Galleries - January 2016

JANUARY 2016 GALLERIES 45 then learned to fly them as well! And it is just this kind of absorbtion and attention to detail that makes this exhibition such a revelation. Lanyon first flew in a glider over West Cornwall on 5 October 1959; initially the intention was to gain a new view of a territory he knew intimately and intensely since his birth in St Ives in 1918. He was already seen very much as a leader among that later generation of artists based in the town but now things were to change in ways perhaps even he hadn’t bargained for. He didn’t just get the view from above, so to speak, but a view from within as well, finding in the cloudscapes he now soundlessly inhabited, as he wrote to a friend, a subject “as complex as the sea.” Observing the clouds in their constant process of formation, maturity and dissolution, he found there the metaphors for birth and death, rise and fall, that make his paintings among the great achievements of mid-century British art. If he was American he would long since have become an artistic legend – the fact that he died, as the result of injuries received landing his glider in 1964, belies the remarkable power and emotion these great abstract works still, quite unmistakably, convey. Nicholas Usherwood Photography was only just 20 years old when Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), herself 48, took up the practice, and was accused of technical ineptitude. Despite a steady collection of supporters, her portrait photographs never quite enjoyed widespread popularity, particularly after her death. However, for the bicentenary of Cameron‘s birth, the Victoria and Albert Museum offers visitors the chance to reevaluate her work, and it seems to be the perfect time to do so. Objections to the work may not be difficult to imagine, although it’s not impossible that all the technical issues Cameron’s contemporaries found fault with – the blurriness of the image, the scratched prints and the occasional unsuccessful composition – won’t bother visitors today. Many of these deficiencies are purposeful decisions, the wall plaques say, reassuringly. Yet the skeptical visitor might be put off by the Victorian sensibilities of the images with their swooning sentimentality, which shows up particularly in the illustrations for ‘Idylls of the King’. Add to that the many apparent contradictions in her choice of subjects: portraits of old, bearded men, scientists such as Charles Darwin hang beside images of young innocents, girls with billowing garments and loose hair; the apparent immediacy of the image is belied by the tendency of the subjects to move and blur under the long exposure; the truth of the camera is offset by the artifice of each scene. All the above points are problematic, but in 2016 the photographs find a suitable audience. After all, it’s a viewership that is used to the manipulated photograph whether used for advertisement or self- promotion. These images are powerful and despite their fuzzy frame they come across as frank assertions of artistic direction and personality. Cameron’s photographs are made to delight and entertain, and visitors to the V&A with an open mind will find themselves in their thrall. Frances Allitt I know, from personal experience, how involved you can become as a curator when you start researching into the life and work of artists who really interest you. You begin to inhabit them in some way, have to be inside their visual world. So I completely understand Toby Treves, the co- curator of the superb ‘Soaring Flight: Glider Paintings of Peter Lanyon’ at the Courtauld Institute of Art when, as part of his research, he went up in a glider. At that point though things began to get somewhat out of hand – a painter friend who flew gliders remarked that it was an utterly different experience flying, to just being a passenger, so he Airborne CODA Fuzzy logic from left: J ulia Margaret Cameron ‘Circe’ 1865, Victoria and Albert Museum Peter Lanyon ‘North East’ 1963, oil on canvas, courtesy of Beaux Arts Gallery London, Courtauld Institute