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In Cardiff

Julian Bell: Gillian Ayres, 13 July 2017

... The huge canvases​ Gillian Ayres painted during the 1980s rush at you like Atlantic breakers. Bursts of orange, viridian, scarlet, yellow and cyan tumble forward and engulf you; convulsions of oil paint are thrown up at such a pace they seem weightless. Handfuls are grabbed from paint pots and thrust every which way, urging the viewer to fall in with the flux ...

At the Ashmolean

Julian Bell: ‘Cézanne and the Modern’, 3 April 2014

... If you want to pick a quarrel with Cézanne, Cézanne and the Modern at the Ashmolean provides cues. Take his own quarrel with lines. Cézanne walks into the woods with a sheet pinned to a board. A tree trunk heads upwards, reaching for light. Cézanne’s pencil follows it. There is a line in nature and now there is a line on the sheet. But no, that won’t do ...

At Tate Britain

Julian Bell: ‘British Folk Art’, 3 July 2014

... Proud’​ is an epithet that extends from the parade to the workbench. The swagger of troops marching down the street is transferred by the carpenter to the nail that juts out, no less cocky, no less full of itself. There’s much in Tate Britain’s new exhibition, British Folk Art (until 31 August), that straddles both forms of pride. It opens with a fanfare of stout, galumphing tradesmen’s signs: the outsize models of boots, keys, teapots, top hats and so on that dangled over high streets two centuries ago ...

At the Ashmolean

Julian Bell: Claude Lorrain, 1 December 2011

... The exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford until 8 January, Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Landscape, brings to one gallery three of the most haunting canvases of the 17th century. One belongs to the museum: Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Silvia, which was probably still on Claude’s easel when he died in 1682, just as old as the century. A second is the National Gallery favourite The Enchanted Castle, identified by scholars as Landscape with Psyche outside the Palace of Cupid ...

At the Whitechapel

Julian Bell: Wilhelm Sasnal, 5 January 2012

... The exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (until 1 January), surveying ten years’ work by the 38-year-old Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal, gets other painters arguing. Everyone has their dislikes. Mine is the largest and most recent canvas, Pigsty. Black lines pick out a long low agricultural compound – whitewashed walls pierced by thin black windows – that stretches some 13 feet between a grey sky and the heavy green of the Polish plains ...

At the Royal Academy

Julian Bell: Jean-Etienne Liotard, 19 November 2015

... By​ the 1780s, when the German writer Pierce von Campenhausen visited the Ottoman dependency of Moldavia, its capital, Iaşi, belonged to an Orient that would be familiar to readers of Edward Said. A ‘degraded’ populace was mesmerised by ‘the constant expectation of the arrival of some fatal order’: the gorgeous costumes of the women rendered ‘their indolent languor peculiarly voluptuous’; doubly supine, the ladies at court were ‘characterised by a melancholy cast of countenance, which derives increased interest from the unequalled beauty and animation of their eyes ...

At the Watts Gallery

Julian Bell: Richard Dadd , 30 July 2015

... Portrait painting​ requires stillness. What, for the subject, is it like to be still? As far as one can tell, the gentleman facing Richard Dadd in 1853 had nothing that he wished to project: his attire was dapper, his red locks kempt, but his eyes did no more than attend, uninflectedly staring back at those that analysed him. At the same time the painter, adjusting the tonal weights that composed the sitter’s head, arrived at a subtle asymmetry that fractured the psychological monotony, touching some faultline in his subject’s self-possession ...

At Tate Britain

Julian Bell: ‘Migrations’, 8 March 2012

... Troubling’: that’s the word chosen by Penelope Curtis, the new director of Tate Britain, in her preface to the catalogue for Migrations, the gallery’s recently opened exhibition (it closes on 12 August). She’s referring to the name of the institution she heads. The launch of Tate Modern in 2000 gave Tate curators the thankless and well nigh incoherent task of demarcating which of their holdings belonged to a story about a specific nation and which to a story about value systems in general ...

At Tate Modern

Julian Bell: Edvard Munch, 30 August 2012

... You could mount an exhibition entitled ‘The Moment of Edvard Munch’. It would focus on the Norwegian who first hit Paris in 1885, aged 21, and who, energised by his immersion in contemporary French painting, became a linchpin of the Berlin avant-garde of the 1890s. A gatecrasher to the metropolitan party, playing havoc with its pictorial etiquettes – that might be the drift ...

At the RA

Julian Bell: Daumier , 21 November 2013

... A Daumier lithograph of 1857 shows a marble statue on a plinth coming alive in the midst of the busy Salon. She clenches her fists and bawls in sheer frustration. No one hears her. No one sees her – and that is the reason for the ‘triste contenance de la Sculpture’, as the caption has it. In an out-turned circle, the top-hatted Parisian art-lovers turn their backs on the plinth, gawping instead at the paintings packed dado to ceiling on the Salon’s walls ...

In Margate

Julian Bell: Alex Katz, 8 November 2012

... A selection of works done across sixty years by the New York painter Alex Katz has left Tate St Ives for the opposite end of southern England. The upper galleries of Margate’s recently opened Turner Contemporary (where the show continues until 13 January 2013) make a handsome destination. You pass from big windows that give onto the stark North Sea with its distant forests of wind farms, to enter two big skylit galleries, no less stirringly stark ...

At the National Gallery

Julian Bell: Seduced by Art, 3 January 2013

... How will we feel, seeing photographs hung for the first time in a temple dedicated to painting? That is the experiment the National Gallery has undertaken with Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present (until 20 January). A cautious experiment, in that Hope Kingsley, the curator, has selected only photographs consciously created in relation to the painting tradition – pictures she is able to group under the traditional genres of portrait, landscape, still life and so on ...

At the National Gallery

Julian Bell: Gauguin Portraits, 5 December 2019

... Gauguin’s​ 1893 painting of Tehamana, the teenager with whom he cohabited during his first visit to Tahiti, shows her seated facing forward, yet her eyebrows no more match than the share and handle of a plough: one is a stout black wedge, the other a long curving arc. The eyes beneath them slip sideways, evading attention, and if you look closely you’ll notice that their sockets are tilted on subtly differing planes ...

At the RA

Julian Bell: Rubens and His Legacy , 5 March 2015

... The apple​ hadn’t yet fallen on Newton when Rubens died in 1640. Bodies might have weight, but gravity made a local rather than a comprehensive claim on them. Minerva’s heel thrusts down on the hip of Sedition in a sketch for the Whitehall Banqueting House ceiling Rubens painted in the 1630s, but the hag she seeks to pitch into the depths has no means of support: won’t they tumble together, as if into the Reichenbach Falls? And yet the picture makes a plausible claim on our physical intuitions ...

At Tate Britain

Julian Bell: Van Gogh, 1 August 2019

... Miners in the Snow​ (1880) was Vincent van Gogh’s first pictorial declaration of intent. Unable to hold down work in the family picture trade or as a preacher, he was persuaded by his brother Theo to turn his energies to drawing, and after some copying exercises he came up with this sheet. A large – roughly A2 – and scruffy affair, worked mostly in graphite with touches of wash and chalk, it is currently on show at the exhibition Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain (until 11 August ...

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