Richard Ward

#87. Richard Ward writes on Matisse-Bonnard at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Henri Matisse, “Open Window at Coullioure”, 1911

Matisse-Bonnard : Long Live Painting, is at the Staedal Museum Frankfurt until14th January 2018

http://www.staedelmuseum.de/en/matisse-bonnard

This exhibition consists of about seventy paintings, including major works of both artists, together with drawings, sketchbooks and some of the Jazz cut-outs. The hanging is organised according to subject matter – interior, still-life, landscape, nude etc. No portraits are included. In contrast to the celebrated Matisse/Picasso exhibition of 2002, this is no confrontation. Paintings of both artists are hung in the same room but seldom on the same wall or directly alongside each other – an arrangement that aptly reflects a friendship of forty years, composed of letters and visits, practical and moral support, mutual admiration and an apparent lack of rivalry.

This lack of rivalry was made possible, I think, by the very different approaches of these two men to their art, a factor that can already be seen in their sketches and drawings.
Matisse´s fluid, confident line forms and divides up space. It is a direct act of creation on the empty page. I think it is worth taking his own statement (repeated at the end of his life) about providing “a good armchair” seriously. His lifelong project was the creation of oases of luxe, calme et volupté – good objects (in Adrian Stoke´s sense), able to promote inner harmony, quiet, and well-being through their contemplation and internalisation. His artistic development can be seen as a continuous refinement of the technical means to achieving this aim.

By contrast, Bonnard’s hesitant, repeated, searching lines are a form of exploration. His avowed intention was to go further than the Impressionists by adding the distortions and modifications of subjectivity and emotion to their project of recording light. This approach is more radically non-objective than Impressionism, addressing sensation itself rather than a rationally organised reality filled with objects and the light reflected from them. His is an existential search for clarity of introspection (these days one might call it mindfulness) and its expression in a visual form.

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#67. Richard Ward writes on Howard Hodgkin at the National Portrait Gallery, London

“Portrait of the Artist”, 1984-87

Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery 23 March – 18 June 2017

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/howard-hodgkin-absent-friends/home/

The first thing to say about this retrospective is that it can be enjoyed quite simply as a thought-provoking exhibition of mostly abstract or semi-abstract colour paintings, even though the catalogue texts, titles and Hodgkin´s own remarks insist that they are portraits.

Hodgkin always maintained that the inspiration for each of his paintings was a very specific set of feelings concerning a particular person or situation. Accepting this, and also that he succeeded for himself in capturing these feelings in his art, does not however imply that we should have the same feelings on viewing it. The pressing of a visual button A to produce the specific emotion B is the modus operandi of kitsch, and these paintings are better than that. A painting has to work for itself, so whatever the specific situations that may have inspired Hodgkin, they are irrelevant to us here, and since it is hardly anywhere necessary to see figures in the paintings it is an unhelpful conceit for the viewer to regard them as portraits.

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