Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Angels, Faeries and Femmes Fatales: Exhibition Review

Many of you will know by now that I am married to the Collections Officer at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth (not the reason I married him but it doesn't hinder).  Their current exhibition will be of interest to the readers of this fair blog and so I sallied forth to have a butchers...

The Victorians loved their supernatural, and the female element of it featured heavily in popular art of the time.  Mermaids, fairies, witches, nymphs and angels all carry the female characteristics telling the viewer how much that society saw the Other World to be a girls-only club. I mean, have a look at this...

Nudey Star Ladies by Luis Falero
Tee hee!  Looking at an awful lot of the works on display in this exhibition, there is a great amount of giggly fun to be had with the images.  They are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face while also being incredibly beautiful.  This is probably why they make such perfect bedfellows with the work of Paul Kidby who you will know from the front covers of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.

Cupid meets Rob Anybody
Kidby works in more than one media, with some of the most charming three-dimensional pieces I've ever seen, including little Rob Anybody and a stunning mermaid...

Subtitled 'From Dadd to Discworld', this exhibition shows how the same things interest us, tickle us and strike us as beautiful.  There is a chance to see Richard Dadd's insane micro-world of The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke in a massive modern work which fills a wall with its warped and gilded glory and it seems inspired to link the complexity of the Victorian fairy subculture to the modern world of Pratchett's imagination.

Miss Tick and Tiffany Aching with Feegles by Paul Kidby

Mr Walker is a fan of Pratchett and so was familiar with Kidby's work before meeting the man himself. I have read all the Witches' novels and so was delighted to see Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat in front of me.

Do I suspect I will turn into Nanny Ogg at some point in the not too distant future?  No comment.

At the very least this exhibition gives you the chance to see some beautiful pieces from the Russell-Cotes glorious collection together with Kidby's work, not to mention some rather saucy ladies like this...

An Incantation John Collier
Hello Mrs Saucy Pants!  It is easy to overlook the soft-porn prettiness of the Victorian obsession with wicked nude-y ladies when addressing the serious questions of art, but when they are packed into a small space you begin to see that there was a thread running through the iconography of Other that was shared by the nineteenth century subconscious.  The women, the demons, water nymphs and angels are fair of face but uncertain of morals.  The angels are above all but if you think about what they do it doesn't always make sense in human terms.  Take this image for example...

The Annunciation Simeon Solomon
 One of the most famous angel moments in history has to be Gabriel dropping in on Mary.  Mr Jesus is obviously a very good thing for humankind (well, from the Christian end of things) but look at the moment in isolation.  A young, unmarried woman is made pregnant by the visitation of an angel and the will of God it doesn't really fit into our human moral code.  You could argue it's rather a cruel thing to do to her, leaving her open to ridicule at the very least and all manner of punishment and ostracization.  The angel doesn't consider that, its vision is far wider than the immediate fate of one woman.  Likewise a lot of Victorian supernatural art shows conflict between types of creature, concepts, and destinies.

Love Betrayed John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

The Habit Does Not Make The Monk 1888-1889 G F Watts
Love, the most positive of human emotions is revealed as a tricksy little git, hiding or else tumbling through some machination of our own against the greatest joy in the world.  We seemingly are at war with the one thing that should enhance our lives.  What's that all about?

The bust of Granny Weatherwax.
Both lovely and terrifying in equal measure, as good grannies should be.
Likewise in Kidby's work there is the play of uncertainty, unreality, things beyond our control and beyond our modern world of rational and science.  You will fall in love because of a potion, an arrow, a spell.  You will be visited by Death, an actual figure in black with whom you have a pre-arranged date.  There are dragons, mermaids, fairies all challenging our modern consciousness in their clarity and perfection.  That's the point, as much now as in the nineteenth century.  We are a species at war with itself.  Half the human race faces the future with science as the answer to all, the other half keeps an eye on the old ways creeping up on us, tripping us, making us fall in love, killing us, saving us.  Maybe we still worry that science does not answer everything, or at least does not provide the most entertaining answers, and so why not believe that mermaids plunge throw the waves or that naked ladies flutter on the petals of flowers with the wings of butterflies?

Upstairs there is a section selling Paul Kidby's works and prints and so you get the chance to take one home with you.  There is a dragon that has to be seen to be believed, he is adorable.

The exhibition runs until 9th March next year and is free entry (as is the museum during the off-season months).  Enjoy - I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

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Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx