Saturday, 16 June 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art: Exhibition at Tate Britain

Update 14th July 2012

It is possible to get versions of the room notices for the Picasso exhibition in a text file which a screen reader can use.  Many galleries and exhibitions have large print and brail guides and though it is not obvious that a simple text file of the original document is available, this can help before attending an exhibition.  The room notices and picture panels can often save time and the exasperation of a sighted friend in making this information known.  Many thanks to Tate for sending me the text files, which provide much information on the artists featured in the Picasso show.

*** end of update

Tate Britain is currently running an exhibition titled Picasso and Modern British Art, showing works by Picasso along with British artists who were influenced by his style.   The British artists include Wyndham Lewis, Duncan Grant, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney.  The exhibition is located in a lower gallery in Tate Britain.

Note:  There is a special tour for the visually impaired on Monday 18th June at 11 am.  Details can be found on:

I visited this exhibition with a friend who has a Tate membership.  We went by London Underground to Westminster and intended to get the 87 bus to Tate Britain.  However, the police had closed Whitehall on account of a security alert, so instead we walked past the Houses of Parliament and along the Embankment to Millbank and the Tate.  In need of a coffee, we went to the member’s room and climbed the steps of the front entrance. 

In order to familiarise me with the building again, my friend took me outside through a side entrance and into the exhibition.  There is an internal staircase as well which we used later.    I used to go regularly to the Tate before I lost my sight and I have been several times with friends, though usually I don’t pay much attention to directions, unless the person I am with has no sense of direction!

As you enter the exhibition area there is an information desk, cloakroom and hat check-in as well as a member’s service desk.  We picked up the booklets and my friend ordered two multimedia guides.  The staff said helpfully that there was no audio description on the control/headset, but my sighted friend nevertheless got a pair.  Thus armed we entered the exhibition. 

The themes are chronological in terms of the British artists, so some of Picasso’s work is not juxtaposed.  The multimedia set comes into its own when the audio channel says there is a picture of… and up pops a picture on the handset.  This is useful if you have some sight, though I had the odd moment of “looking” at a hazy painting/collage and then a sharp image would pop up on the handset, rather like a sharp image on a smart phone, only with my sight condition (no central vision to speak of) I could “look” at both original and handset image and get an idea.  This worked well for Wyndham Lewis as I recognised some of his works (Edinburgh); as well as for Duncan Grant and Ben Nicholson.  However, I could not make much of Moore, Bacon and Sutherland.

The multimedia guide discussed the love lives of Picasso and his dealers, models as well as the background of the personalities.  Many artists had seen Picasso’s work and doubtless his influence operated through a type of osmosis.  One of my friends claims to detect the influence of Richter, Hockney and Boetti in my own painting and doubtless there is something in that. 

I was musing on my own in front of a Francis Bacon triptych of the crucifixion and scratching my head (the hat had been checked) when my friend set the commentary to where Bacon said in an interview that he had used the cross as an “armature on which to hang…”  I could only agree with Bacon when he thought it had not been a good idea!

Sutherland also left me underwhelmed.  I had seen his tapestry in Coventry Cathedral in 1969 not long after it had been installed.  I was also aware that Churchhill’s wife had destroyed a portrait of Winston Churchill which had been painted by Sutherland.    

However, I did admire the Hockney works, especially the stage sets and costumes.    Hockney did a portrait of Christopher Isherwood in a style which resembles one of Picasso’s works.

The Picasso originals for the Ballets Russes had a freshness for their 100 years.  All the Picasso works had a sharpness which my eye condition picks up, in much the same way as 17th century pictures or works by Frank Stella, Gerhard Richter or Hockney himself.

Picasso favourites of mine include the Child with a Dove painted in 1901 and now in the Courtauld Gallery, London. I am sure my primary school had a copy of this as I remember hearing about Picasso when quite young.  There is a lot of space devoted to Guernica though the large reproduction was positioned too high for me to get much detail.  I had much more luck with the fine costume drawings for the Three Cornered Hat.

The book and gift shop has a selection of postcards from other galleries.  Quite often there have been stock or copyright issues in postcards and I bought a selection as well as a large card of ‘A Child with a Dove’, which a helpful assistant found for me.  The other postcards were:
The Corregidor’s Wife (1919- Musee Picasso, Paris)
The Three Dancers (1925 – Tate)
Nude Woman in a Red Armchair (1932 – Tate)
The Enamelled Saucepan (1945 – Musee Nationale d’Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) all by Picasso
and one by David Hockney titled Harlequin (1980 – Collection The David Hockney Foundation).   

There are prints that can be bought and ordered for framing and the exhibition catalogue is also on sale. 

This is an exhibition which should be attempted with a sighted person, although the Tate website says there is a programme for the visually impaired.  The access and education staff are available if you are making a special visit. 

If you are in London and would like an extra helping of Picasso, then the British Museum has the Vollard Suite of more than 100 etchings, prints drawings and sketches by Picasso.  They were traded by Picasso using the dealer Anton Vollard and the Vollard Suite has been bequeathed to the British Museum.

Unfortunately, some are very faint and I could make out only around 20 of the prints.  The British Museum has juxtaposed the Picassos with ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculpture.  There are pieces of Hercules, Aphrodite and a Minotaur interspersed with the Picassos, which tend to dwell on some of the more exotic pleasures of the classical world.  I had a sighted friend who read out the captions.

Postcards that I bought at the end included: Bacchic Scene with Minotaur (1933), Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman (1933), Blind Minotaur Led by a Little Girl in the Night (1934/35), and Rembrandt and Two Women (1934).  

The Vollard Suite is in gallery 90 on the 4th Floor of the British Museum
More information on artists and other characters can be obtained on the internet.  A search for Bloomsbury Set should give more to the background. 

Information on some artists associated with this period can be found on: