Monday, 23 July 2012

Royal Academy: From Paris – A Taste for Impressionism

18th July

This exhibition at the Royal Academy is from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute’s collection of Impressionism paintings with some pre Impressionists such as Corot.  (

The exhibition is themed round Still Life, Landscape, Genre Painting, Female Form, Portraiture and Orientalism.  The exhibition is on the Sackler Wing of Galleries level (2) and can be reached by lift (elevator).  My friend Stephen took me as he had been the day before and knew the type of painting that I could make out. 

On checking the audio desk I asked what audio descriptions were available.  Daria checked and gave me instructions for the 6 themed audio described pictures and told Stephen where to look out for them.  These are numbered on the audio set as 51 to 56.  I have prefixed the relevant paintings with VI 51-56; these are not the same as catalogue numbers.   Instructions on the operation are found on 555. 

I had found that in the Zoffany these audio descriptions are a guide to the dimensions, geometry of the painting and some shapes, colours and figures or landmarks.  This describes the content of the painting and the guide will lead on to other information.  The numbers of the contextual information can also be heard if a friend tells you the number. 

For example I listened to VI #51 which was a description of some roses in a glass vase by Manet.  I mentioned to Stephen that there was not a wasted adjective in the description and that I knew that the leaves had not been cut from the rose stems in the transparent vase.  I could not see this detail though could make out the vase and roses themselves.    There are many still life compositions and some of them were quite clearly lined, for example a dish of apples forming a pyramid above a horizontal line formed by a table. 


There are some very beautiful Corot landscapes and I liked them all.  His trees and skylines have been noted before ( The cityscape of Rome with the view of St Peters on the left and Castel Sant’Angelo on the right had been painted many years after Corot had visited Rome.  Corot had painted with new (at the time) oil paints in tubes in the open air.  (I had noticed a sketch of a view of Rome at the Courtauld Gallery on 12th July)

VI #52 Landscape by Sisley (The first Sisley I have understood since I lost my sight) Sisley landscapes have been difficult for me and I had more or less accepted that it was impossible for me to make out much.  With a close listen and another phial of eyedrops I could make out much more. 

VI #53  A beautiful picture of the cliffs at Etretat by Monet.   I have heard these cliffs described in novels before (Jonathon Coe’s Closing the Circle).  The coastline is dimly familiar from the past on sailing by this on a ferryboat/ship.  The scene is of a cliff with much erosion leaving an arch and an offshore stack.  Resembles the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney but less dramatic.  The colours are striking and the lines quite clear.

This exhibition was a real delight and I bought the catalogue and a selection of postcards at the end of the visit.  Stephen and I had lunch at the gallery.  Postcards bought include:
The Cliffs at Etretat by Claude Money
Moss Roses in a Vase by Edouard Manet
Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome by Camille Corot
Bathers of the Borromean Isles by Camille Corot
Portrait of Madame Monet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Prof Whitestick outside Royal Academy
showing catalogue for "From Paris - a taste for Impressionism"
behind is a banner for the exhibition

The following are notes which Stephen took down and a sighted friend deciphered and typed up.  We both crosschecked the titles and artists.  In contrast, the above three descriptions of paintings were from my memory.  This will illustrate how an image can remain in memory after a description has been made.  Also, in checking the following notes, the PDF guide, which can be downloaded from the Royal Academy website, can be useful in checking captions.  I am grateful to Kate Horbury from Access and Learning at the Royal Academy for alerting me that the Clarke exhibition guides had just gone up on the RA website.,1420,AR.html.

Clark at RA

Apples in a Dish 1883

Henri Fantin-Latour
Roses in a Bowl and a Dish
Table on diagonal, full double roses very delicately painted

Peonies 1880
Flowers vigorously painted and much less detail than previous roses

Moss Roses in a Vase
VI #51
Clear description: dimensions, colours, content, no wasted adjective, no music, context given #1 (audio channel)


Camille Corot
Road by the Water

Camille Corot
Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

Constant Troyon
Gooseherd 1850-55

Claude Monet
Spring in Giverny 1890
Very ‘high key’ use of colour with subtle contrast, difficult to see

Camille Pissarro
Saint-Charles, Eragny 1891

Alfred Sisley
Banks of the Seine at By
VI #52
Avenue of Trees described, water + boat, geometry and dimensions.  First Sisley I have ever understood.

Claude Monet
The Cliffs at Etretat
VI #53
Rock structures + beach + water, sky, lighting, reminds me of Caithness/Orkney
Old Many of Hoy

Gustave Caillebotte
The Seine at Argenteuil 1892

#23 & #26
Industrial + boat scenes
I really like these Pissarro paintings.  I admired one of his paintings of a steam engine in Dulwich which I saw at the Courtauld a few days before.

Genre Scenes

Giovanni Boldini
Crossing the Street
Carriage with driver, visible woman, lifting skirt, street scene Paris, very nice

another Boldini painting


Dancers in the Classroom, 1880
Reminds me of National Gallery Metamorphosis

A Box at the Theatre, 1880
Audio context points out that top right x-ray shows man observing, subsequently painted over.  I want it!  Music score in hand

Girl with a Fan
These fans were Japanese and appear to be table tennis bats!  They appear in other paintings as these fans were particularly fashionable at the time.

Pierre Bonnard
Women with a Dog
Check tablecloth (dress), middle right profile of woman (dog), 2 real women above, Japanese influence, flat pattern
(In trying to demystify the above notes, the woman’s dress is of a plaid tartan type and was fashionable in Paris at the time.  Queen Victoria had also made some Scottish patterns fashionable.  The profile of the dog had appeared to me to be a profile of a woman sitting at a table, whereas in reality the tablecloth was a dress and it was a dog who was reaching up to the lap of a woman.  This illustrates how first impressions can really lead one astray!)

Portrait of Madame Monet, 1874
Top to bottom triangle
Body and dress top left
Corner table tennis bat fans
VI #54
Flower in hair and foot on footstool
(I couldn’t see this, but learnt this from the audio description.  Even Stephen thought it may have been a ribbon rather than a flower.)

The Female Figure

William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Seated Nude
VI #55
White body + dark background, curved back, arms clasping knees, looks like a giant ampersand.


Self portrait, 1857-8

Self-portrait, c1875

Self-portrait, 1899

Jean-Leon Gerome
The Snake Charmer
VI #56
Music Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune by Debussy
Other reality
This is an example of Orientalism gone mad.  The artist took bits of Istabul, bits of North Africa and let his imagination go wild.  This painting was apparently a favourite of the Clarke family and had been in the family’s possession for a long time.  I didn’t like it, but I’ve never liked scenes from the highlands of Scotland painted by some Victorians around the same time.

You can listen to curator Richard Rand discussing some of the works on display:

@RoyalAcademy With a detailed audio description of the Manet Roses in glass vase I could make out so much more. I can smell them.

@ProfWhitestick We are pleased that the audio guide for "From Paris A Taste of Impressionism" exhibition @royalacademy was useful!

@antennaintl @royalacademy In my case I could smell Manet's roses and the Renoir descriptions were good.

@profwhitestick We're delighted that the @AntennaIntl audio guide brought #RAFromParis to life for you!

Fabulous! RT : With a detailed audio description of the Manet Roses in Vase I could make out so much more. I can smell them."