Monday, 28 November 2016

'Cubism and War: The Crystal in the Flame' at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona

On my trip to Barcelona last week I popped in to the Picasso Museum to see the new exhibition, 'Cubism and War: The Crystal in the Flame' featuring works during the First World War. It was made up of works by artists in Paris who, for one reason or another, were unable to enlist to fight and so, rather than report on the war. chose to continue experimenting with the Cubist art that had been developed in the year running up to the outbreak of war.

It's quite a small exhibition with a room for each to eh war years and includes a wide variety of works from artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Maria Blanchard, Braque and Fernand Leger as well as others. Some seemed to move deeper into Cubism while others left the movement as the war continued.

The first painting that drew me in was Matisse's 'Flowers and Ceramic Plate' from 1913, pulling at my eyes to sink into the gorgeous colours and shapes on the canvas.  There were only five or six paintings in this first, pre-war room, showing that experimentation was alive and kicking and driving forward their art, and this painting epitomised that for me.

It's a strange still life with a base of blue that draws you into it as you gaze. It's not terribly carefully painted and the paint is quite roughly applied in places but, as a whole, it works in a quite marvellous way. I wonder what those flowers smelled like?

I don't think I've ever seen any paintings by Diego Rivera, who I think of as Frida Kahlo's husband, so it was nice to see some of his works. The painting that most attracted my attention was called 'Maternity' (although it seems to have different names on that theme) that shows a mother and child (so could be quite religious as well as the more clinical 'maternity' title).

I think one of the things that attracted me to this painting is the hairy leg of the mother that made me think of Frida Kahlo even though this was painted years before the pair met and married. It's clearly a woman with a babe in her lap cut up, sliced up, into flat planes and stitched together with colour and a hint of a rocking movement. I actually liked the Diego Rivera paintings that were part of this exhibition and he's someone I ought to look at in other ways other than as Frida's husband. Based on these paintings, he was the one who first returned to realism after his Cubist period.

A Picasso painting that caught my interest was 'Still Life with Compote and Glass' from 1914-15 with it's planes of dots as well as trying to show a table top from all directions at once. It's a very 'clean' composition that shows fruit and a glass bowl on top of a side table. I puzzled over the dotted planes seemingly randomly thrown around the painting as they are in a few others in the exhibition (such as "Man in Front of a Chimney-Piece'). I can't recall seeing this in other Picasso paintings - maybe it's an expression of his frustration with the war?

I'll finish with another Picasso painting since this exhibition is, after all, in a museum that bears his name. This is 'Columbus Avenue' from 1917 and, appropriately enough, is set in Barcelona. It's a painting of the view from his window overlooking the Columbus statue pointing west towards the Americas. It's quite appropriate to end with this painting since the statue is still there and my taxi whizzed round the base of the column on my way into Barcelona a few days earlier.

Picasso has largely moved away from his pre-war Cubism and is celebrating his nationalism as a son of Barcelona. The colours are really attractive and this is one of the paintings available on all of the merch in the shop. The Picasso Museum has a great shop but charging €37 for the catalogue is a bit steep considering how small the exhibition is. At least they have the grace to offer a postcard of the gorgeous Matisse that kicks off the exhibition in the first room.

I enjoyed the exhibition for what it is and there were some quite touching explanatory notes in a room full of war photos of the trenches and ruined villages that served to remind us of the war 100 years ago. As ever, there were queues outside to get in (the name 'Picasso' has a certain monetary value) so buy a ticket online if you plan to go, then you can walk straight in. I did. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

'A Thyssen Never Seen' at CaixaForum, Barcelona

I saw the excellent 'A Thyssen Never Seen' exhibition at CaixaForum on my recent visit to Barcelona. The 'Thyssen' in the title refers to the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection based in Madrid which has loaned 63 paintings to stage this exhibition. The CaixaForum is part of the philanthropic arm of La Caixa bank and I saw an excellent Impressionist and beyond exhibition at it's Madrid branch over the summer. I'm pleased to report that this exhibition matches the same high standard of the Madrid exhibition, really well laid out and thought through, spacious and it has a lovely booklet for visitors. More of that later.

My main reason for going to Barcelona was to see a painting by Fra Angelico, 'The Virgin of Humility' which is on permanent loan from the Thyssen Museum in Madrid to the National Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona. It was further loaned to CaixaForum for this exhibition, so it was to the exhibition I found myself walking on Monday morning.

The CaixaForum is a converted old factory made up of several buildings and the Thyssen exhibition has its own building. The main entrance was busy with people and a couple of school groups, loud and full of life and that was a nice start and the noise dropped as I went into the exhibition building, turned right to walk down a short corridor and, straight ahead was Fra Angelico's 'Virgin of Humility' waiting to be viewed. There were three early Renaissance paintings (including a small Duccio) on the wall before reaching the Fra altarpiece but these were flush to the wall so couldn't be seen until you're right in front of them.

The exhibition is organised around five themes: religious paintings, portraits, objects, landscapes and the city. In part, it's showing off the glories of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, showing the extraordinary range of works in the collection, from Duccio in the late 1200s to Richard Estes in 1967. And almost every kind of painting in-between.

The painting I really wanted to see was an altarpiece by Fra Angelico called 'Virgin of Humility' with the Virgin and Child flanked by angels holding a gorgeous cloth of gold as a background while seated in the court of Heaven. It's a really lovely painting by the good Fra, delicately painted and full of detail you can only really see when you get up close to the painting.

Gold and blue, with a splash of deep red in the centre as the Virgin's tunic, with the Infant dressed in a related pink holding a lily for his mother. The Virgin is also holding a lily in a vase, one of her symbols of purity. I stood in front of this painting for some time, gazing at the detail of the Virgin's hair behind her ear and her delicate fingernails and trying to work out the Latin inscription in the Virgin's halo without success. If anyone know what the inscription says, I'd love to know.

The next room focused on portraits of people and paintings of characters, from Hans Memlink to Lucien Freud, showing a wide range of styles over the intervening 600 years. I was particularly taken with the painting 'Portrait of a Robust Man' by Robert Campin that I first saw in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid (which is where this photo was taken when I was there over the summer). The painting is possibly of Robert de Jasmines from around 1425.

If you ignore the fur trim around the neck of his coat and the hair style, this man could be alive today and living round the corner from you. It is very realistic with the creases around the eyes and forehead, the fat face and the jowls. Is he happy or sad? I don't know but, on the basis that he probably commissioned this painting himself, I'm happy to contribute to his ongoing immortality. He's not the prettiest or handsomest of men but he's actively saying 'I was alive, I was here' by the very act of being painted and I have to admire that. I don't know anything about him and I think I would like to know a bit about who he was and how he lived.

Most of the portraits were from Northern painters, which isn't surprising since portraiture was largely developed in the North and one of the poster girls for the exhibition is Ruben's 'Portrait of a Young Woman with Rosary'. 

The gorgeous background of red drapery and the complexity of her shiny bodice and her ruff really enhance the simplicity and realism of her face, passively looking out at the viewer. I wonder if she ever thought that total strangers would gaze on her 400 years after she sat for this portrait? 

There are a range of other portraits on show such as from Andrew Wyeth, Alberto Giacometti and Edward Hopper showing the vast range of the Thyssen collection. 

The next section of the exhibition focused on still lives and objects, starting with the grand old Dutch Masters but the painting that kept my eyes on it was Picasso's 'Fruit and Vases'. This isn't a painting I'd normally be attracted to, with it's rather dull palette and subject matter, but it's a good example of needing to see paintings 'in the paint' to properly appreciate them. There's something about the simplicity of the composition and green/gold/brown colours that really drew me into this one, painting one vase through another with the random fruit to the fore. The vases are simple in design and I like seeing the large vase through the smaller glass vase, such a simple effect and not a new thing at all but it keeps grabbing my eyes. I also can't help but see the front two pieces of fruit almost as a chicken waiting to be cooked. O well, it ca't all be magic! 

Coincidentally, I bought a scarf in the same colours and with an angular pattern the following day. Was that an unconscious influence of seeing the painting that made me buy a scarf that can only be considered dull by comparison with my more normal scarves? Odd that. 

Another painting that caught my eye was this rather small painting by Jan Breughel of Christ asleep in the fishing boat during a storm on the sea of Galilea. As well as the deep colours drawing me into the storm it reminded me of the Delacroix exhibition last year at the National Gallery in London which included one of Delacroix's several copies or interpretations of this painting that was included in the exhibition. So this was the painting that sparked his interest in the theme. It's a very dramatic painting, with the storm gathering and the Disciples starting to panic as the Christ happily sleeps in the middle of the boat. Have faith people, he's saying, it'll all be all right.

The final section of the exhibition focused on 'the city' and this is where it seemed we see the most 'modern' paintings. I really liked Pissarro's 'Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon' and even quite liked a Canaletto, but it was 'Architecture II (The Man From Potin)' by Lyonel Feininger, an American painter I haven't heard of before, that I wanted a good look at. It's an odd composition really, almost like you're drawing aside a curtain and looking out of a window at the city scene of angular men in suits busy being busy.

A painting I waited to get a good view of was Kandinsky's 'Johannisstrasse, Murnau' from 1908 with it's gorgeous green and pink houses and a solitary woman with her shopping basket. The muddy-looking ground reflecting the gloomy sky with the bright houses separting them. I wonder where the woman is going since none of the buildings look like shops - perhaps this is a residential district and she's heading off to do her daily shop in town? I don't know but I want to make up stories about the people who live in these colourful houses and their colourful or mundane lives.

The final painting brings us right up to date with Richard Estes' 'Telephone Booths' from 1967. It's a large work that brings New York to mind with it's shiny telephone boxes in a row that we've all seen it gritty films from the '60s and '70s and which you don't often see anywhere these days. The phone boxes reflect the outside world while the women inside are making urgent telephone calls to hospitals and homes or maybe gossiping with a friend about who they've just seen in the street and who she was with. It was, at the time, a depiction of the modern world but now, with mobile phones, it's a bit historical and that adds another layer to the painting. The only thing missing from the painting is the rubbish you'd expect to see in the street outside phone boxes.

So there you have it, this is a really good exhibition with a very wide range of paintings on show ranging from the late 1200s to 1967 - what a span of topics and styles and the thematic organisation of the exhibition helps us to appreciate it more. If you're visiting Barcelona over the next few months then I'd strongly suggest you visit. It's only €4 to get in and there's something there for everyone. Go and see it!

When you go in you can pick up a small postcard sized leaflet explaining the exhibition in Catalan, Spanish and English. It's a sign of the creativity of CaixaForum that it isn't just any old explanatory leaflet, it's made of light card with perforated folds. One side of the leaflet has text explaining each theme while the other has postcard-sized reproductions of some of the paintings on display. What a great idea! I haven't seen something like this before and it looks really good. The CaixaForum is, in effect, giving away free postcards, especially since none of the featured paintings are available to buy as postcards in the shop. I love this idea and I hope more institutions take it up.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

'The Virgin of Humility' by Fra Angelico (Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection)

Earlier this week I flew to Barcelona to see a wonderful altarpiece by Fra Angelico. 'The Virgin of Humility' is on permanent loan to the National Museum of Art of Catalonia from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid.  The painting was further loaned to CaixaForum for its current exhibition of Thyssen Collection paintings, 'A Thyssen Never Seen'.  So it was to the CaixaForum that I found myself walking to on a grey, drizzly Monday morning.

The very civilised Thyssen-Bornemisza and CaixaForum allow photography so these are photos I took on my phone to show what the altarpiece actually looks like rather than versions nicked from the Internet. I haven't manipulated the images in any way - this is what the altarpiece looks like including with and without the frame. I can't read the catalogue so don't know anything about the frame but suspect it was added when the painting was part of the collection of Leopold II of Belgium (the plaque at the foot of the altarpiece names him as 'owner'). The style suggests it's later than the Fra painted but fully in keeping with how we see Renaissance religious paintings today.

It's worth bearing in mind that 'Virgin of Humility' is what we call this altarpiece rather than how the Fra referred to it. Paintings with this title often show the Virgin sitting in a natural setting - in a field, or a room - whereas this painting clearly shows the Virgin in the court of Heaven with its golden background and cast of angels with spotted wings. The angels hold a cloth of gold behind the Virgin and Child while two more serenade them at their feet.  The cloth is fabulously detailed with each golden rosette carefully scratched to create a three dimensional effect so you see the folds and creases. You can't really see that in online images and that's why you need to see the real painting 'in the paint' so to speak. It's all very clever and very effective.

There's an awful lot of gold leaf in this altarpiece and I've no idea who did that for the Fra and how they worked together. When you get up close you can also see the creases in the thick cushion the Virgin is sitting on so this is clearly a painting for a church or donor of high status. I need to do more research.

I really love the composition of this altarpiece. The Virgin holding her son and the Infant nuzzling up to his mother, cheek to cheek, while offering her a lily. When you get close you can see that the Child is wearing a shirt underneath his pink robe and you can see the almost invisible folds of the cloth along his arm. You can also see the Virgin's hair underneath and to the side of her veils, curling beneath her ear. That suggests that this painting was meant to be seen up close, at least by some privileged people. Including me.

I puzzled over the writing in the Virgin's halo - I stood for some time trying to work out what it said and failed. Anybody know?

The overwhelming impression of this painting is blue and gold, both rich colours, the pink of the Child reflecting the red of the Virgin's robe covering her midriff creating a link. It's a very tender composition, exquisitely finished, peaceful and calm. It's a delight to see this altarpiece from the Angelic One.

Friday, 18 November 2016

'The Creation' by Rambert at Sadler's Wells

In 1978 I first thought about seeing the Ballet Lambert - I can't remember what the production was but I'd seen Derek Jacobi in 'Hamlet' and wanted to see more things at the theatre but somehow didn't get tickets (I can't remember why). So, 38 years later I got tickets to see Rambert (it's dropped the 'ballet' word from it's title) at Sadler's Wells along with the Rambert Orchestra and the BBC Singers to dance the world into existence through Haydn's 'The Creation'. So, yes, I had high expectations and what better production to see than one using and interpreting Haydn's great music to dance the world into existence?

The orchestra sits on stage along with the BBC Singers behind a Gothic grille screen which allowed the soloists to stand and sing as their turns came. Rambert danced in front of the grille. This meant that half of the stage was lost to the dancers and, presumably, it was choreographed with that in mind. I thought it worked quite well but wonder how much grander it could have been with a larger space for the dancers to do their thing?

I've never heard 'The Creation' before and it was a joy to hear (I ought to listen to more Haydn). Haydn's grand music and the words telling the story of the seven days of creation from Chaos to Eden. God created heaven and earth, the waters and the land and caused the grass to grow.  I loved the line that 'God created the great whales' - of course he did and mighty and beautiful they are! It was great to hear the soloists sing these lines backed by the orchestra and the Rambert dancers bringing it all to life.

So what about Rambert? They danced their socks off, great crowds of dancers flooding the stage and then vanishing to leave soloists to show off their steps. I loved the mass ensemble scenes with 18 or 24 dancers all doing their synchronised thing and moving round the stage pulling shapes and stretching their bodies in strange and exotic ways. They were wonderful, full of energy and grace. How do you do that?

My only criticism is the costumes. The strange onesies in grey or black with the odd frills across the torso and large daisies at the ankles. What's that about? I thought they were quite unflattering and ugly and hoped for a costume change at half time so was disappointed to see them come on in the same costumes. Please change this for your next production of this show.

Was it worth the wait of 38 years? O yes, I loved it all (other than the costumes), the athleticism and grace, the story-telling and the glory of Haydn's music. I will definitely watch out for more productions by Rambert!

'Amadeus' at the National Theatre

Last week we went to see the new production of 'Amadeus' on the big Olivier stage at the National Theatre. I saw an exciting production of 'Amadeus' at Chichester two year ago with Rupert Everett in the main role as Salieri so I'm familiar with the story of the play, but what would the National do with it? The play is actually sold out until February next year so, it appears, I'm not the only one that's interested to see what it would do with the play it first staged - after all, that's where it was first performed all those years ago.

Although named for Amadeus Mozart, the tale is actually about Antonio Salieri, an Italian composer at the court of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor at Vienna. Salieri is the court composer at the time that Mozart settles in Vienna hoping to make his name and fortune and the play starts with Salieri as an old man looking back to when he knew Mozart. The glory of Mozart's works is spoiled for Salieri by his crass behaviour and that is the start of the spiralling downfall of Mozart at Salieri's hands. Feigning to be a friend and supporter, he plots the downfall of his rival and sees him reduced to penury and illness, finally dying. All as part of Salieri's war with God for granting Mozart the gift of great music rather than himself.

The empty Olivier stage is soon full of chairs for the Southbank Sinfonia that provides the music for the production and is on stage rather than in a pit, adding to the busy-ness of the play. They don't stay on stage for long, though, and start playing here, there and everywhere as needed but are ever-present since music fills the play, sometimes in period costume and sometimes not. More often than not I'd say that this would be a distraction from the 'real' play but I actually quite enjoyed it, with the musicians and actors playing off each other.

I really liked the staging, a relatively bare stage transformed every so often into a crowded salon or concert venue allowing the mind to wonder and wander into different scenarios. One minute the royal palace and the next a bawdy house show that becomes 'The Marriage of Figaro' or some other grand opera. It's all very imaginative and very well done. Well done to Michael Longhurst and Chloe Lamford for having the vision to make it all work.

Of course, the play is really about the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, in this case Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen. I've seen Lucian a few times in previous National Theatre productions but Adam is a new name to me. They worked well together, the serious older musician and the younger want to have fun while producing great music without thinking about it. Lucian feigns an Italian accent (presumably to distinguish himself from the German-speaking court) and that sometimes got a bit too thick to easily follow but he ably leads the play. The other main character is Constanze, Mozart's wife, played by Karla Crome as a great East End fishwife.

I really liked this production and Lucian as the jealous. scheming Salieri holding it all together. The staging and lighting were imaginative and I loved having the orchestra on the stage as participants in the play rather than accompanists. I think I'd like to see it again!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

'King Lear' at The Old Vic

It seems to be 'King Lear''s winter with two major productions playing in London at the same time - Glenda Jackson at The Old Vic and Anthony Sher about to open at the Barbican. Of course, it's got to be Glenda Jackson on her return to stage after a career as a politician and I'm so pleased I've finally seen her on stage. I wonder how this play came about - did she down one day with a cup of tea and think, 'I want to stun the world, I want to be Lear'?

Glenda always conjures up images of 'Women In Love' and 'A Touch of Class' for me, films I haven't seen in a long time but which I remember fondly. The girl from Boots the Chemist turning up on stage and then film and showing the world what acting really was. And then taking her convictions into Parliament as a Labour MP, even becoming a junior minister for a short time. She retired from Parliament at the 2015 election and did a play for Radio 4 and this is her return to the stage at the age of 80. And there she was last night, strolling onto the stage with her 'daughter' in the play. No fanfares, no announcements, but you knew that *someone* had just walked onto the stage.

'Lear' is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays - I can appreciate it but it's over-long and complex, it's painful and everyone dies (or, at least, everyone that matters dies). I suspect that's part of the attraction for Glenda, to be on stage for much of the three and half hours of the production, to shout and rail against the fates, power-hungry daughters and against stupid men, in a tragedy of her own making. Lear brings it on himself by asking his daughters how much they love him - two go over the top to prove their love and are awarded with great tracts of England but the youngest tells the truth, 'you're my father and I love you and can say no more'. And that causes the downfall of the entire family after various twists and turns. Honesty can be dangerous.

We see pain and madness, lust for power and plain old lust, we see political machinations and their results. But we also see loyalty and love and a final reconciliation. A man has his eyes plucked out (and one eye thrown into the audience) for his loyalty and another heeds the call of his master to follow him into death ('My master calls, I must not say no' says Kent, a line that always gets me). Lear's daughters descend into selfishness, power and lust while his youngest daughter rescues him. It's all terribly tragic and all because of a simple question asked by a father of his children. Anyway, you know the story.

We were greeted by a plain stage with a backdrop made up of moveable white panels with projections beamed onto them, including the act and scene number throughout the play. The stage is busy with the cast vacuum cleaning and putting out chairs, all in contemporary dress, moving round chatting as the noisy audience took its collective seats. I wasn't sure about the staging but came to love it with the weirdly cast shadows and uncluttered look, focusing on the actors and the words. I particularly loved the storm scene with a curtain and floor of black bin bags with the screens turned black and showing driving rain. I thought that was very effective, one of the best storms ever. Well done to Deborah Warner as director and to both her and to Jean Kalman for an interesting set and lighting.

It is quite a high powered cast as well with Celia Imrie as a very controlled Goneril and Jane Horrocks as a lustful Regan in her skin-tight jeans and high heels, delighting in plucking out eyeballs and throwing one into the audience (I was surprised at the number of hands that went into the air to catch it). The traitorous and rival daughters were very different from one another but shared the lust for Edmund and for power. Morfydd Clark played a nice Cordelia, bewildered by her father's reaction to her honesty and then caring and brave when she returns and saves him. I liked the three daughters and the little additions they brought to their roles, like Celia Imrie arriving stage with a bucket and cloth to mop up Jane Horrock's vomit when she's poisoned. Sometimes it's the little touches that create the character.

Rhys Ifans was an excellent fool with his Superman onesie tied around his neck as a cloak. I rarely like Shakespeare's 'comic' characters but, for once, I actually liked that character despite the nonsense he sometimes spouts. He is Lear's Fool till the bitter end, following his master wherever he leads. The other male characters weren't quite on a par with this performance. I wasn't terribly impressed with Simon Manyonda    as Edmund, the nasty character who seeks advancement at the expense of his brother and father. Why did he masturbate at one point and pull his shorts down at the back to show us his bum - shouldn't he pull the front down? But that is down to Deboral Warner's direction, I suppose. I rarely heard him clearly when he wasn't facing the audience. Harry Melling as his brother Edgar also exposed his bum at one point and then everything when he stripped naked, which was brave. There seemed to be quite a lot of men taking their tops off unnecessarily and Kent even strips to change into the same clothes at one point.

The stage, however, belonged to Glenda Jackson and easily so. She's the central character in the play but, more than that, she has a rare and powerful presence. While some of the others on stage seemed to be shouting their lines she raised her voice and projected and used her voice as part of her armoury of acting. There was a deep power in her performance, a very controlled power that she unleashed when she felt she needed to and then reigned in again. A performance of pain and despair, and eventually, finding a way back to becoming a loving parent again. Glenda gave us a masterclass in how to act. Some of the younger members of the cast would do well to take lessons from her.

I was a little bit worried when I walked into the theatre that Glenda might be all 'big name' but not all that on stage - well, she is 80 - and I am delighted to put that worry to bed. She gave us everything you could want and more. She's still got it and, if anything, her age gives her even more power. She deserved every clap from that standing ovation at the end. I wonder what she'll do next?

Well done Glenda on a magnificent performance!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Paul Nash at Tate Britain

The new exhibition at Tate Britain is a retrospective of the work of Paul Nash, apparently the most complete exploration of his work for a generation. I've seen his works before in exhibitions about early 20th century painting or British schools, but this is my first full exhibition on Nash. So, I'm aware of him, but not terribly familiar with him. That made it quite strange to walk through the door into the exhibition, have a glance round the walls to decide where to start looking and having a distinct feeling that I'm going to enjoy this. And I did.

The exhibition is organised thematically and chronologically so we can see how he developed and experimented but what remains consistent is his love of landscape and nature, sometimes magical, sometimes scarred by war, but always there. One room focuses on his art using found objects and we also get some of his photographs of fallen trees as dragons. The rooms also have quotes from Nash on the walls and I think the curators have done an excellent job at picking just the right sentences to create a different atmosphere in each room.

The first room is full of Nash's early works in ink and watercolour, all relatively small works of trees and more trees and mysterious landscapes with trees, trees as ancient beings that have watched humanity over the centuries. 'Dreaming Trees' is a great title for the room since that's what these paintings evoke with deep dreams of the past of England's mysterious countryside that Nash loved.

They're not all dark and mysterious and some are flooded with the sunlight of a summer's day, with feathery branches and foliage. I really liked 'Summer Garden' and 'The Cherry Orchard', paintings I'd happily have on my wall. I also liked 'Wittenham Clumps', a group of trees on a hill in the middle of the countryside that Nash painted in different ways throughout his life. The cultivated fields surrounding the hill with the magic of the Clumps at the top with birds in the sky and the mystery of what might be inside that group of trees - civilisation and ancient mystery together.

The next room is a complete change in mood as we are presented with some of his paintings from the First World War and we see scenes of devastation and horror.

This room is titled 'We Are Making A New World' after his painting of the same name. We're told that  Nash joined the Artist's Rifles in 1914 and the writing on the wall includes an exerpt from a letter in 1917,

"It is unspeakable, godless hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious... Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls."

Landscapes still feature but they are tortured and desolate and the war to end all wars raged on. 'The Menin Road' is the largest painting in this group, painted in 1919 after the war but Nash is still trying to cleanse his soul by showing the  smashed and barren result of the long war. Soldiers struggle to walk through the desolation left by four long years of war. It's a painful image. It normally hangs in the Imperial War Museum but perhaps it should hang somewhere more prominent as a reminder to politicians and the media what the results of their policies can be.

The exhibition moves on to a series of rooms with paintings and other works based on themes of  'places' and 'rooms' and 'inanimate objects' to 'unseen landscapes' and his involvement with the surrealist movement in Britain between the wars. There are also some works by contemporaries such as Eileen Agar and Ben Nicholson

There are some lovely paintings in this section of the exhibition including a return to mysterious trees but painted very differently as his style developed and he experimented with different ways of looking. I particularly liked 'Wood On The Downs' in which Nash explored shapes and muted colours. We see some of his work with found objects of twigs and stones (and some lovely collages with leaves by Eileen Agar) as well as his weirder work like 'Equivalents for the Megaliths' (the painting used as the poster for the exhibition shown above) where he turns the standing stones of the ancients into geometric shapes.

Sadly, Nash had to experience another war and this time he painted scenes of downed aeroplanes, of roses of death (parachutes) falling from the sky and destruction. 'Totes Meer' (Dead Sea) is a strange painting in which he sets the carcasses of downed German planes from the Battle of Britain from the scrap yards outside Oxford to present them as the rolling sea crashing on the shore at night. It's only as you get closer that you notice wings and swastikas.

A painting that stood out for me was from a few years later when he painted 'Battle of Germany', one of the largest paintings in the exhibition and given it's own stand-alone space to be better seen. The destruction is from a distance and we see plumes of smoke rising into the sky as the city is slowly eaten into and destroyed.

Nash didn't have a long life and died in 1946 at the age of 57. The last paintings in the exhibition move back to landscapes and mystery, paintings of the seasons and equinoxes and giant sunflowers, one eclipsing the sun and one rolling down a hill. It is a nice way to close the exhibition, returning to bright colours and a bit of wonder.

This is a really good exhibition that covers many aspects of British art in the first half of the 20th Century in the shape of one man and his work.  Go and see it if you can.