane Kalman Gallery
Pulp Fiction, Screen Print by Banksy. Maddox Gallery