Clarice Beckett – The Present Moment

“roll up your catalogue and view each picture through it. … You will be rewarded with a wonderful suggestion of light and air and sufficient detail, and finish.” So said critic Percy Leason and  fellow student of Clarice Beckett (1887- 1935), of her 1931 solo exhibition *.

Tea Gardens, c.1933, oil on canvas on pulpboard, 51.0 cm x 43.7 cm

Clarice Beckett’s work, rather like the artist herself, can be difficult to pin down. Her life story of  is the stuff to make movies of and has inspired at least one novel (Night Street, by Kristel Thornell, joint winner of the 2009 Vogel Award).  Her work only entered public collections in Australia some 35 years after her death. The vast majority of her output has been lost to both accidental and deliberate destruction. (I have included a very brief bio of her at the end of this post).

This major retrospective at the Art Gallery of South Australia features 130 works by Beckett. I believe that this is the largest exhibition of her work ever shown.

Summer Fields, Naringal, 1926, oil on board, 24.5 cm x 34.5 cm

Clarice Beckett falls under the broad rubric of an Australian Modernist artist. Her control of light and atmospheric effects is equal to that of Turner. She references Whistler in her own painting titles, is frequently compared to Corot and her colour studies (such as still remain) are a precursor of Rothko’s. That pretty much ticks the boxes for me.

Beach Scene,  c. 1932-3, oil on canvas,
52.1 cm x 62.0 cm

The subject matter of the majority of Beckett’s extant work is of Beaumaris, a bayside suburb of the city of Melbourne and the city of Melbourne itself. 

The Bus Stop, c. 1930, oil on board,
41.0 cm x 34.0 cm

It strikes me that you could easily be misled by the deliberate simplicity of the composition of the paintings. Beckett’s  approach was a “technique of applying broad areas of finely graded tones produces an image that is slow to come to life”.*  While there is weight in the subject matter, this approach allows the focus of her painting to be on the light effects she observes.

Wet Sand, Anglesea, 1929, oil on board,
29.3 cm x 39.0 cm

In many works the subject matter is almost an abstracted form, such as Passing Trams, c 1931 and in others, such as Wet Night, Brighton, 1930, an exercise in geometry, and yet there is such intensity in her focus that the results transcend such easy charaterisations.

Passing Trams, c. 1931, oil on board,
48.6 cm x 44.2 cm
Wet Night, Brighton, 1930, oil on board,
26.6 cm x 38.0cm

Beckett made most of her paintings on location. She wheeled her hand cart with her supplies, walking around a 5 km radius of her house, or travelling into the city. Her paintings are quite small by today’s art extravaganzas, often no more than A3 size, so the intensity of her work is all the more focussed into these small works. I am apologetic as these photographs barely do justice to the intensity of the paint surface. I will share with you some detail shots so hopefully this may become a bit more apparent.

Dusk, c. 1928, oil on canvas on board, detail, 37.5 x 45.5 cm
Taxi Rank, c. 1931, oil on canvas on cardboard, detail, 58.5 x 51.0 cm

Per usual I took as many painting notes inside the exhibition as time permitted, alas never as much time as I would like. I also did some further studies of her work from the exhibition catalogue.

A page from my gallery sketchbook, focussed on Beckett’s use of high toned pink highlights.
A page from my gallery sketchbook. Looking at Beckett’s compositions.

Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment is currently on show in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition runs until 16 May 2021. The exhibition is ticketed, but there are no timed entry requirements.

  • All quotes in this post come from the exhibition catalogue The Present Moment: The Art of Clarice Beckett, Tracey Lock, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2020 ; p 104 quoting P. Leason, ‘Current art shows’, Table Talk, 5 December 1931, p14; p 104 Tracey Lock

Biography

Beckett, the eldest daughter of a rural bank manager, studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne with Fredrick McCubbin (1914-16) and also for a brief period under the tutelage of Tonalist painter Max Meldrum. Clarice regularly exhibited and her work gathered notice, among a small group of people and was recognised briefly, even as far afield as New York.  She exhibited with several groups and held solo exhibitions every year from1923 to 1933. But when she died from pneumonia at age 48 her work was largely forgotten.

After her death some of her work was deliberately  burnt by her father. Other major pieces from her time staying with friends in rural Victoria were lost in a house fire. The vast majority of her canvases were put in a shed in rural Victoria where they disintegrated under an onslaught of weather and vermin. The canvases were tracked down in 1970 by Dr Rosalind Hollingrake who had been searching for years to find out more about the work of one C. Beckett. Of those canvases some 369 were saved and 1600 were beyond retrieval.

Beckett’s work was never acquired by a public gallery in her lifetime. Her works first entered the National Gallery of Australia in 1971, after Hollingrake showed the work at her gallery in Melbourne.

Rodin sculptures cross country challenge

I have just been comparing sketches with Carol Haywood of our past sketches of Rodin sculptures.

I wrote about my experiences sketching at the Rodin Museum in Paris two years ago. You can see my sketches here.

If you would like to join in sharing your sketches of Rodin sculptures please do so and link in so we can all see them.

Before I go here is the one that I didn’t have time to sketch at the Art Gallery of South Australia when I visited recently.

August Rodin, Flying Figure, large version 1890-91, enlarged 1895?, bronze,
(cast George Rudier Foundry, Paris 1968)

Up close to Rembrandt

(Quite a long post)

2019 marked the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt. Both the Rijksmuseum and at the Mauritshuis (Den Haag) were showing all their Rembrandt’s in special exhibitions. So we couldn’t miss this opportunity.

The one painting that I couldn’t get up close and personal with at the Rijksmuseum was The Night Watch, which was being digitally scanned when we were there. By complete coincidence the Rijksmuseum has just released that very digitised image this week. You can super zoom in on the image and watch as it gets more and more detailed as you look.

Nightwatch

The Night Watch (more correctly,  if long-windedly, called Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Most of these photos are from the Rijksmuseum and you will have to bear with the fact that some of them were taken from rakish angles as I attempted to get shots without the milling museum hordes.

Here we go! Rembrandt’s only full length portraits of a couple, Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, were painted in 1634. The subject of the portraits is as much about the wealth of the couple, as it is the sitters. The refined painted surface shows all the details of the elaborate lace, silver filigree and silk that the couple are wearing. Marten was an up-and-comer, whose father had moved to Amsterdam from Antwerp and made his fortune running a sugar refinery, and Oopjen was the daughter of an established Amsterdam family, 

rembrandt2a

Portrait of Marten Soolmans, 1634

rembrandt2b

Detail from the Portrait of Marten Soolmans, 1634. Just look at the detail in the wrinkle of the silk stocking, not to mention the woven pattern visible in the stocking of Marten’s left calf. The filigree work and punched holes in the shoes are astounding.

rembrandt3

Portrait of Oopjen Coppit, 1664, who married Marten Soolmans in 1633. She was pregnant with her first child when the painting was carried out.

rembrandt3a

Detail of the portrait of Oopjen Coppit, showing not only her pearls, but also the exquisite lace of her cuff and the fine silk of her dress.

Far and away my favourite ‘couple’ portrait by Rembrandt is this un-named man and woman, who chose to have themselves painted as the Biblical couple Isaac and Rebecca. This painting is often referred to as ‘The Jewish Bride’. The tenderness and warmth of their relationship is on show for all to see.

Rembrandt1b

Issac and Rebecca or The Jewish Bride, 1665-69

Rembrandt1a

Detail from Isaac and Rebecca or The Jewish Bride, 1665-69

In comparison to the previous two portraits Rembrandt used thick impasto paint and a palette knife on this work to give a more textured feel to the finished painting, though the details of the dress are in reality no less sumptuous than those of the previous works.

The Mauritshuis, situated in the Hague (Den Haag), was relatively quiet compared to the Rijksmuseum and it was definitely worth visiting. When I checked I realised that I took very few photos in the gallery.  I think that was because I was looking and sketching the Rembrandt portraits instead.

I am so pleased that I did take a photo of this poignant painting of King Saul, listening to the young David playing his harp.

rembrandt4

King Saul , a detail from Saul and David, 1651-54 and 1655-58

You can see my sketch of this on the lower right corner of the page below, along with the other self-portraits of Rembrandt, both as a young man and an old one.Rempage

Even now I get a thrill just remembering the chance we had to see all these amazing works.

And just because we are there already I will share with you a bonus shot of that other famous inhabitant of the Mauritshuis, Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring.

vermeer

The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Jan Vermeer, 1665, and a few admirers.

Angel of the North [Tuggeranong]

Our omaaarrrgggge (homage) to the Angel of the North by Sir Anthony Gormley

Well what can I say, I love the idea of the art challenge sweeping the world’s museums and galleries where people try and recreate famous artworks at home. #museumfromhome, #betweenartandquarantine.

This is our contribution, as we have a maquette of the Angel of the North, in the National Gallery of Australia collection. 

Photographer Stephen Lee

Materials provided by Book Depository and Wine Selectors. Tape by Flying Tiger.

The artist wore her own clothes (allbeit in unusual ways, she does know how to wear them normally).

Matisse-Picasso mini zine

(Warning, long post with lots of photos)

In the ‘excitement’ of the terrible hail storm yesterday while we were at the National Gallery of Australia I forgot completely about my mini Matisse-Picasso zine.

For non-locals, our weeks of smoke filled skies were cleared by a tremendously damaging hail storm yesterday. Here is a video of what the rain sounded like as we walked around inside the National Gallery of Australia. I was too stunned to get my video happening to record the sound of the hail striking the roof, suffice to say it sounded like the sky was throwing boulders.

The paintings are by Hugh Ramsay an extremely talented, Scottish born Australian artist who died in 1906 from tuberculosis at age 28.

The road and forecourt of the National Gallery of Australia covered in hail the size of golf balls.

Anyway, we originally went to the gallery to make our second visit to the Matisse-Picasso exhibition. While waiting to go in I sat down at the art workshop space just outside the entrance to the exhibition and started making a little collage with the idea of using it to draw on. It then occurred to me that I could make a book out of it. I did this with the help of a short video on how to fold a piece of paper into a book (ah the benefits of the gallery free wi-fi).

This is the closest photo I have of the way the paper looked before turning it into the mini book. This is the reverse side where the painting names and dates are listed.

One of the advantages of making such a small book (5 cm x 7.5 cm or 2 x 3inches), is that all the sketches had to be small and fairly simple. This is the little book as it was at the gallery, (we are pencil only in the gallery).

Picasso, Head of a Boy, 1906: Matisse, Meditation (Portrait of Laurette), c.1916

Picasso, Woman with Tambourine, 1936.

Picasso, Still Life with Pitcher and Apples, 1919: Matisse, The Plaster Torso, 1919.

The front and back of my little zine. Matisse, The Abduction of Europa, 1929: Matisse, Nono Lebasque, 1909.

For better or worse I added colour to the zine when I got home.

I had a great time making this little zine, indeed it’s small size encouraged me to just have fun with the process. I did do some slightly larger sketches in another book, but I think this might become quite addictive.

PS the video that I used to make the book can be found here.

One more parting photo. This is the road outside the gallery strewn with shredded foliage. It looks sort of sylvan, but for knowing how damaged the trees were.