Apr 2007 Journal

previous article:A heavy, lonely legacy
next article:Letter from Israel

Art notes (review)

Henry Sanders has been dubbed the last German Expressionist. Born Helmuth Salomon in Dresden 1918, Sanders came to Britain in 1933 and studied at Hornsey College of Art. Interned and sent to Canada when war broke out, he would sit on the camp’s washroom floor, sketching furiously in charcoal. His tender yet dynamic animal studies recall the strong, pared-down line of an artist faced with the urgency of the moment.

Some of his work lay in obscurity for 35 years but now it is shown in an exhibition at Etz Chayim Gallery in Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, most of it selling for under £300. On that washroom floor of his internment camp, he drew and redrew one theme - Leda and the Swan – in which a woman and a swan merge and then part, internalising a highly sexual theme.

But this is not the case with his oils or even his beautifully executed guaches. Conscious of the raging mood of Expressionism in Germany, a largely Jewish fin-de-siecle movement condemned by the Nazis as degenerate, Sanders’s work is not informed by the urban experience of his countrymen but by Catalonian village life or the tranquillity of Hampstead. Such rural empathy puts Sanders out of touch and out of time with the reactive German Expressionist movement symbolised by Kollwitz, Schiele and Kokoschka. Like them, he avoided the cliché of beauty. Unlike Schiele, he did not challenge those clichés or push out the boundaries between beauty and ugliness.

While some of Sanders’s work is comparable to that of Emil Nolde and others who were challenging the political forces of their time, London was not a city of urban decay or social disintegration and many of Sanders’s landscapes could be considered abstract. His courageous and emotional use of colour is almost closer to Impressionism. Widely exhibited in London, but not featured in auctions for years, he could surely have been a major artist of his time.

Shame on the National Portrait Gallery. The home to some of Britain’s most exciting portraiture has lent itself inexplicably to a new exhibition on fashion which is one of the coldest and most exploitative shows I can remember. I say inexplicable unless, of course, the NPG has an overwhelming need to jump on the celebrity band-wagon. Face of Fashion, until 28 May, features Kate Moss looking as though you’d surprised her in her bath, there’s a pantomime redhead in a ruff and the portrait of a man with a cut throat. The waifs and strays of fashion strike bogus attitudes of sex and bondage.

But where is this face of fashion? Most of the subjects are undressed and of the now-unfashionable size-zero build. Five leading US and European fashion photographers are claimed here to shape our ideas of beauty, sexuality and fame. Did I miss something?

By refreshing contrast, an adjoining room has some penetrating photographs by Don McCullin, featuring religious leaders like Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, Tony Bayfield and Dr Rowan Williams.
Gloria Tessler

previous article:A heavy, lonely legacy
next article:Letter from Israel