I called in at the Louis Vuitton exhibition which is a pop-up in a building just up from Temple tube station. It co-opts the language of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A by making maximum use of new technology together with close attention to the craft of making, which has been a long-standing interest of Louis Vuitton, emphasising its connection to the original workshop in Asnières-sur-Seine and its history stretching back to 1854 when its first shop opened in Paris (its first shop in London opened in Oxford Street in 1885):-
In trying to find out who was responsible for the statuary in the gardens of Chatsworth, I have realised that one of the key people in the decorative carving on the house was Henri Nadauld, a Huguenot stone carver who I first came across in the accounts at Castle Howard as Mr. Nedos. At Castle Howard he was responsible for the statues on the pediment and work in Ray Wood. At Chatsworth, he was paid for the carving of Cleopatra (£22), Antonius (another £22), Mars (£36) and the Muses. In 1702, he was paid £114 10s for ‘Ornaments in frieze and around windows over entrance, cyphers and coronets on 4 keystones in middle windows’, so he was presumably responsible for the magnificent ornamental detailing on the West Front:-
While I was on holiday I read the proof of Edmund de Waal’s latest book, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s a nearly impossible act to follow Hare with the Amber Eyes and the book is more ruminative and episodic, as suggested by the tentativeness of the title’s ‘a pilgrimage of sorts‘. But it has many of the same characteristics: an imaginative intensity of investigation into aspects of his private history, on this occasion the making and meaning of porcelain; his rich and often poetic use of language; an understanding of the relationship of the present to the past. He is particularly good on the discovery of porcelain in the court of Augustus the Strong, recreating the world of baroque alchemy, and on the Quaker milieu of William Cookworthy. There’s an alternative concealed narrative about the development of his own work, including a cryptic reference to Grievance. Maybe this will be the subject of his next book.
I heard last night of the death of Brian Sewell which is not wholly unexpected as Max Hastings gave him a valedictory dinner at the National Gallery in 2001 at which Sewell apparently gave brilliant impromptu responses to the paintings. I remember the moment when he emerged as a public figure defending Anthony Blunt from a telephone box in his etiolated voice. As a critic of historical exhibitions, he could be impressive. The first exhibition he reviewed that I was associated with was of Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery. He took the trouble to compare the English with the American catalogue and lambasted us for omitting some of the drawings from the London showing. But as a critic of twentieth century art he was unnecessarily and tiresomely negative.
At least I think I have found out the history of the great Sleeping Lions at the far end of the Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth. They were bought by the 6th. Duke from Rinaldo Rinaldi and Francesco Benaglia shortly after Canova’s death in 1822 . They cost 1,100 scudi and are copies of Canova’s lions on the base of his monument to Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico in St. Peter’s:-
Today, in the brilliant sun, I became interested in the quality and range of the original garden statuary. I’ve found it hard to find out about them. Caius Gabriel Cibber was paid to supply Flora, Diana, Venus and other classical subjects between 1687 and 1690 and an otherwise unknown sculptor, Augustine Harris, was paid £44 18s. 6d. in 1688 for seven statues. But some look later. They presumably provided ornament and diversion to the original formal gardens, mostly as copies of famous antique sculptures (see Haskell and Penny). Any further information and identification would be gratefully received:-
The first talk this morning was Michael Craig-Martin talking about his long career as an artist: starting at Yale where Josef Albers was a dominant influence with the teaching which led to The Interaction of Color; his first teaching job at the Bath Academy of Art, where he was hired in 1966 by Clifford Ellis who had established the school on the lines of the Bauhaus (he started teaching on the same day as Tom Phillips); how small the art world was in those days and how centred on the art schools; how he was taken up by the Rowan Gallery, which was run by Alex Gregory-Hood, an army officer; the success of An Oak Tree, an ultra-minimalist work which was bought by the National Gallery of Australia; and how he turned to the representation of everyday objects and colour in the late 1970s. There was almost no reference to his importance as a teacher, only to his current international success, in Bregenz, Shanghai and Chatsworth.
The first talk of the morning was the Duke of Devonshire talking about the evolution of his taste and what he is doing in terms of the acquisition of contemporary art at Chatsworth. He gave a robust description of his interest in contemporary art, influenced by his father’s decision to commission a portrait of his wife by Lucian Freud in 1958 and they way they ignored the criticism of their friends and by his parents-in-law who lived in a flat designed by Chermayeff in Chelsea. Then as a student he discovered contemporary work in Kasmin’s Gallery, but now contecentrates more on furniture and ceramics. I found it intriguing hearing a description of the difference in attitude between his father (and his generation) who concentrated on the task of preservation and protection after the depredations of the war and the current Duke’s generation which is as interested in making its own contribution through a process of organic change.
I slept as near as could be to the Sabine Room, one of the state rooms on the third floor on the west front, which was decorated not by Verrio and Laguerre, who had been employed in the previous phases of construction, but by James Thornhill. Thornhill was unusual at this period in being English, born to a Dorset gentry family in 1675, apprenticed to Thomas Highmore, and completing his apprenticeship in 1696. This is one of the grandest of his decorative schemes, painted with much more flair and vigour than I would have expected from him, and depicting the Rape of the Sabine Women. It was done in 1706, just before he was commissioned to paint the hall at Greenwich Hospital, and before the death of the first Duke.
In the first session of Art Out Loud Hannah Rothschild talked about the intellectual origins of her novel The Improbability of Love: her early experience of museums and galleries, being taught by Francis Haskell, touring the art galleries of Europe with her father and her interest in provenance. But most of the discussion was about the different ways that people experience pictures in museums and galleries and, most especially, the National Gallery. Is it because they are moved by the biblical narrative ? Unlikely. Is it about the quest for authenticity in a digital world ? Is it because visitors relate emotionally to what is going on in the picture ? I was reminded of an experiment at the time of Rembrandt’s 400th anniversary when visitors were asked to describe their experience of the paintings and how varied – and unpredictable – the responses were.