Jan 2011 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

Hunting scenes by Heywood Hardy, Arthur Wardle or John Frederick Herring may have graced many an Englishman’s castle. But David Chancellor’s portrait of a teenage hunter is a surprising winner of this year’s National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize – particularly with teenagers and social awareness high among entries.

Huntress with Buck is bathed in russet tones; the girl mounted on her horse is an ethereal red-head, and the even more beautiful fallen buck lying across her saddle is the same carnelian red, a gentle metaphor for blood against the background of gathering clouds. The 14-year old hunter, aptly named Josie Slaughter, from Alabama, was on her first hunting trip to South Africa and Chancellor took the moment’s opportunity to catch the ‘almost unreal light’.

Other compelling entries include child prisoners in Burundi with huge, hopeless eyes and three young identically clad Bangladeshi girls with their proud dad. Felix Carpio was captivated by the ‘daring looks’ of a young Syrian girl in a green headscarf, contrasting modesty with female sagacity. There were attractive Cossack girl cadets in fatigues and a young deaf footballer with a taut, inward expression in old sepia. Ben Wisely presented a Rwandan street teenager, while Hadas Mualem’s portrait of the pensive and forlorn Yasra, who moved from her native Moldova to Israel, reveals with great sensitivity the isolation of the new émigré. David Knight was so captivated by Catherine, his red-haired assignment model, that he stayed to render this pallid, teary-eyed version of her as his entry to the competition. Its candour says much about the ephemeral world of modelling.

They weren’t all young. Ann Widdecombe - presumably before the Strictly Come Dancing fiasco - is photographed by Thomas Butler standing on a pedestal next to an awkward-looking Jon Snow. Other political portraits include Kalpesh Lathigra’s view of Tony Blair with his now familiar glazed look. Marcia Michaels’s artful black-and-white study captures the light on the spine of a young girl. The exhibition runs until 20 February 2011.

The National Portrait Gallery also presents Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance. Lawrence was Regency Britain’s leading portrait painter, who made his artistic debut at 21. The looming backdrop to this lavish era was the French Revolution and the consequent Franco-British wars. After peace, Lawrence painted the European sovereigns and generals who helped defeat Napoleon. His graphite and red-and-black chalk paintings of women in impossible bonnets and winsome girls with clear-eyed intelligence became lusher and bolder towards the mid-eighteenth century, with the European aristocracy in crimson velvets and small boys in Little Lord Fauntleroy lace-edged suits. Lawrence’s gift for detail can be seen in his 1790 full-length portrait of the beautiful Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby, in a fur-draped, crisp white satin dress with the wind in her hair, as she half turns towards us with a simpering, yet audacious smile. It took Lawrence 13 years to paint his muse, Isabella Wolff, whose classical pose references Michaelangelo, in contrast to the dashing, colourful portraits of his archdukes, baronets and countesses. Until 23 January.


Gloria Tessler

previous article:The sixty-fifth anniversary of our journal
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