As an art historian I am probably guilty of over criticism of gallery curating, none more so than at Tate Britain during and since its completed redevelopment last year. To be frank I have not enjoyed my visits there for some considerable time.
Today I visited the Late Turner exhibition, which as I expected, I found spiritually uplifting and very exciting. Its difficult to create a focused exhibition of Turner as he was so prolific, but full credit must be given to the curators presenting us with a display of the artist’s undoubted genius and his anticipation of the modern aesthetic in painting.
Having left Turner behind, and perhaps because of my elation at seeing this body of work I decided to spend a half hour looking at the main collection in the other galleries. Two hours later I emerged feeling very pleased with myself at making the effort. What a transformation! I was treated to two complete rooms of Henry Moore sculptures, many of which I had never seen before, complimented by some drawings and a film of the sculptor directing his work at the foundry.
And then … another room dedicated to the first great master of English painting, William Hogarth. It is perfectly curated showing a small but well-rounded body of his work. I love Hogarth’s satire. Most of us are familiar with his serial critiques of London and social mores, but the one that always make me smile the most is O Roast Beef of Old England painted in 1748.
A wonderful piece of imaginative curation awaits the visitor in a free exhibition called Poor Man’s Gallery. Its point of departure is the genre pictures of the mid nineteenth century, including some Pre-Raphaelite works such as Broken Vows by Philip Hermogenes Calderon depicting a young woman who has been jilted by her lover. Like most pictures of the time they slavishly depicted natural forms in accordance with John Ruskin’s ideas, but were of course created for the elite patron who could afford such luxuries. Juxtaposed with the paintings one can view stereoscopic photographic images that were available to the general public at considerably less cost. Each image, a double photograph, when viewed through the stereoscope viewer creates a three-dimensional image of the scene, which is either inspired by one of the paintings or provided the inspiration for the painting. This is thoughtful and engaging curation and bodes well for the future of Tate Britain. Well done Dr Curtis and her team.