Monday, 27 May 2013

Manchester Art Gallery, Melancholy

I haven’t blogged in weeks, so I thought I’d make myself write a post, to get back into the discipline of it. I’m getting lazy, although I have been busy of late.

So, Manchester Art Gallery.. although my favourite painting, Hylas and the Nymphs by Waterhouse is exhibited there, I’ll not dwell on it, but what I will say is that the nymphs are all so pretty I want to shove the burly Argonaut out of the way, perhaps into a thorny topiary, be beguiled myself and jump in the water with them. So, moving on..

The three paintings I wanted to focus on all have an air of melancholy about them, when visiting galleries on my own, I am immersed in my own thoughts, I have a different appreciation to that which I get when I visit with others. An experience which is more focused and perhaps drawn more to the dark.

The three paintings are, An Island by LS Lowry (1942), Mamma Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (1901-1906) and Under Windsor Bridge on the Irwell, Manchester (Adolphe Valette 1912).

The minimal grey-dark colours and compositions of all of these paintings, pull and drag at you. I was attracted to them. It was a mid-April evening, Thursday was late opening night, outside was cold and oppressive, the clouds heavy with threatening rain which fell intermittently. The scene was set.

Lowry’s “An Island” is so sad. A building, seemingly intact, amongst a wasteland. In the midst of the second world war, it isn’t clear to me (although I’m sure a bit of research will reveal the answer) whether the devastation around the mill in the centre of the painting was caused by bombs or social decay. Either way, the building is abandoned, everything around it is shattered. Lowry, a painter I never really paid much heed to before, because I’d never spent enough time to appreciate him, has captured something so lonely. He painted this at a time when he was suffering from depression, you can sense something of this.

(pic from bbc “your paintings”)

I’ve always admired Walter Sickert, he painted social scenes, dark themes, even in his paintings of music halls, beyond the colour, the light captures the haggard hard life on the faces of performers and in the crowd. This painting, one I’d never seen before is called Mamma Mia Poveretta (“my poor old mother” I believe is a fairly accurate translation). One of his models or acquaintances brought in her mother for him to paint and you can see the world weary beauty of this old Italian lady. The lines in her face, the quiet dignity in her eyes. Although dark, I think this is a delightful painting. She’s been asked to sit, to pose quietly and this captures something of her essence.

Finally, a work by another painter I haven’t really appreciated to date, Alphonse Valette, his impressionism took in scenes of industrial Manachester. The gloom and ghostly transience of his paintings are incredible. This painting, “Under Windsor Bridge on the Irwell, Manchester” is fabulously rich despite it’s minimal use of colour. You can taste the fog, feel the cold in the hunched shoulders of the man with his back to us.

There is so much to see in Manchester Art Gallery, the pre-Raphaelite collection is inspiring of course, but there’s more.