As my sister has a season ticket to the Royal Academy, she kindly invited me to join her to see the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition there last Thursday. I knew only a little of this artist’s work before, and was pleased to have the opportunity to get to know more of his work.
There were three distinct rooms in the exhibition. The first room, representing Diebenkorn’s earliest work, comprised abstract paintings; the second room was entirely figurative; and the third room, though predominantly abstract, was in fact a very satisfying synthesis of the two.
Most of the figurative work was based on the female figure, but I was particularly taken with Diebenkorn’s pair of scissors. It’s amazing how a mundane household item can express what used to be called such ‘gay abandon’!
The abstract work displayed beautiful colours, mainly tending towards pastel shades. The early abstract paintings often used interlocking forms, some of which were tantalisingly recognisable as objects in the real world, so that one felt on occasions that the figurative was insinuating itself into the abstract. This is less the case in the maturer work, where one of the recurring motifs is the use of lines. These sometimes create dimensions or unexpected angles in the paintings and sometimes just emphasise the geometric nature of the work. This one, which was one of my favourites, was tiny, but others were huge. In the large ones it was perhaps easier to see some of the influences on Diebenkorn, such as Hopper, Matisse and even some mediaeval artists.
My one disappointment in this exhibition was that I had hoped to see some of the etchings done by the artist to accompany poems by Yeats, but there was no reference to this project.
I had read that in 1990, Arion Press published a catalogue of Yeats’s poems, selected and introduced by Helen Vendler and accompanied by six etchings by Richard Debenkorn. That treat will have to await another occasion.
Our intention was to move on to Tate Modern to visit the Sonia Delaunay exhibition. However, the rain which we had been needing for weeks had arrived with a vengeance, so we took refuge in the National Gallery and decided to enjoy the ‘Inventing Impressionism’ exhibition instead, particularly as the Delaunay is on until August, whereas the Impressionism one finishes at the end of this month.
This exhibition takes an unusual approach to Impressionism, by basing the exhibits around the art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel – who was, of course, instrumental in the history of Impressionism, as he bought so many of the works and helped to make them known and eventually accepted. Initially it felt slightly uncouth to be approaching the art through the medium of a dealer, but the exhibition is so successful, showing the gradual development of the movement and celebrating a wide range of artists, that it felt OK. The first room was set out as a French salon, which immediately put us in the right mood and set the scene for the following rooms.
Despite wet clothes and shoes, the day ended by calling at the local cinema for the live screening of ‘Man and Superman’ from the National Theatre. G B Shaw’s plays can appear rather ponderous and preachy to a modern audience, but the acting was so superb that we were all carried along in the fun and the action. Unusually, the director had decided to include the amusing scene set in Hell, which is normally omitted. This meant that the play was a full three hours forty minutes long, including the interval. I very much enjoyed this extra scene, but don’t think it actually adds anything of much value to the play. All the acting was superb, and Ralph Fiennes, in particular, gave an absolutely stunning performance.