Recently I did something I've been meaning to do for a long time. I went to the Prints and Drawings room at Tate Britain. Only a proportion of the Tate's collection is on display at any one time. The rest is in storage. Indeed some of it, particularly sketches, prints, drawings etc, are never displayed. What you can do, and anyone can do this and it is free is book an appointment at the Prints and Drawings room, say what you want to see from their archive and they will produce it for you.
I am a member of the Law Society Art Group and they arranged a trip to do exactly that. Indeed going in a group is a good idea because it means you get a whole room to yourselves and can see many more paintings. I suspect if you go on your own you are limited to one or two. The time is limited, you have an hour. It was however a wonderful experience. It is not an easy room to find. You have to work you way to the end of the Core gallery, where the Turners are, up the stairs to the William Blake galleries, and then through an anonymous set of green doors. You then ring a buzzer to gain admittance. Unlikely then to find it by chance, and not easy to find it on purpose. One of our number went spectacularly wrong by going to the wrong Tate.
You are of course not allowed to touch the works and there is a member of staff supervising. They also have information on the works to hand. What you can do though is get much closer to a work than you normally would. You can also spend more time looking without the jostle of crowds than you would do otherwise. The two I requested were Peter Doig Prints (above) of whom I am a big fan. His work has this ethereal mysterious quality. It often involves reflections and water, both of which were pregnant themes in these two pieces. I am afraid I have forgotten what their names are.
Of course I was not the only person attending so there were the surprise element of works others had requested too.
The above is by Frank Auerbach. It was a long time between setting up the visit and actually going but I suspect I may have asked for this also. In the photo it looks quite intriguing with these figures emerging from the scratchy background. In person though it is quite dull, looks like the scribbling of a bored child and as one of my companions commented, if it wasn't by somebody famous no-one would like twice at it.
Rossetti appeared not once but thrice (the third one later). As the same companion marked, it is incredible what you can achieve with just a pencil and a piece of paper as in this drawing of what we eventually decided was a young man (above left). It is a very delicate and detailed drawing, filled with the strange angelic quality with homo-erotic undertones that so oft one sees in Rossetti. I spent quite some time looking at this, it is a real masterclass in how to draw. It calls across the room. Next to it was this very small etching, a figure playing some kind of instrument. Detailed but for me the less artistically interesting of the two.
Apologies for the poor quality photos but under the rules of the room, flash photography is prohibited, but of course Turner was in attendance. Demonstrating what you can achieve with remarkably little paint in these watercolours, one the cool light on a winter lake (above left) and the other a glowing red sunset (above right). Turner is all light and water, and I love it. The mountain scene on the left is my preferred, that solid purple mass, contrasting with the soft water. The small boats, little more than lines, really set it off.
burning parliament. Different shades of white, yellow red, the building itself done in these colours to show the coruscating heat. Lovely.
Changing styles, time period and gender to three Paula Rego prints (above). I have never really been a fan of Rego's painting but I found these prints quite intriguing. It is the odd poses the women have adopted, particularly the strange half squat in the picture on the far left. What an earth is happening there? Equally on the far right, it looks like an illustration for a strange fairy-tale or some other diluvian story. I spent far longer than I thought I would looking at this. Again this demonstrates why you go in a group if you can, exposure to the unexpected. I have a new respect for Rego now.
orientated diagonal lines, crossed by those skeletal trees. I spent some time looking at and sketching the dominant tree in the monochrome picture. There is something very Entish about it.
William Blake (above), biblical, flowing, mad, evocative, all the things you want from William Blake.
More William Blake! From left to right god as an elderly white man, with light coming from his head, in a strange womb like clamshell setting. Then an etching of I'm not sure what. Finally the one I found most interesting this very intimate sketch of Catherine Blake who was his wife. It is a very contented gaze she has and Blake manages to say quite allot with very few lines. It is drawn on the back of some kind of printed page. You can see the type pushing through the page. A wonderful thing to see at such close quarters.
Samuel Palmer was another new name. He was an etcher and printmaker and we had for our delectation four prints, these two (above)
and these two (above). Moonlight country scenes are his thing. Often castles in the background. They are very classic, which is not a very elegant way of putting it, but the monochrome packs a certain punch. My particular favourite was the one on the right of the first set. I'm not sure why.
Hogarth prints, worthy and dull.
Finally Rossetti again (above). This one the only one with glass so apologies for the reflection in the photo. A biblical triptych, David and his sling, birth of baby Jesus and then some king playing a harp? Not sure who he is. My biblical knowledge is sketchy. Presumably this is a mock up for a larger work. I like the angels peering in at the back. I m not sure of the medium here, but it looked too course and sketchy for oil paints. I could be wrong though.
Its super fun, and I highly recommend it. Finally a ruthless plug for my own show which is coming up from 18th November to 18th December at Beans Loves Greens. Below a peek of some one of the works that will be on display.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.