Stuart George

Archive for the ‘Art and artists’ Category

My “Sophie’s Choice” article published in FINE magazine

In Art and artists on January 22, 2011 at 1:41 pm


Although Virginie, Comtesse de Lalande, is the most famous of the women to be associated with Château Pichon-Lalande, her elder sister Sophie de Pichon-Longueville is the most enigmatic.

Two sisters founded what eventually became Pichon-Lalande: the beautiful Virginie de Pichon-Longueville (1798-1882), who became Comtesse de Lalande after marrying Henri, comte Raymond de Lalande in 1818; and the enigmatic Sophie (1785-1858), a painter, poet and nun.

My article on Sophie de Pichon-Longuville has just been published in FINE: The American Wine Magazine.

Double Solo

In Art and artists on November 24, 2010 at 10:23 am

My friend Stephen Lacey invited me to the private view of the “Double Solo” exhibition held at La Galleria in Royal Opera Arcade, just off Pall Mall. Work by Michael Angove and Matthew Chambers was on show.

I was particularly impressed by Angove’s trompe l’oeil colour pencil works. The detail and technique is meticulous. As Stephen remarked, “it’s a young man’s art” – you need very good eyesight to be able to do this kind of work.

The ceramics by Chambers were pleasing but for me did not have the same appeal as the drawings. At any rate, I can’t afford any of them…

Lambeth Palaces

In Art and artists on October 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

Over the weekend of 2-3 October the artists and crafts people of my sleazy London borough of Lambeth opened their doors to visitors. Very civilised and generous of them but also very brave – I wouldn’t let strangers into my house, and certainly not in Lambeth.

Although using the name “Lambeth” implied the sponsorship of the local council, the events is actually done with no help at all from that ghastly organisation, which seemingly prefers to send its (or rather mine and yours) money on leaflets explaining how to use pedestrian crossings. However, Lambeth does have a terrific network of libraries, so they’re not complete philistines.

Lambeth Open is organised by Tim Sutton, who also does the Urban Art festival in Brixton. It is sponsored by the British Home, an independent charity. That is not the purpose of charities.

I did three visits in Stockwell and Oval, all within 15 minutes walk of my flat. The first stop of the day was at Phyllis Todd’s splendid house in Hanover Gardens, where the former Home Secretary Jack Straw has lived for many years. Apparently muggings increased dreadfully after Straw left the front benches because the police presence suddenly became non-existent.

I was amused to learn that Phyllis has never been to The Oval cricket ground, even though she has lived in SE11 for 20 years. Must be that Scottish upbringing.

She spoke of the challenges of painting en plein air, especially in India with its flies, people, heat and dust. I liked her abstract paintings.

From Hanover Gardens I crossed over Clapham Road to the Farmers Market in the grounds of St. Mark’s Church. I hadn’t been here before but it was really quite fun. I could not resist a pastel de nata and coffee for dessert. My sister thinks that I too many of them.

The other side of St. Marks’s is Brixton Road, where Zoom In, a “not for profit photography school”, is based.

A camera obscura had been set here up for the day. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness but the images projected onto the walls and ceilings are quite hypnotic – even of something as mundane as traffic on Brixton Road.

The final stop was at Slaughterhaus, a print workshop in an old slaughterhouse (hence the name) just round the corner from where van Gogh lived in 1873. (I bet he wouldn’t have let anybody into his house!)

The old machines are magnificent – the beauty below was made in 1833. I came across a review of Jilly Cooper’s new novel Jump! in, would you believe, the Times Literary Supplement. There is a scene in the novel in which a social-climbing porn baron praises a cider press as a fine example of modern art. Doubtless he might have mistaken these print presses for Tracy Emin’s latest masterpiece.


Stockwell Flats

In Art and artists on June 6, 2010 at 7:17 pm

At the London International Fine Art Fair on Saturday 6 June, I had a wander to see what was going on and enjoy the opportunity to see artworks that normally are hidden away behind the intimidating doors of Mayfair and St James’s dealers.

I was particularly struck by David Hepher’s Stockwell Flats, which I had not seen before. I have been a Stockwell resident for over five years so anything connected to the area is always of interest to me.

Stockwell Flats (oil on canvas 108 x 76 inches / 274.5 x 193 cm, 1974)

Born in 1935, Hepher continues to be based in South London. Stockwell Flats was the first in a series of paintings of unglamorous high-rise council blocks and was first shown at the “New Work” exhibition, an Arts Council group exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery in November-December 1975.

Doubtless the seven-storey high-rise depicted by Hepher still exists but I don’t recognise it and I can’t see it from my roof terrace, from which I have panoramic views across the local streets towards central London and the City.

But I can see the ghastly Kelvedon House, a vast 20-storey ex-local authority block that I have to visit occasionally because my illiterate postman sometimes delivers something to me that was destined for one of the unlucky souls in Kelvedon.

“Dear Theo…”: Van Gogh at the Royal Academy

In Art and artists on March 31, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Last week I visited “The Real Van Gogh: The Artists and his Letters” exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

The exhibition ties in with the recent publication of Vincent Van Gogh – The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, a magnificent six-volume edition of 902 letters to and from Vincent.

The RA has borrowed over 35 letters, 65 paintings and 30 drawings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for what is the first major Van Gogh exhibition in London for over 40 years. It is unlikely that another Van Gogh exhibition will be organised on such a large scale. These are some of the most valuable works of art on the planet; the insurance costs must be horrendous.

Of course the letters and works of art are fascinating and superb. But the galleries were absolutely heaving with people pushing their noses against a Van Gogh canvas. The RA cannot be blamed for wanting to make as much money as possible out of such a grand exhibition but I wonder if it might be better to offer fewer tickets at a higher price to make the experience more pleasant. I did not have to pay the £12 entrance fee so really I cannot complain!

Among all the famous canvases here, one item stood out. Dated 23 July 1890, Vincent was carrying a letter to be sent to Theo when he shot himself on 27 July.

The letter has dried blood stains on it.

Two days later Vincent died, aged 37.

Is it art? Anish Kapoor at The Royal Academy of Arts

In Art and artists on December 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

On Sunday evening (6 December), I visited the Anish Kapoor exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly.

As I wandered round the vaguely phallic or yonic big “works” by Kapoor, which often impress for their size alone, I kept thinking to myself “Is it art?”

The Non-Objects series of meticulously polished stainless steel, for example, were treated by most people as a chance to look at their distorted reflection, the Royal Academy’s gallery turned into a hall of mirrors.

Shooting into the Corner has a cannon firing shells of red wax every twenty minutes, the operation performed by a young RA (Royal Academy not Royal Artillery!) intern or volunteer (as I suppose he was). The result is a great big mess of red wax splattered over the usually immaculate walls and ceilings of the RA. The sheer bloody mess he has made in the building is rather amusing and daring. It is the finest use of cannons since the 1812 Overture!

Svayambh fills five galleries. A huge block of red wax (again) moves very slowly along a track through the five rooms, gradually leaving behind a great big mess of red wax (again).

Of course, the wax pieces can never be reproduced identically when exhibited in different places. It would not be entirely disingenuous of Kapoor to give each one a new name – they are all “unique” pieces.

Kapoor’s work is not “art” (or at least “fine art”) in the conventional sense of the word. It is not – to me anyway – “beautiful.” His work is more often representative of engineering rather than draughtsmanship. But it does stimulate the senses: The cannon of Shooting into the Corner made everybody jump and the ubiquitous red wax looks like blood and guts. It stimulates something primal within us and provokes strong responses – like this blog post! That surely is a defining characteristic of great art.

Conrad Frankel at Art Work Space

In Art and artists on November 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

On 19 November, the Irish artist Conrad Frankel’s debut UK exhibition “The First People” opened at Art Work Space gallery in London.

The basement of a Bayswater hotel is a very unlikely place to find an art gallery. The Hempel Hotel is tucked away in Craven Gardens and is a pig of a place to find if you have not been there before – especially on a windy night in November. But Naomi Murtagh, partner of Bottle Apostle’s Andrew Eakin, has found a very striking venue in which to showcase art.

“The First People” showcases 17 of Conrad Frankel’s oil on canvas works based on nineteenth century portrait photographs. The combination of forensic draughtsmanship and a varnish finish makes the paintings look from a distance as if they really are photographs.

The thousand yard – or rather, five second exposure – stare of the subjects gives them a slightly unnerving tone. Some of the portraits have a very subtle hint of flesh tones on the cheeks, barely discernible except up close.

Conrad Frankel, "Twins", oil on canvas, varnished, 60" x 48"

Prices for the Frankel canvases range from £500 for the 3.75″ x 4.25″ Tiny Sisters to £5,500 for 60″ x 48″ pictures.

The exhibition runs until 14 January 2010.

Bumping into Pete Doherty

In Art and artists on November 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I spent this afternoon at a friend’s party to celebrate the publication of her book. The do was at The Rosemary Branch in Islington, in one of those parts of London where poverty and riches lie side by side as in a Dickens novel.

While fetching drinks in the downstairs bar a scruffy young sod ambled in. It was Pete Doherty.

The first thing that I noticed was his height. He is a six footer. I am only 5’7″ so he dwarfed me.

Then I noticed the tattoos on his neck. Not a good look, Peter.

His hair hadn’t been washed for a few days. I cannot claim the moral high ground on that – when I was 18 I didn’t wash my hair for six months.

Making my way back upstairs he was blocking my way. Whichever way I went he followed. Knowing that everybody was looking at him, Doherty put on a performance. It was like the scene in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup when Harpo copies Groucho’s moves exactly until they eventually collide.

Doherty asked “Which way are you going mate?” and then finally I was able to pass.

So that is how I “met” Pete Doherty on a Sunday afternoon in north London. I am not a great fan of his music – Carl Barât was the brains in The Libertines, I reckon. And as far as cocky young musicians go, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight is for me the best. He likes cricket, which is always the sign of a gentleman.

My friend Ann Tilyer’s book is called An A-Z of Possible Worlds. It is a collection of 26 short stories presented in a box.

It is great. Please buy it.

Feet of Klee: Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales

In Art and artists on June 25, 2009 at 8:16 am





Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London on 24 June totalled £33,531,150 (including premium) from 23 lots sold – an average of £1,457,876 per lot, which is about the same as a typical New York wine auction would total from 1,000+ lots.

The 85.2 percent sell-through rate was the best for an evening sale in this category since last June, claimed Sotheby’s.

The top lot was Picasso’s Homme à l’épée, which sold to a private collector for £6,985,250. Clearly, despite the ongoing doom and gloom about the global economy, there are still people that can afford to spend nearly £7 million on a Picasso painting.


The previous evening, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale made £37,235,550 (including premium) from 30 lots, a clearance of rate of only 68 percent.

The highest bid was £6,313,250 for Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, the painting that I had poked and prodded a few days beforehand. Another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée paintings made £5,753,250, having sold for £2 million in 2005.

At first glance, the prices are impressive, but the Picasso sold within its estimate even with the premium added. The 14 lots that didn’t sell reveal the true state of the art market. These were “mid-range” works priced mostly between £300,000-600,000, a nebulous area for auctioneers at the moment. High quality work continues to sell well, albeit at lower prices than might have been seen two years ago, but lesser works that were clearly over-priced are now a more challenging sell for the auction houses.

Monet for nothing: Previews of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales

In Art and artists on June 19, 2009 at 11:20 am


Like an actor, I am currently “resting.” To stave off complete boredom I visited the previews of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales, which will be held at the end of June. I did Art History at A- and degree level and the subject has long interested me.

The first stop was at Christie’s in King Street where I was hoping to meet Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christie’s Europe and Middle East, who, the press office said, “will be available for comments and interviews on the international art market.” He was more interested in oligarchs than hacks, and I don’t blame him.

Instead I spoke to Giovanna Bertazzoni, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department. She gave me an overview of the sale: nine works estimated at £1 million+, with the highest estimate at £5-7 million for Picasso’s 1969 Homme à l’épée, its high price supported by a recent Picasso retro in NYC curated by his biographer John Richardson. In 2005, the painting sold for £2 million.

Giovanna thought that Impressionism was a much more stable market than that for Russian and Chinese contemporary art, the prices of which were grossly inflated during the so-called “boom years.” The frothy contemporary art market was not unlike that of fine wine – it is a luxury and an indulgence, and as such is the first thing to go when the bonuses stop. She believes that the older, more classic works will always retain their interest and, to a certain extent, their value – ditto wine, I suppose. People will always crave Picasso and Romanée-Conti; they don’t necessarily retain their interest in Zhang Xiaogang and Sine Qua Non.

Giovanna also gave me the lowdown on Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, painted in 1878. The painting itself is very characteristic but the canvas is unusual in being “unlined” – that is, not having anything behind it to support it. She proved the point by making me touch the painting. I poked and prodded a £3.5 million painting – you can’t do that in a museum!


Up the road in New Bond Street, Sotheby’s was also offering another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée series, never before seen at auction but estimated to sell at £6-8 million. Helena Newman, Vice-Chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department, told me that the supply of fine art works is still mainly from private individuals. In Europe, it is not easy for state-owned museums to deaccess. She also believes that it is sentiment rather than price that causes people to retain works rather than sell them – ditto wine?

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale is on 25 June; Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale takes place on 23 June.