Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mixed Media: Hull Ferens Art Gallery (2014)

The Mixed Media column from the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hull Ferens Art Gallery

The Ferens Art Gallery in Hull which opened in 1927 is a great example of how impressive a municipal art collection can be outside the metropolis. In fact this gallery has A View on the Grand Canal (1728) by 'Venetia Vedutista' Canaletto, one of many ‘views’ which were once in demand by the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie as souvenirs of the Grand Tour, and one of the few in an English municipal collection.

Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring (1943)
Impressionist Laura Knight's evocative Dressing the Children (1906) portrays a woman dressing children by firelight in a kitchen with a cat in the centre of the picture. It was painted in the cottage of an ironstone miner and his family in the fishing village of Staithes on the Yorkshire coast where Knight lived in an artists’ colony. Knight records in her autobiography how she saw in the cottage 'greater poverty and misery than it seemed possible for anyone to bear.' The family relied heavily on Knight's income, and eventually she and her husband gave the family five pounds to buy a horse and cart and to set up a fish selling business. Only part of the loan was repaid, the remainder was offered as a gift. In the Second World War Knight was a 'War Artist' and painted the iconic feminist Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring.

The semi-abstract Keith Vaughan's Coastal Defences (Seaford, East Sussex) (c1959-62) is abstract assemblies of two dimensional geometrical shapes although Vaughan always rooted his paintings in observed reality, and was never completely abstract. There is a Henry Moore sculpture Working Model for Seated Woman (1980) which is a figure seated on a solid but low block base for support with her cloth-bound knees forced upwards by the pose.

Niccolò Renieri's baroque St Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene (1625) is in the style of the great Caravaggio with its strong lighting contrasts (chiaroscuro) and a preoccupation with the human body. A Roman warrior, the legend goes, Sebastian served in the private guard of the Emperor Diocletian, who sentenced him to be shot with arrows as punishment for his Christian faith, but as he lay dying and wounded he was found by the Holy Irene and nursed back to health. This painting is a very popular piece of work in the Ferens Art Gallery due to its striking nature and scale, it has been described as 'one of his most successful works, perhaps even his masterpiece.'
Steve Clayton