Thursday, 19 February 2015

Some of my favourite paintings to add colour, drama, fun and beauty to an exceptionally dreary day

Where better to start than with a bearded chap wearing a straw hat dancing outdoors with a corkingly pretty girl, while other attractive people drink and spoon and laugh in the background. Renoir's Dance at Bougival (1882-1883) is enought to gladden any but the most miserable misanthrope's heart.

Two roister-doister gamblers fall out, much to the amusement of a variety of rustics - some quite possibly several sheets to the wind - in Jan Steen's Backgammon players (c. 1665). Steen ended up running a tavern in Leiden.

Detail from Richard Dadd's bizarre masterpiece, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, painted over nine years (1855-1864) while the artist was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. It should all be a bit twee, but, of course, it's the exact opposite - a genuine glimpse into an unsettling parallel universe. Dadd first went mad on a trip up the Nile in 1842 (he believed himself to be under the influence of Osiris). A year later, he murdered his father, believing him to be the Devil. He fled to France and was captured after trying to kill another tourist with a razor. Dadd died in Broadmoor 43 years later.

Giambattista Tiepolo is one of my favourite painters. In The Angel Succouring Hagar (1832), which can be found in the Sculoa di San Rocco in Venice, the supernatural emissary shows the mother of the boy who is dying of thirst where life-saving water can to be found.

A parrot, by Rubens, painted sometime between 1630 and 1640, makes a nice change from all those acres of wobbling flesh.

Actually, one can never have enough Tiepolo. Here's part of The Institution of the Rosary (1737-1739) from the ceiling of the Gesuati church in Venice, which is next door to the vaporetto which takes you over to Giudecca, and a few steps away from Nico's world- famous ice cream dispensary (the cherry ice cream and melon sourbet are particularly fine).

Thomas Gainsborough's daughters chase a butterfly in a tender, lively, delicate painting done in Ipswich in the mid-1750s. I doubt if any other English painter has been blessed with so much much sheer natural talent. 

Nobody has ever done candlelight or quietude better than Georges de La Tour. This haunting, spiritually luminous masterpiece is Magdalen with the Smoking Flames (1640).

I first saw Bernard Perlin's Orthodox Boys (1948) at the Tate in my early teens. They're waiting on Canal Street station in New York. Even at that age, it struck me as pregnant with meaning - the boy on the left looks as if he's jerked his head round in response to someone shouting at them: a friendly greeting or a threat? The (presumably) religious text in the boy's hand marks the pair out as different, and the lessons it contains could act as protection in a hostile world. 

The Venetian master Giovanni Bellini's astonishly precise portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan was painted in 1501, the first year of Loredan's 20-year incumbency. It ended up in the hands of the eye-wateringly rich William Thomas Beckford - the author of the Gothic novel, Vathek - who paid 13 guineas for it in 1807. He sold it for £630 to the National Gallery in 1844. 

I'll end with another of Renoir's finest paintings, because the thing about his work is that you always want to be in the painting: it's all so damned enticing - especially on a chilly, rainy February day in London. This one is, of course, The Boating Party, or Le déjeuner des canotiers (1875). Looks like fun there, doesn't it?

There - that's better.

1 comment:

  1. When its hot enough to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car and the London underground is sweltering,one's thoughts might stray to say Breughels's Winter Landscape with Skaters.
    Nice to see Tiepolo so admired and rightly so.
    It is often the case that small canvases take longer to fill -maybe the painter feels he does'nt want to short-change the viewer and loads detail upon detail.The constraints of Dadd's incasteration no doubt added to the time factor .It would be wonderful to see a complete exhibition of his work.