Monday, 7 March 2011

Late night Hidden Histories

Went along to another late night shift at the National Portrait Gallery for the Gallery talk on Hidden Histories. Looking at a selection of portraits from the gallery, and a delve into their past, secrets and stories behind the sitters and artists of that time. Led by Sarah Ciacci she chose 3 very different portraits ranging from the 1500 1800s, and elaborating of the hidden story behind each one.

Firstly looking at the oil based canvas the portrait by unknown artist of Sir Henry Unton, in which portraits like this aren't usually seen in the Galleries collection, but because of it unique design and composition has been house at the National for quiet a few years. A rich tapestry of Unton's life includes past and present scenes from his life, with notably his portrait displayed openly at centre of this scene. The scenes from right to left displays moments in his life that correspond, or tells the viewer of the life that Upton had and the kind of gentleman he was. Importance's (of the time to status) such as, (wealth) at birth, studying at Oxford, travelling through Europe, studious, musician and publican.
The detail in this painting is incredibly rich from intimate faces to hand gestures, and the clearly marked essence of the passing of life into death, much to why this painting was composed in this way, and to me very notably but subtly the symbols of day into night at the very corners of the painting.

Thomas Howard portrait (Earl of Arundel), an oil on canvas by Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens chose to represent Howard realistically, compared to other portraits of this period where such paintings produced would have been edited and made to look much better than the actual sitter, were common. Rubens delivered exactly what he saw in this non idealisation of Howard's portrait, making this work interesting in its authenticity. This portrait valued here at the National in recognition of Arundel who was considered important for bringing new contemporary European art to London, and later setting up the Arundel House. A very dark but beautifully mysterious portrait.

Portrait of Mary Jane Seacole by Albert Charles Challen. This is a treasure of a portrait (and my favourite) only 9 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in size and just discovered in 2002. Mary Seacole is best known for her nursing work in the Crimean War, although didn't really become known or famous for her duties and work until her autobiography was publicised. Her work is compared to that of Florence Nightingale, but obviously Nightingale being the more noted and pictured in art and history of the too nurses. With a recent new publication of her autobiography and the recent purchase of this portrait by the National in 2008, her reputation and work has now finally be reunited and valued. Beautiful portrait.

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