LATE SPRING 2022
I went to the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery yesterday. The entire show is wonderful. To pick out any single painting would be ludicrous. They are all great and deserve more time than I was able to give them on this first visit. I want to spend more time looking at his prints and his drawings.
His fresco, the School of Athens, is reproduced almost full size and is alone worth the visit. We accept, with today’s technology, that a reproduction of such a massive fresco is of little significance and don’t question the process. I do. How is this possible?
After leaving the Raphael I couldn’t resist searching out some of my old favourites at the Gallery: Whistle Jacket, Stubbs remarkable, almost life size painting of a beautiful horse, and the French Impressionists and Post Impressionists. These, and the John Constable’s paintings that I visited almost every Saturday when I was a student at Camberwell School of Art in the 50’s. This was when ‘museum study’ was expected of art students. We were required to include these studies as an integral part of our examination submission. They were paintings (yes we were allowed to use paint and trusted not to destroy the exhibits) and drawings in ink and wash of the art in the gallery. We took pleasure in exploring ways of making our studies look authentic and old. We used tea to stain the paper, we rubbed in ‘museum dust’ found in the corners where the dust had been swept by the cleaners.
I looked more closely than I have done in years at Claude Monet’s paintings. This was probably because the application is so different from Raphael’s handling of paint. In both cases one has to ask, how did he do it? My answer in both cases is through observation. If the artist spends enough time looking and studying and drawing what he sees, (photographing does not suffice) then a simple brush stroke or pencil mark will convey the essence of what he chooses to depict. In a single brush stroke Monet conveys the essence of water. In that same tradition, from Raphael to the English Schools of Arts and Crafts, we were taught to observe, to use our sketchbooks, to look at the world.
Here is a detail of a graphite drawing I made some years ago.
This, I believe, demonstrates that every mark, no matter how seemingly random, will have meaning if it is made with knowledge.
This drawing was made in the days when my primary concern was depicting the three-dimensional world around me. The world as it exists before I turned it into a picture. What I call the pre-pictorial world.
Here below is the entire drawing.