The other week, I went with John and Elisabeth to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

I’m a great fan of John Singer Sargent. He could create a portrait of someone sufficiently flattering that it soothed their vanity, while at the same time clearly signalling to the wider audience what an undesirable they were.

Perhaps there are three requirements of a portrait. That it offers a recognisable characteristic likeness of the sitter; that it offers a deeper level indication as to the painter’s assessment of the personality of the sitter and that the artist’s judgement is insightful and sound; and that the painting is a beautiful and harmonious creation in its own right. Sargent ticked all these boxes.

Tickets for the exhibition cost £14 per person and it was extremely crowded. I begin to wonder if these exhibitions are worth the money. I loathe those hearing guides to exhibitions where you have to pick your way round people loitering for ages listening to some expert wittering on – look at the paintings first; form your own judgement; and only then read the expert’s opinion to see if you’re ‘right’.

There was a fine portrait of the great Henry James (seated; James was an observer rather than a participant) showing however his vast intellect and understanding. There was a striking painting of a very handsome gynaecologist in a red dressing-gown which I thought was a study of vanity ( subtitle of painting: he thinks he’s a Cardinal). There was a study in black and white (mainly) at the entrance of a pretty woman playing a piano; there was a charming study for the painting of children playing with lanterns among a flowerbed of lilies; and there was a painting of an amateur lady singing in public where she had such a poseur’s stance that she looked ridiculous and one concluded she wasn’t as good at singing as she thought she was. The rest of the paintings (while still lovely: this is John Singer Sargent, after all) were lesser examples of his work.

Then I thought of the London museums and art galleries (often free entry). The British Museum whose nether regions I have never explored because I spend so long on their wonderful Oriental ceramics, making a detour to see the Parthenon marbles and say, Send them back, (we could have a replica) and make a genuflection in the Roman section to the goddess Athene/Minerva; the Victoria and Albert with its opulent Constables; the National Gallery with its magnificent Turners, including The Fighting Temeraire and my all-time favourite, The Burial of Sir David Wilkie at Sea; the National Portrait Gallery, where I make my bow to Oliver Cromwell as he stands among the useless Stewart kings, and to Captain James Cook, who went everywhere; the Wallace collection which has a stop-you-in-your-tracks Bronzino… and that is just to scratch the surface.

I think most of these exhibitions are principally money making exercises and often are minor examples of one artist’s work or a motley collection of artefacts cobbled together and with an insufficient theme. And – dare I say it – I think we should charge an entry fee to our great museums and galleries. A modest £5 per head surely would make very little difference to the average visitor, but it would make a big difference to the institution.e

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: