This visit to the Royal Academy was a bit rushed, I’ll admit. I was only in London for the day and, seeing as though I was there I looked around for any concerts that were on that evening. U2 were in town (supported by Elbow) so I thought I’d go along to Wembley Stadium and take in a show as well, meaning I would be driving back home afterwards at gone midnight. So, I left home at 8.30am and drove the three hours to London. As I don’t go to London often, finding a parking space near Wembley (I found one half-an-hours walk away – I wasn’t paying £25 at the Stadium!) and then getting the train to Piccadilly Circus via King’s Cross took it’s time, I promise you. It must have been about 2pm when I arrived at Burlington House and I was conscious of getting back to Wembley for about 6pm.
As I’d been to see the exhibition in Groningen (which was, for me, out-of-this-world), I knew pretty much what I was going to see and, coupled with the limited time I had, kind of took a bit of the excitement away.
The first thing I noticed about the exhibition was how small it was compared to Groningen. It really was an inferior display of Nino’s work and I was surprised at how quickly I got through it. Secondly, it was much more cramped and darker than that of the Groninger Museum and so I found it much more difficult to have a proper look: I like to study the paintings and find out what I can about how Waterhouse painted. I’m still wondering why he painted so thickly!? Anyway, beyond those few gripes it was still a joy to see the work that has inspired me for the last 20 years. As I live close to where Hylas and the Nymphs and Echo and Narcissus are housed I didn’t spend too much time with them, even though the former is probably one of my favourites (though I think I say that about so many). The highlights were seeing ‘I am Half Sick of Shadows’, said the Lady of Shalott and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, both of which were absent from Groningen. The colours in reproductions pale in comparison to the real thing and seeing these two ‘in the flesh’ took them to another level for me, the red of the Lady’s dress in the former being particularly striking.
Recently on the johnwilliamwaterhouse.com forum there was a post about The Decameron centered on Elizabeth Prettejohn’s assertion that the figure on the right is in fact female (forgive me if my initial reply to that post was a bit derisory to the idea). I live about a 10 min drive from where this painting usually hangs (in the same place as The Enchanted Garden) but it is sufficiently high enough to preclude me from being able to study it up close. This wasn’t the case at the RA thankfully and so I just thought I’d make mention of an observation that lends weight (not that any were needed in my mind) to the figure being male. As with the majority of Nino’s works, the women’s faces he paints are very finely rendered whereas his males are more roughly treated. I find this is the case with The Decameron. The face of the figure in question is darker and the brush strokes far more visible and looser than those of the females in the painting. This is something that can’t really be seen in a printed image. Just my observation.
I would have dearly loved to see Boreas (and its study), Thisbe, Veronica, Study for the Lady Clare and the 1910 Ophelia but I guess I’ll just have to wait.
Well, I hated to leave the place and its riches, but I had a gig to get to. I plan on winning the lottery so I can visit the Montreal exhibition as well 😉
In hindsight, I thought of the exhibition with its dim lighting and confined space, as like a grotto where people gathered to see treasures and artifacts from the past that painted pictures of a sylvan world of beauty and magic that many would long to be in. For me, its all about the heart and Waterhouse’s work speaks its language effortlessly.
PS. It took me five-and-a-half hours to get back home (I got in at 5.30am) after U2 and I was knackered! But that’s another story.