Thursday, 16 July 2009

Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool)

Rembrandt van Rijn - Self-Portrait as a Young Man
Despite living so close by for so long, today was my first trip to the WalkArt Gallery in Liverpool. It is smaller than I had anticipated, but this felt like a virtue as it made a thorough exploration of its collections a lot more manageable and enjoyable. I tend to find with larger galleries that there comes a point where, regardless of how much you wanted to see certain pieces or experience the gallery as a whole, your ability to care what's on the walls disappears and your primary thought is the location of the nearest coffee shop (with comfortable seating). The Walker's selection, however, is incredibly varied and I spotted so many things that I have seen in class. I'm new to Art History, I've never walked through a gallery with a grounding knowledge in anything that was surrounding me. It was a fantastic feeling. To be so close to Turner, Rubens, Rembrandt, Martini, Degas, Money, El Greco, Gainsborough, Rodin, Matisse, Cézanne, Reynolds, Ramsay, Poussain; it felt as though my heart was being pulled out of my chest.

The thing that really caught me off guard was Rembrandt's self portrait. I couldn't stop staring at it, trying to get as close to the glass as possible, trying to gauge where he would have stood during its creation. That peculiar sense of standing in the footprints of the artist that created the work you're stood infront of is unparalleled, yet the sensation is mixed up with academic awareness, too. I wrote about this portrait in my exam, having only seen it in powerpoint reproductions. Three pages of academic waffle about something I had never even been in the same room as, written as confidently and knowledgeably as possible. Then it's right in front of you and everything changes. I am cursed with an inability to mentally visualise anything, yet standing in front of that painting I felt myself, somehow, looking over Rembrandt's shoulder in his workshop. Observing from an alternate angle the creation of this self portrait, watching with an awareness that the edges of my vision were blurred with shades of brown and dark red.

William Hogarth - David Garrick as Richard III (c.1745 )
I was equally taken aback when I caught a glimpse, through a doorway, of Hogarth's David Garrick as Richard III. I had no idea that this painting was in the Walker! Galleries are truly remarkable places, the idea of such old images of people long dead resulting in waves of excitement and anticipation seems implausible. I had Garrick as my desktop background and had pinned a minute version to my revision timetable during exams as a mode of motivation. Then, there he was, in all of his wide-eyed, horror-stricken glory. I think I'm drawn to this painting due to its hybrid of portraiture and history painting, rather than basic and simple realism or allegory.

I need to find the image of Shelley's funeral that includes a beautiful portrait of Lord Byron. I must admit, however, that painting was primarily of interest to me because I realised that Frankenstein's death in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein alludes to Percy Shelley's own funeral. It all adds up, really, as Victor's character is said to be a version of Percy Shelley.

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