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August 03 2012

Bouncy castles, bathers and Beyoncé – the week in art

Jeremy Deller's bouncy Stonehenge hits London, plus Thomas Houseago's eerie sculptures take over Norwich and the best of the Edinburgh art festival – all in today's weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Thomas Houseago

The images and textures this Leeds-born sculptor creates are curious, memorable and eerie. Houseago has an eye for the grotesque and uncanny that makes me think of the German surrealist Max Ernst. His fame in Britain is lessened by his choice to live in Los Angeles, about as far away as you can get from our overcrowded art scene. Yet Houseago is shaping up as one of the true originals of modern British art.
Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, until 27 January 2013

Other exhibitions this week

Andrew Miller
Miller has created the pavilion for this year's Edinburgh art festival, where information can be had and live events will take place.
St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, until 2 September

Philip Guston
This great American artist reached his most original and insightful heights, or depths, in the late works this exhibition celebrates.
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until 7 October

Tania Kovats
One hundred specimens of water from one hundred British rivers constitute this new work for the Edinburgh art festival.
Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh, new permanent work

Edvard Munch
Need a break from Olympic fever? Munch's chill of the soul will curb your enthusiasm.
Tate Modern, London SE1, until 14 October

Masterpiece of the week


Cezanne, Bathers, about 1894-1905
The pulsating fantasies and longings of a very lonely man are transfigured into crystalline symmetries in this strange work of profound beauty.
National Gallery, London WC2N

Image of the week

What we learned this week

What a shame it is that Jay-Z and Beyoncé's architecture of choice is so naff

How Jeremy Deller's bouncy castle made Stonehenge a bit of a joke

A Roy Lichtenstein has been rediscovered in a warehouse after 42 years

Exactly how Dieter Roth chronicled his own death on camera

How artists from David Hockney to Michael Rosen have been inspired by the Olympics

And finally …

Post your personal images that sum up what London means to you on the Guardian Art and Design Flickr page

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July 31 2012

Why Picasso's Joker trumps Van Gogh and Cézanne

While others were besotted with beauty, Picasso showed a radical appetite for ugliness in his painting of the bohemian, Bibi la Purée, which has just gone on display at the National Gallery

Pablo Picasso's portrait of Bibi la Purée stands out bizarrely in the post-impressionist room at London's National Gallery where it has just gone on view. The horrible complexion of this absinthe-drinking former actor, painted by the 20-year-old Picasso in Montmartre in 1901, is an uneasy interloper among Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Cézanne's Bathers. Even in this youthful work, the shocking radicalism and daring of Picasso glares from the wall like the awful flower in Bibi's jacket.

Grotesque, ugly and monstrous, this man could be an early design for The Joker or a junk-addled clown. Clearly the young Picasso was fascinated by the low life of Paris and drawn to the demi-monde where art met absinthe. If Bibi la Purée seems to belong to the world of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec that's because Toulouse-Lautrec was Picasso's hero when he first encountered the art and atmosphere of Paris. The 20-year-old Spanish visitor here tries his hand at painting like the chronicler of Montmartre's dancers and prostitutes. Being Picasso, his attempt at emulation turns into a work of uncomfortable originality.

Seeing Picasso in the National Gallery, which has got the portrait of Bibi la Purée on long-term loan from a private collection, is tremendous. He belongs here. His art exploded out of the European traditions of art this museum exhibits, and all his life he engaged with the masters of earlier centuries as rivals, enemies, models. It is in the context of such a collection that you see his audacity to the full.

This painting, in this collection, reveals Picasso's revolutionary appetite for ugliness. Next to Bibi la Purée, the nearby paintings of Van Gogh and Cézanne seem besotted with a cult of beauty invented by the Renaissance. Their colours harmonise and they exult in nature. Picasso instead delights in coarsely ill-matched colours and a face pale and diseased from modern city life. He is really on to something here, in 1901, as he sees discord as the art of modern life. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is just six years away. He will paint it in a studio in the same Montmartre where he met Bibi la Purée.


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April 16 2012

Don't judge an artist by his bank balance

From Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci, artists have been getting big money for centuries. So why do we judge contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons on the fortunes they make?

The 16th-century artist Raphael once wrote a very frank letter to a relative. He wanted to explain how well he was doing in his career. The Pope was paying him thousands of gold ducats, he explained, as well as loads of gold scudi. He had also agreed to an arranged marriage with a cardinal's niece. Essentially, he was coining it in. He lived in a palace, and a visitor was amused to find it contained a statue of Philemon, an ancient writer famous for being money-grubbing.

Meanwhile, at the end of his life in France, Leonardo da Vinci was paid several thousand ecus a year by the French king and got a chateau thrown in.

It's worth remembering such tales of the wealth of the great artists when the subject of art and money comes up. There is no doubt that art and money have a crazy relationship in the 21st century. A picture of Cézanne's recovered painting The Boy in the Red Vest at a press conference in Serbia shocked me. This beautiful painting was stolen in 2008 and has now been found, mercifully unharmed. At the press conference it was flanked by two masked, armed men, just to be on the safe side. And why? The painting is valued at £82.8m.

Figures like that are hard to comprehend. The financial value put on art has become fanciful. Writing about art every day but never buying or selling any, in a way I am like a sports commentator who has never put on a pair of running shoes (you can probably think of better images). Yet in our straitened times, the money that art attracts is looked at more critically than it was during recent boom years. When people now see collectors' yachts at the Venice Biennale or a diamond skull at Tate Modern the money becomes the subject, and it may seem wrong and shameful, an absurd corruption of the creative spirit.

I beg to differ. Art has been a luxury good ever since people started to make "art" as such, and artists have been getting big money for centuries. If I say that Raphael was just as mercenary as Jeff Koons, a few answers are possible. One might be that he deserved his money and Koons does not: another might be that Raphael was more grasping than other artists in his time – but Michelangelo and Titian got just as rich. Another answer is that even the fortunes of these artists pale in comparison with contemporary artistic profits.

The last argument, that art's relationship with money today is more out of control than it ever was, makes little sense. Money itself is different. The economy is larger. The fact is that great artists in the past could earn sums that shocked their contemporaries just as they can today. Making a fortune from art is making a fortune from art.

The only honest reason to be disgusted with today's highly paid artists is that you believe their art is not worth the money. Thus opponents of conceptual art are not really appalled that a Koons makes so much money, but that he gets so much for doing what they perceive as so little. It is an argument about artistic quality disguised as an argument about morality. But some people can't see why painters should be paid, either. A footballer opined on the Guardian site last week that a Lucian Freud painting, although he liked it, wasn't worth the money paid for it. Er, how much do football players make again?

Personally I think art is worth a lot more than soccer. But that's just my opinion. Sports fans can presumably see why players are worth what they earn. Neither a sportsman nor a conceptual artist is a miner. Their work is "soft". We value it because we choose to.

The grimmest thing about these grim times is that everyone is more focused on money. It's better not to let that turn into envy. You can love or loathe this artist or that. It is, however, foolish to base that judgment on what you believe to be in their bank account.


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April 13 2012

A window on reality: Paul Cézanne's Avenue at Chantilly

Jonathan Jones chooses his favourite spring artworks – in the last of the series, a shady avenue offers a glimpse of a secret revelation



April 12 2012

Cezanne masterpiece recovered by Serbian police

Three suspects arrested after discovery of painting thought to be Boy in a Red Waistcoat, stolen at gunpoint in 2008 in Zurich

Police in Serbia believe they have recovered an impressionist masterpiece by Paul Cezanne worth at least £68m that was stolen at gunpoint in one of the world's biggest art heists four years ago, a police official has said.

"We believe the painting is Cezanne's Boy in a Red Waistcoat and three suspects were detained in connection with that," said a police official.

"Experts in Serbia and abroad are trying to ascertain whether the painting is an original. This painting is worth tens of millions of euros," the official added.

The canvas was one of four paintings stolen from a Swiss art gallery in 2008 by a trio of masked robbers who burst in just before closing time and told staff to lay on the floor.

The paintings were reportedly worth over £100m at the time and the heist was the biggest art theft in Swiss history and one of the largest in the world. The painting was stolen in 2008 from the Emil Georg Bührle gallery in Zurich, a private collection founded by a second world war arms dealer and entrepreneur.

Two of the stolen canvasses, one by Claude Monet and the other by Vincent van Gogh, were recovered days later abandoned in a car, but the other two – the Cezanne and a painting by Edgar Degas, have been missing for the last four years.

Cezanne's Boy in a Red Waistcoat is thought to have been painted around 1888 and depicts a boy in traditional Italian dress – a red waistcoat, a blue handkerchief and a blue belt. Three other versions of the painting are in museums in the United States.

Last October, Serbian police recovered two paintings by Pablo Picasso stolen in 2008 from a gallery in the Swiss town of Pfäffikon, near Zurich.

The police official said law enforcement agencies from several countries had co-operated in the investigation that led to the apparent recovery of the Cezanne masterpiece.

Serbia's state prosecutor is expected to issue a statement or give a press briefing on the case later on Thursday.


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December 12 2011

Cézanne: paint it black

After decades of writing about art, John Berger thought he knew Cézanne. But a Paris retrospective proved a revelation

Any European who lived during the 20th century and was passionate about painting had to come to terms with the mystery, the achievement, the failure or the triumph of Paul Cézanne's life's work. He died six years after the century began, aged 67. He was a prophet, although like many prophets this was not what he set out to be.

At the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, there is now a magnificent exhibition of 75 paintings from all periods of his life. This offers us the chance to look at him, in all his originality, yet again. To me, after a lifetime's companionship with him, the show was a revelation. I forgot about impressionism, cubism, 20th-century art history, modernism, postmodernism – and saw only the story of his love affair, his liaison, with the visible. And I saw it like a diagram, one of those diagrams you find in a booklet of instructions about how to use a new appliance or tool.

Let's begin with the black found in many of his earliest works, painted when he was in his 20s. It's a black like no other in painting. Its dominance is somewhat similar to the darkness in late Rembrandts, only this black is far more tangible. It's like the black of a box that contains everything that exists in the substantial world.

About 10 years further into his career, Cézanne begins to take colours out of the black box: not primary colours, but complex, substantial colours, and he searches to find places for them in what he is looking at so hard: a roof or an apple for a red, a body for a skin colour, a particular area of sky between clouds for a blue. These colours he takes out are like woven fabric except that, instead of being made from thread or cotton, they are made from the traces a paintbrush or palette-knife leaves in oil paint.

Then, during the last 20 years of his life, Cézanne begins to apply those swabs of colour to the canvas, not where they correspond to the local colour of an object, but where they can indicate a path for our eyes through space, receding or oncoming. He leaves more and more patches of the white canvas untouched. These patches are not mute, though: they represent the emptiness, the hollow openness, from which the substantial emerges.

Cézanne's prophetic late works are about creations – the creation of the world or, if you wish, the universe. I'm tempted now to call the black box, which I see as his starting point, a black hole – yet to do so would be a verbal trick and, therefore, too easy. Whereas what Cézanne did was obstinate, persistent, difficult.

During his journey as a painter, I believe his state of mind changed eschatologically, his thinking becoming more apocalyptic. From the very beginning, the enigma of the substantial obsessed him. Why are things solid? Why is everything, including ourselves as human beings, made of stuff? In his very early work, he tended to reduce the substantial to the corporeal: the human body in which we are condemned to live. And he was acutely aware of what being flesh meant: our desires, our blind longings and our aptitude for gratuitous violence. Hence his repeated choice of subjects such as murder and temptation. It was perhaps better that the black box be kept shut.

Gradually, however, Cézanne began to expand the notion or sensation of corporeality, so that it could include things that we do not normally think of as having a body. This is particularly evident in his still lives. The apples he painted have the autonomy of bodies. Each apple is self-possessed, each has been held in his hand and recognised as unique. His empty porcelain bowls are waiting to be filled. Their emptiness is expectant. His milk jug is incontestable.

In the third and final phase of Cézanne's life's work, according to my notional diagram, he pushed the notion of corporeality further still. A teenager, probably his son, lies on the grass by a river somewhere near Paris and is visibly touched by the air around him – in the same way as his Mont Sainte Victoire in Provence is touched by the sunlight and wind of a particular day's weather. Cézanne was discovering a complementarity between the equilibrium of the body and the inevitability of landscape. The indentations of some rocks in the forest of Fontainebleau have the intimacy of armpits. His late baigneuses form ranges like mountains. The deserted quarry at Bibémus looks like a portrait.

What is the secret behind this? Cézanne's conviction that what we perceive as the visible is not a given but a construction, put together by nature and ourselves. "The landscape," he said, "thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness." He also said: "Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet."

This is how he unpacked his black box.


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August 19 2011

Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, and Therrien – the week in art

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Jonathan Jones's top shows to see this week

Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge
The relationship between the visionary lowlife chronicler Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and one of his favourite models, the dancer Jane Avril, is this exhibition's theme. Brilliantly drawn, tenderly coloured, always emotionally engaged with their subjects, Toulouse-Lautrec's depictions of Paris are tougher and more serious than his fame might suggest.
• At Courtauld Gallery, London WC2R, until 18 September

Splendour and Power: Imperial Treasures from Vienna
The Habsburg rulers of the Austrian Empire were fanatical collectors of everything from coral to Correggio paintings. Here is a rich selection from their historic hoards.
• At Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 16 August until 8 January

John Cage
Chance fascinated Cage, who had as much influence on art as on music. Here are the experiments of a man who inspired his friends Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and whose compositions can be understood as sculpture.
• At Hayward Gallery, London SE1, until 18 September

Charles Jencks: Life Mounds
It might be objected that the spectacular way Jencks sculpts curvaceous earthworks is too easy, a modern version of the picturesque landscape gardens of the 18th century. But the picturesque has its pleasures, then and now.
• At Jupiter Artland, outside Edinburgh, until 18 September

British Art Show 7
Last chance to see the Edinburgh showing of this grab bag of where it's at. Local literary giant and muralist Alasdair Gray shows some wonderful portraits. Other highlights are the melancholy paintings of George Shaw, shortlisted for this autumn's Turner prize.
• At various venues, Glasgow, until 21 August

Up close: artworks in detail

Robert Therrien, No Title (Table and Four Chairs), 2003
Therrien's giant table and chairs leave you discombobulated and delighted. Here is another terrific modern treasure of the national Artist Rooms collection of contemporary art.
• At Tate Liverpool

Mappa Mundi, c1300
This is one of the most important surviving medieval works of art anywhere on Earth. It is a world map in which the Earth, pictured as flat, is crowded with drawings of places, people and animals. An entire cosmology is inscribed on this brown sheer of vellum.
• At Hereford Cathedral

Andrea Mantegna, The Triumphs of Caesar, c1485
Mantegna worked for the rulers of Mantua, a small city in north Italy, but here he equates their rule with that of the Caesars. In a series of imposing panels, he portrays the treasures, prisoners and captured armour paraded in a Roman triumph. This is one of the greatest depictions of history in art.
• At Hampton Court Palace

Gorgon's Head or Green Man?
This ancient Romano-British face comes from the pediment of a temple in Bath. In terms of Roman art and religion, it most closely resembles a gorgon – but it is the wrong gender. Is it, rather, a memory of a British pagan deity, a shaggy-haired wild god, the ancestor of the Green Man of our folklore?
• At Roman Baths, Bath

Paul Cezanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, c1882
The air bristles, the sky is mineral, the mountain an unattainable remote symbol. Cezanne's paintings of a Provencal mountain are his most profound meditations on the mind's attempts to know the world through the eyes. The mountain is a barrier beyond which the eye cannot see; the world refuses to be grasped.
• At Courtauld Gallery, London

What we learned this week

Why turning your artistic talents to Danish politics can be downright painful

Why Edgar Degas was not a cold, voyeuristic misogynist after all

How life is full of harsh realities for women refugees

Forget Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull: nobody did bling quite like the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa

How a church in Encino, Los Angeles, came to the rescue of the art world

Image of the week

Your art weekly

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July 22 2011

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Jonathan Jones's top shows this week

Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville
The recent death of the painter Cy Twombly adds to the timeliness of this look back at Robert Rauschenberg, who passed away in 2008. Sixty years ago these two artists, along with their friend Jasper Johns, reinvented art. They lived at a moment when abstract art seemed the ultimate modern creation. Instead they turned back to real life, and above all it was Rauschenberg whose messy, rich combinations of painting with found objects created a pungent aesthetic of the street, the bedroom, wherever life is.
• At Inverleith House, Edinburgh, 27 July until 2 October

Tony Cragg: Sculptures and Drawings
The sculpture of Tony Cragg is – well, it's sculpture. In an age of objects, Cragg creates form. His orotund and irregular creations tower and totter. They grow and live. Like giant molten chess pieces, his shapes are at once authoritative and decadent. Here is abstract art for our time, tactile and elusive.
• At Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 30 July until 6 November

Nan Goldin: Fireleap
If there is one artist in the world today whose works stop you dead in your tracks it is this photographer of raw life. You may be entranced or enraged by Goldin's colour-saturated, lyrical and sleazy slideshows, but they are undeniably compelling. This show brings together her photographs of children, so if you are easily offended it might make your day.
• At Sprovieri Gallery, London W1, until 6 August

Mario Merz: What is to be Done?
Clear blue neon light cuts through natural and man-made forms in this survey of the Italian sculptor who died in 2003. Merz had strong themes: the survival of nature in an industrial world, the endurance of meaning and community in fast times. His famous use of the basic architectural form of the igloo synthesizes his concern with natural and human vulnerability. There are igloos here as well as an old car pierced by a shaft of neon, like a mechanical Saint Theresa redeemed by light.
• At Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 28 July until 30 October

Ryan Mosley
This young British artist paints up a storm with fictional figures, eerie characters, gothic and rococo fantasies in a subtle, texturally convincing style. It is worth following his progress in his latest exhibition which includes surreal pastiches of portraiture and allusive scenes out of some Bloomsbury era memoir.
• At Alison Jacques Gallery, London W1, until 13 August

Up close: artworks in detail

Tomb of the Black Prince, c1376
The massive metal body of this 14th-century prince and warrior lies on his tomb in a fierce challenge to the world to forget him. It never has. The Black Prince is remembered for his military glory, but his tomb effigy is a great work of art in its own right, with its startlingly fierce and powerful face emerging from scaly chain mail. This is is a totem of potent knighthood that no visitor to Canterbury Cathedral – which also boasts dazzling stained glass and eerie Romanesque monsters – will ever forget.
• At Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples, 1877-8
If the economist John Maynard Keynes is currently in the news, it is because his remedies against depression are being ignored – even despised – by western governments determined to repeat the mistakes he condemned. Looking at this time-stopping, entrancing painting by Cézanne, you get the feeling that Keynes represents a lost age of civilised reason. For Keynes owned this painting. Today, its solidity and grace suggest a sanity that eludes this century.
• At Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Titian, The Three Ages of Man, c1512-1514
The face of a girl looking intently at her lover glows out of this profoundly poetic painting. Titian has painted a rustic landscape, hilly and rugged, that surely evokes his own childhood in the mountains of northern Italy. In it we see allegorical figures of the ages of life, but the most compelling, and the painting's true heart, is the young woman in love. This is simply one of the greatest works of art in Britain. If you are headed to Edinburgh over the summer make a date with it.
• At National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Thomas Gainsborough, The Byam Family, between 1762 and 1766
The Holburne Museum in Bath recently reopened after an ambitious architectural refurbishing, and it is well worth visiting this gallery close to 18th-century terraces that evoke the Bath of Jane Austen. No artist captured the elegance of 18th-century visitors to the waters and assembly rooms better than Gainsborough, who had a business here, and whose grand portrait of the Byam family is one of the Holburne's delights.
• At Holburne Museum, Bath

Artemisia Gentileschi (attributed), Susannah and the Elders, 1600s
With Tracey Emin at the Hayward and crowds flocking to the Hepworth, it is easy to forget that for most of European history it was all but impossible for women to become professional artists. Artemisia Gentileschi was an exception, fighting her way to fame in the 17th century. Is this striking painting in Nottingham one of her works? It portrays a young woman naked being spied on by two old men. What makes the picture strange is that the voyeurs don't hide behind a hedge, as was conventional in paintings of this Biblical story, but instead press claustrophobically close to their object of desire. The effect is surreal and unsettling.
• At Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

What we learned this week

That the Lucian Freud once turned up at someone's house with a live eel in his bag

Why Pringles are such a favourite with the bookies

Why the Tate Modern had an exorcism

How one man snuck sleek modernist designs into every part of British life

How art finally went down the tube

Why society may be too crazy for museums to stay free

Image of the week

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May 26 2011

Don't believe the hype about contemporary art

Like the economy, 21st-century British art is running on false credit. How many truly great living artists can you count?

In the Musée d'Orsay in Paris hang the revolutionary works of painters who made art modern in France more than a century ago. Here they are, the true greats of early modernism: Cézanne and Van Gogh, as well as Gauguin and Degas, Monet and, of course, Seurat. That's six, and there are obviously several more profoundly important figures in France at that time, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Odilon Redon. That makes eight. And there are more, too, including sculptors led by Rodin. Perhaps you could bring the figure up to 16, even 20, without scraping the barrel.

Say we agree, generously, that 20 artists genuinely mattered in late 19th-century France at the dawn of modernism, one of the truly great moments of art history. Now, how many living British artists are regarded as important, unmissable, revolutionary? To judge from the bonanza of 21st-century British art touted in newspaper articles, art fairs, group shows, magazines and a host of solo shows at legions of galleries, there must be – what? – a hundred, no, more like two hundred names to conjure with.

So this must be the greatest moment ever in the story of art, a cultural golden age to put fifth-century Athens to shame.

Or could 21st-century British art possibly be overhyped?

Come on – do the sums – they don't add up. The young and middle-aged artists celebrated in Britain today cannot all be marvellous. Just as Britain's economy in recent times turned out to be running on false credit, so too our art scene has ballooned into a mass delusion.

How many great works of art can we actually count that our age will bequeath posterity? Where are our Sunflowers, our apples and our dancers.

There is a pitiful gulf between noise and achievement in contemporary British art. Of course, we have some good artists, some very good artists, and maybe a couple of great ones. But the vast majority of exhibitions are slight and huge numbers of artists are "farting around", as I observed of Mark Leckey the other day. I did not mean to imply he is the only bad artist. In fact, truly honest art criticism in Britain today would mostly consist of reviews like that one.

Look – as I say – do the maths. You must know how many, or rather how few, artists it is possible to truly love, how small the selection of artworks that really make an impact is. Now pick up any art magazine and sample the latest haul of significant, new, radical, cool artists: it seems there never has been and never will be an age when artists of real value proliferate so readily. Therefore, by plain logic and common sense, a vast proportion of the art we hear so much about in Britain today must be rubbish. It's that simple.


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February 06 2011

Christopher Pemberton obituary

Artist, scholar, teacher and translator with a deep affinity for the work of Cézanne

The artist, scholar and teacher Christopher Pemberton, who has died aged 87, brought a penetrating intelligence and humility to his work. At the Camberwell School of Art, south London, he found something of these qualities in his teacher William Coldstream's practice of measuring with brush held up at arm's length to find equal and multiple distances across his subject. This provided a sort of ground bass or continuo accompanying the accrual of marks and colours on the canvas. Chris's eye and hand had no need of this measuring aid, but humility in front of the subject became integral to his approach. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, central London, in the 1950s, and various shows elsewhere included eight one-man presentations, two of them at the Cadogan Contemporary gallery in South Kensington.

Coldstream's last year at Camberwell (1948-49), before he became professor at the Slade School of Art, University of London, overlapped with Chris's first as a student. The fine art department at Camberwell was in effect a continuation of the Euston Road school of artists, a group dedicated to working directly from nature and associated with the establishment at 314 Euston Road, in central London (1937-39). Of the Euston Road painters, Claude Rogers had the most natural gift for the act of painting directly from the subject without auxiliary consideration, and came to have more to offer Chris. A Pemberton painting of 1950, of a street scene in Chelsea, displays exacting and convincing appraisal of sizes, distances and tones, a "Euston Road" work certainly.

However, about 10 years later, when Chris was back at Camberwell as a teacher, one of his students, the painter Terry Raybould, was having difficulty in drawing a twist in the body of the model, and sought advice. Later Terry recalled his teacher's response: "He started a drawing next to mine on the paper. He worked at a steady pace to start with but gradually speeded up, then stopped and took off his jacket, started again building up the drawing in quick spurts – dots and quick lines dashing about, stopped again, took off his sleeveless jumper to reveal braces, loosened his tie and off he went again! Gradually the marks accumulated to make a beautifully sensitive, knotty drawing of the figure. He then breathed an exasperated sigh and said 'Well, I can't do it either.'" The episode is recorded in Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts: Its Students and Teachers 1943-1960, by Geoff Hassell.

A landscape drawing done some 20 years later shows that Chris's vigorous personal appraisal of what is to be seen had matured into an even continuity of search, each quick touch of pencil an inquiry into what – and perhaps who – was in the precise spot to which his gesture was momentarily addressed.

Later, in 1991, his translation into English of Joachim Gasquet's Cézanne: A Memoir With Conversations was published. His translator's introduction reveals an astonishing understanding of both writer and subject. While other artists took up particular aspects of Cézanne's work, Pemberton had a fuller sense of the undivided whole of that master's reverence for the created world.

Chris was born in London. His father, Richard Pemberton, began his career as a clerk in the House of Lords, and subsequently became inspector of schools in Suffolk. His mother, Daphne, was artistically talented, and drew, painted and modelled in clay. He had a twin, Jeremy, and a younger brother, Roger. As a young boy he showed a gift as a draughtsman and did telling portrait drawings of his family.

At prep school he excelled in Latin and Greek and won a scholarship to Eton, where Wilfrid Blunt - a more genial and outgoing bachelor than his aloof art-historian brother Anthony - was art master. There Chris was much admired for painting a great mural of the meeting of Solomon and Sheba. He became captain of the school, and won a classical scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford.

However, the war intervened, and Chris served in the RNVR, accompanying Atlantic convoys in a corvette, in which he read Voltaire during the long nights. When the war was over, he read modern history at Christ Church, evidently supposing it would enhance his understanding of the times. In this he was disappointed, finding, it seems, that it was composed more of nominated events than the real continuum which is life. Nevertheless, he obtained a degree, and on holiday in Cyprus turned with relief to painting.

After leaving Camberwell, he taught at Bryanston school, Dorset, and subsequently at Shrewsbury school, Shropshire. In 1956 he married Hester Buchanan Riddell, a Russian scholar, and sister-in-law of his friend the historian Richard Ollard. When Chris returned to Camberwell, now as a teacher, they found a house east of Greenwich, where they brought up a family of four sons and a daughter.

In 1960, his brother Roger told him of the attractions of the Cotentin coast of Normandy, and subsequently holidays were spent there. Eventually he and Hester bought an old farmhouse near Fermanville, north-east of Cherbourg, where many friends were invited to visit.

He and Hester moved from London in 1983 to an old farmhouse at Bardwell, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and exhibitions in later years included the Chappel Galleries near Colchester, Essex, and the Highgate Gallery, north London.

Hester died in 2001, and Chris is survived by his children.

• Christopher Henry Pemberton, artist, scholar and teacher, born 14 March 1923; died 1 December 2010


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January 19 2011

Paul Cézanne at 172: still life and landscapes run deep

Google's Paul Cézanne tribute is deserved. He painted with his mind in works of beauty and stillness that simmer with emotion

Google is standing up for high art. Today's Google doodle transforms the familiar logo into a painting by Paul Cézanne, the most serious and profound of French 19th-century painters, who happens to be 172 years old today. Good for him, and good for Google for paying homage to one of art's true heroes.

The search engine is not the first to pay fulsome tribute to Cézanne. The greatest artist of the 20th century, Picasso, acknowledged how much he owed to this painter of flinty landscapes, dazzling still life arrangements, and taciturn portraits. How can a painter of such still and rustic beauties be central to the story of modern art, as Picasso insisted he was? Because Cézanne stared so intensely at nature he began to take it apart in his mind, to anatomise it, theorise it, on long hot afternoons in his studio in Aix-en-Provence and then reassemble the elements of reality in paintings that are pixellated constellations of insights, recognitions, memories and flashes of desire or rage. Cézanne said of his contemporary Monet that he was only an eye (but what an eye, he conceded). The implied contrast is that where Monet was a mere eye reflecting nature, Cézanne paints with his mind and his psyche. Instead of seeing through his art we see his art itself. In its feints, leaps of intuition, and surrenders – an element of the unfinished is crucial to his later work, and it was through Cézanne that people learned to cherish earlier unfinished masterpieces like Michelangelo's Prisoners – we encounter the difficult, complex, and irrational processes of his mind making sense of the world it finds itself in.

Not that Cézanne is some cold, philosophical artist. His problem was not a lack of feeling but an excess of it. The son of a wealthy Provençal banker, and a school friend of the future novelist Zola, he set out to become an artist in Paris but found it very hard going: his early works, ignored or mocked by contemporaries, dwell on dark themes of violence and angry male sexuality. Zola portrays his friend, barely disguised, in his novel The Masterpiece as a figure of avant garde madness and abject failure. It was a kind of miracle – helped by inherited wealth – that the troubled Cézanne was able to conquer his demons by standing out in the southern sun, painting a mountain, or dwelling in suspended desire on the roundness of fruits in a bowl.

Beauty, stillness – but no calm. The fascination of Cézanne lies in the overwhelming emotion that threatens to explode at any second from the white rocks of a hillside, the steely imperturbability of a peasant's face. He is the first modernist and, as Picasso knew, the most liberating. An eye, and so much more.


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November 22 2010

Why Gerhard Richter towers above today's artists

The German artist paints what he sees in photographs – and what he sees is extraordinary. But don't tell him I said that

Gerhard Richter is a great artist. I don't mean that lightly. The German painter is sublime, profound, and authoritative in a way that invites high-flown comparisons and invocations of art history. And yet, his own utterances on art would suggest he finds such hyperbole repulsive, and is suspicious of anything that romanticises the creative act.

I like sometimes just to wander through Tate Modern. The unpredictable nature of its displays means you never quite know what will hold and fascinate you. Anyway, I roamed into the room that contains nothing but Richter's series of abstract paintings entitled Cage (1-6) and it was like going from a claustrophobic interior into an expansive parkland where distant city lights flicker on half-frozen ponds. These paintings are liberating and time-freezing, sombre and ecstatic.

Richter painted these six three-metre-square paintings in 2006, in homage to the composer and prophet of chance, John Cage. As that implies, they reject pompous ideas of the painter as designer, or the abstractionist as seer. The language I have used to describe them already implies a grandeur they eschew – for they are works of random experiment and play, not intense meditation.

A courageous tendency in modern art finds beauty not in the depths, but the surfaces of things. Its most succinct proponent was Andy Warhol. Richter, too, believes that what you see is what you get, but what he sees is extraordinary. Photography allows him to see events he did not witness – such as the deaths in prison of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. His series of black and white history paintings derived from photographs of their prison cells, faces and bodies look, with the silent intensity of the painter, through the images towards the events they record. He wonders, we wonder.

In fact, Richter combines a Warholian openness with the powerful questioning gaze of a disciple of Cézanne. In his portraits and landscapes Cézanne questions, ceaselessly, the nature of his own looking. Who is that man there, in the mirror? His self-portrait in the National Gallery is fraught with this direst of questions. Richter inhabits, more fully than most, or more honestly than most, the photographic age, the digital age. He assimilates vast quantities of data. He paints what he sees, but what he sees comes second hand. A photograph is a piece of information to be digested, thought about, and remembered by his paintings.

In his abstract paintings at Tate Modern, he does not resemble Cézanne so much as Monet. In the glides and slips, the luminous colour collisions and accidental symmetries of these tremendous works you seem to see – anyway, I seemed to see the other day – similar reflections of the ambiguity of experience to those that float in Monet's lily pond.

Reality is profoundly ambiguous, modern physics tells us. An electron can be in two places at once. These paintings describe a world of uncertainty, without surrendering to despair. Richter is alive to the play of chance, the randomness of nature, the complexity of experience – yet proves that art can still bring something serious and beautiful out of the chaos. He towers above the artists of today.


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November 11 2010

Face to face in Provence

In the fourth of our narrated audio slideshows, children's author Michael Morpurgo reads from a short story, Meeting Cézanne



November 08 2010

Ali Smith on Paul Cézanne

Picture this: In the first of a new series of audio slideshows, the novelist describes being 'mugged by life', abetted by Cézanne's The Etang des Soeurs, Osny



October 19 2010

Show your cards

Exhibition at the Courtald Gallery in London concentrates on series of paintings that obsessed the artist for a decade

Some of the most important and powerful of any post-impressionist paintings – Paul Cézanne's peasant card players and pipe smokers – are this week being brought together for the first time, giving people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them in the same room.

Tomorrow, an exhibition opens at the Courtauld Gallery in London which concentrates on a series of hugely influential paintings that obsessed the artist for a decade.

"It is surprising, yes, that these works, which are so iconic, have never been looked at in this detail or in this way," said the exhibition's co-curator Barnaby Wright. "They've certainly never been brought together like this and that's what's really exciting."

At the heart of the show is the Card Players series – five paintings of which three will be on display. Joining the Courtauld's work is one (above) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and one from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Of the other two, one is in a private collection and has not been exhibited in 50 years while the other is held by the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania which, its founder ruled, cannot lend. In researching the series the Courtauld believes it can also answer one of the biggest question marks that still hangs over the series – what order did he paint it in?

For most of the last century it has been believed he painted them from the biggest downwards, honing and distilling along the way as he tried to make it more intense. Instead, the new x-ray research suggests he was doing it the other way round, more conventionally going from small to big. "He worked his way up trying to make something that was more heroic," said Wright.

They are some of Cézanne's most important work, painted in the 1890s when he became obsessed with producing work that could hang in museums. As well as being stunning to look at, the paintings ask bigger philosophical questions.

"It was highly unconventional to pose peasants in this way, normally they would have been posed in the field looking heroic or in an inn looking drunk and disorderly." In the Card Players series they are from drunk or rowdy. They are intense and unmoving, rooted in concentration. Cézanne was painting the human equivalent of the mountain – solid men who carried on the traditions of their forebears. "It is a search for stillness and almost sculptural monumentality," said Wright.

Institutions in the US, Russia and France have all loaned because of the importance of the show. Wright said: "One thing that's been extraordinary about bringing these loans together is that each one has come with a curator, as they always do, and each curator has said 'this is one of our star pictures which we don't loan that often.' We feel very privileged to have them here."

"We've made a really compelling case we think, it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As a room in London it's hard to beat."

Cézanne is often described as a bridge between the impressionists and the cubists and his peasant paintings had an enormous influence on artists who followed him, not least Picasso.

In terms of their place in the art history of the last 200 years Wright said it was hard to underestimate their place. "These paintings are right up at the very top, at the highest level of quality and importance."

Cézanne's Card Players are at the Courtauld Gallery, London, from 21 October to 16 January.


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April 22 2010

Sotheby's to auction lost 20th-century treasures

Sale of Degas, Derain, Cézanne, Gaugin, Picasso and Renoir works hidden since 1939 then argued over for a generation

A treasure trove of paintings, prints, books and drawings by some of the 20th century's greatest artists is to be sold after being stored largely unseen for 70 years.

The works by artists such as Picasso, Derain, Cézanne, Gauguin and Renoir are being collected as the "Tresors du Coffre Vollard". They represent a remarkable story that includes some of the most important figures in modern art and some of the past century's momentous historical events.

The 140 works were deposited in a Paris bank safety deposit box in 1939 and remained there for 40 years. They are to be offered for sale by Sotheby's in Paris and London, the auction house announced.

Helena Newman, a vice-chairman of Sotheby's impressionist and modern art department, said the sale was exciting and like looking into a "lost world". She first set eyes on the works a few weeks ago. "It was amazing – extraordinary really. It was like a glimpse back in time because there were works here that have not been seen since 1939. Most of the works on paper were unframed, and then there were prints by Renoir and Picasso."

The collection was once owned by Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important art dealers of the last century who championed artists from Cézanne to Picasso to Van Gogh.

Vollard was killed in a car crash in 1939 at the age of 73. About 600 works were then in the hands of a protégé of Vollard, a young Yugoslav Jew called Erich Slomovic. As the Nazis approached, Slomovic put 140 works in a bank vault at the Société Générale in Paris and took more than 400 others to his family home in Yugoslavia.

In 1942, Slomovic, along with his father and brother, was murdered at Sajmište concentration camp.

The Nazis never got their hands on either stash of artwork. The Yugoslav hoard eventually went to the National Museum in Belgrade.

The Paris stash remained untouched. Under French law, the vault remained undisturbed for 40 years until the bank could legally open it and sell the contents to recoup unpaid storage fees.

A court challenge prevented a planned sale in 1981, and there followed years of legal wrangling which involved lawyers representing heirs of Vollard and heirs of Slomovic. It was a protracted affair and has only been settled recently. Yesterday, Sotheby's said it was to finally sell the works by agreement among the legal beneficiaries of the Vollard estate.

By far the most eye-catching work is André Derain's Arbres á Collioure, a knock-you-off-your-seat explosion of colour, brilliantly representing the artist's Fauve style. Estimated at being worth between £9m and £14m, Sotheby's called it one of the finest Derains ever to come to market, and it could easily set a new record for the artist when it is sold in London on 22 June 2010.

It was painted in 1905 at Collioure in the south of France, where Derain and Matisse spent the summer working together. Experts believe it may have been exhibited at the famous Salon d'Automne in Paris, an exhibition that led the critic Louis Vauxcelles to call the painters "les fauves", or the wild beasts.

The remainder – expected to raise in the region of £2.6m – will be sold in Paris. Newman said there was now a huge job to get the collection catalogued. The highlights include Cézanne's painting of Emile Zola, estimated at between €500,000 and €800,000. The two men were good childhood friends but fell out later in life, probably due to Zola's novel l'Oeuvre about an artist crippled with insecurity and unable to live up to his potential. Cézanne took offence.

Also to be sold is a Picasso etching from 1904, Le Repas Frugal, estimated at €250,000–€400,000, and a monotype by Degas, La Fête de la Patronne, estimated at €200,000–€300,000.

Sotheby's plans to exhibit the Derain in New York, Moscow and Hong Kong before showing it, along with the rest of the Vollard works, in London between 16 and 22 June 2010.


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January 12 2010

Lost Klimt to go on sale

Masterpiece saved from Nazis in 1938 to sell alongside key works by Cézanne and Giacometti. See gallery here

A rare and luminously beautiful landscape by Gustav Klimt that was crated up by its owners during the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 and then more or less disappeared for decades is to be auctioned in London, Sotheby's announced today.

The painting – which represents a key turning point for the artist – is being sold in what the auction house says is one of the most eye-catching sales of impressionist and modern art it has ever held. As well as the Klimt, conservatively valued at £15m-£18m, there is a quintessential Cézanne still life estimated at £10m-£15m and a similarly valued Giacometti life-size sculpture. It will be the first London sale of its type to include a trio of £10m-plus masterpieces.

All three were today displayed at the auction house's London headquarters; but it was the gorgeousness of the Klimt that was turning heads.

"It is absolutely wonderful," said Sotheby's specialist Patrick Legant. "It's a dream in a way to be so privileged to handle a painting like this."

But it is the story it tells – of Klimt and Vienna as well as the tragic story of its owners – that makes the painting so special. "In one painting you get some of the history of the 20th century," said Legant.

Klimt painted Church in Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses while he was on holiday in Italy with his lover and muse Emilie Klöge in 1913. The picture postcard village on the edge of Lake Garda, with its dominating church and ramrod cypress trees, clearly caught the artist's eye, but the nearest point he could paint it from was too far away – so he used a telescope.

The painting represents a key moment in Klimt's artistic journey, the point where he began embracing the modernist influences that were swirling, ever louder, around Europe. So while you can see the influence of the impressionists and Monet – just look at the reflections in the water – the new influences also loom large, ­people such as his friend Egon Schiele and the Cubists.

Legant said: "When you think of all the earlier Klimt landscapes you have the beautiful meadows, lots of flowers, all very playful. This picture is one of the first that shows a much more modern style – it's very geometrical and architectural, and that's something you wouldn't have found in his earlier pictures. This painting reflects the change in approach to art, an absolutely new way of approaching landscapes."

It was owned by one of Klimt's most important patrons, the Austro-Hungarian steel magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula. After they died childless in 1927 it passed into the hands of Zuckerkandl's sister Amelie Redlich, where it occupied pride of place in the family's grand Vienna home.

Everything changed with the Anschluss in 1938. Redlich had arranged for her paintings to be stored by a shipping company, even paying what was an enormous bribe of 2,000 Reichsmarks for them to be kept safe and away from the Nazis.

In 1941 the story takes a depressingly predictable turn: Redlich and her daughter Mathilde were deported by the Nazis to Lodz in Poland. They were never heard of again.

Redlich may have succeeded in keeping the art from the Gestapo but the overall goal failed: when her son-in-law went looking for the paintings in 1947 the crates were empty. No one knows what happened and that, for the Klimt, was pretty much that until 1962 when it suddenly appeared at an exhibition in Austria labelled 'from a private collection'.

It comes to auction after a deal was brokered by Sotheby's between the painting's unnamed owners – who bought it in good faith – and the Redlich family's surviving heir and son of Mathilde, Georges Jorisch, a retired Montreal camera shop manager, now 81.

He was lucky enough to get out of Vienna aged 10. An amicable restitution deal has been struck in which the ­proceeds from the sale are split.

The Klimt, the Cézanne and the Giacometti will be sold at Sotheby's on 3 February along with works by artists including Henri Matisse, René Magritte and Joan Míro.

Sotheby's impressionist and modern art vice-chairman, Helena Newman, said the success of its New York November sale – it realised $182m when the upper estimate had been $163m – had encouraged sellers that the big buyers were still out there.

The top end of the market has also seen a new buoyancy because of the new billionaires on the block – the Chinese.

A few years ago they were mainly buying Chinese contemporary art; now Chinese collectors are competing with Russians, Americans and British buyers for the very best examples of European impressionist and modern art, Newman said.

The Giacometti sculpture of a thin walking man (L'Homme qui marche I) has the distinction of being the only lifetime cast of the subject ever to come to auction and could easily realise a record price for the artist. That it has come to market is partly down to the banking crisis – it was part of the collection of the collapsed Dresdner Bank and is being sold by new owners Commerzbank, with proceeds going to charities.

The Cézanne, Pichet et fruits sur une table, is regarded as a particularly fine example of the artist's work, so quintessential that it was used as the cover for John Rewald's authoritative biography of the artist.


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Sotheby's auctions three modern masterpieces

Sotheby's has unveiled three impressionist and modern art masterpieces which are to be auctioned at the Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, London



November 24 2009

How 20th-century art shed its inhibitions

Matisse, Picasso and the perfume of hedonism surrounding Montmartre finally opened up sex in art from the furtive, neurotic business of the previous century

Something happened to artists at the dawn of the 20th century. They started to have sex. If you look at a nude by Matisse, and the painting in my head is his Blue Nude (Souvinir de Biskra) (1907), and compare it with a late Victorian painting such as JW Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs (1896), one of the things that strikes you is surely how much healthier, abundant, and fulfilled Matisse is, sexually. His Blue Nude is a fully, confidently carnal painting. By contrast, the Waterhouse is a perverse fantasy, a lubricious idyll, neurotic, bizarre, solitary.

There's no way around it: many 19th-century paintings reek of masturbation. They are not lacking in sensuality, but it is of a deferred, fantastical, almost proudly warped kind, typified by Waterhouse. It's only among the avant garde that love becomes real - in Gauguin's painting Nevermore, for instance.

One liberating influence on the avant garde in the years leading up to 1900 was the novelist Émile Zola. A school friend of Cézanne who moved in impressionist circles in Paris, this rawly realistic novelist was above all famous in his time for the sexual frankness of his fictions. In his art novel, The Masterpiece, sex in the studio is pretty much taken for granted. And in the 1880s and 90s, artists settled in Montmartre where studio and brothel, models and prostitutes were apparently on a continuum.

The new, rampant hedonism that developed in Montmartre in the years preceding 1900 finally blossoms in the Blue Nude. It is what makes Matisse and Picasso the artists they are. And the inspirations.


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