I had a rare day out of the office today with my boss. It was, in fact, rather pointless and involved a trip up to London for a meeting that could have been done over the phone. But, as the meeting finished at midday, I decided to take advantage of the spare time I had before hopping back on the train back to the country. So, I hit the National Gallery and here are my highlights…
Susanna at her Bath -1850, Francesco Hayez
This painting is just beautiful. Susanna is so stunning with her pale skin, long dark hair and pursed lips. But it was her eyes that caught my attention from across the other side of the room. They are so piercing, so accusing and look right through you. Once you know that she is staring at two corrupt elders from the Apocryphal Book of Daniel (Chapter 13) who threaten to accuse her of adultery if she does not give into them, you realise why her gaze is so intense.
I love the stark colours of her skin & the white cloth around her against the dark background, it makes her all the more striking and is a brilliant representation of chiaroscuro (the term given to the contrast between light and dark).
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey – 1833, Paul Delaroche
I don’t know a lot about Lady Jane Grey but after seeing this painting I want to know everything! This scene of her execution is enormous and once again her pale skin & white clothing make her remarkably stunning. She was only 16 when she was sent to her death and her youth and beauty are portrayed beautifully here against the ageing Lieutenant of the Tower and executioner.
A Young Woman seated at a Virginal – about 1670-2, Johannes Vermeer
Vermeer was the main reason I wanted to go to the National Gallery. After studying him in depth in my art history course, I have become a big fan of his work. I love the way painters of the Dutch Golden Age illustrate perspective – placing an object in the foreground leading the viewer in (repoussoir), tiled flooring, specifically angled furniture and stark background walls with little interest. All of this is represented in this painting but what I love most about it is the doll-like features of the girl and the stunning way he has painted the fabric in her dress. If you stand away from the painting the fabric is so silky and the folds are so dramatic but stand up close and you see it is made up of very simple lines of about three tones of blue.
The Courtyard of a House in Delft – 1658, Pieter de Hooch
Pieter de Hooch is another Dutch Golden Age artist and this painting portrays the other reason I like this era. I am not a fan of religious paintings; quite frankly, they bore me! But during this movement artists began painting real-life, ordinary, everyday objects and scenes. De Hooch’s painting shows an ordinary day in Delft with no life changing event, just people going about their business. This form of painting was seen as a lesser form of art during its time but to me this is more important than any image of some miracle mentioned in the bible because this shows a moment in real history. Without these paintings we wouldn’t know what life was really like back then.
Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway – 1844, Joseph Mallord William Turner
This Turner painting particularly caught my eye because of its subject. My dad is fascinated by the history of the Great Western Railway, having always lived in the south of England, and as a child I was always taken to railway museums & steam engine rallies. But it was also the fact that the entire image is painted in his blurred style, including the train. Many of the Turner’s I have seen have had the sky and/or landscape painted in this style but with the focal object, such as a ship, much more defined. I like the fact that nothing is really distinguishable in this one.
Winter Landscape – probably 1811, Caspar David Friedrich
This was another painting that caught my eye from across the other side of the room. It’s not that big, just a little larger than a sheet of A4, but it’s eeriness is so captivating. The snow is stark white and, after the last few months of weather we’ve just had, the freezing fog was so familiar to me. But with its Gothic cathedral poking out through the fog it gave me a sense of the dark streets of Victorian England and Jack the Ripper! I barely noticed the crippled man lying against the rock and his crutches strewn across the foreground but I understand its symbolism. The scene is bleak and dark but the crippled man has struggled to a position where strong evergreen trees are thriving despite this and in their centre is placed a crucifix.