Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: "New" Velazquez, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

By , Columnist

LONDON. Jimmy the Jesuit is swishing in his cassock. Steady, boy. But the excitement is innocent. He says have I been to Bonham’s Sales to see the long lost Velazquez?

In between fixing a tap, binning a faux mink thong sent by a Long Island pervert and, wondering why I have to do so much of my accountant’s work for him, the answer is: of course. Any script editor to this story would never believe it.

The descendants of a not so special nineteenth century artist, Matthew Shepperson, sent an attic load of his work to Bonhams here in London. In the box, something a bit different.  A portrait of a gentleman - too good for a Shepperson.

Andrew Mckenzie at Bonhams says, "Shepperson's a fairly third-rate artist to be honest. As soon as we saw it we could see it was a picture of immense quality and the power of the image stood out."

Then what?  "The costume is Spanish, so the obvious name to start with is Velazquez and his pupils. We ruled out the pupils because the technique just didn't seem to fit."

The next stop was The Prado in Madrid. "I looked at portraits of the same period: the way he models the cheek, very delicate modelling, cool colouring. The lips - very beautifully painted precisely the way Velazquez paints his lips."

It’s still a gamble, but everyone who knows about Velazqez says Velazquez. Comes up next month: £3million. Loose change for someone looking for something special for Christmas.

Back in the studio and more excitement. Can I cope with it all? No not Jimmy the Jez. It’s an email from one of my Canadian students, Kathy. Not the Velazquez but have I seen Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The Dulwich was England’s very first purpose-built public art gallery founded in 1811.

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The Group of Seven was early twentieth century, Tom Thomson, and his seven friends: J E H MacDonald, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnson, Franklin Carmichael, AY Jackson and Fred Varley. The  progress of this informal Canadian art movement was curtailed by the First World War and the early and mysterious death of Tom Thomson in 1917 during a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park. Drink taken? Peeing from his canoe? Toppled over. That’s what they say.

The exhibition is curated by Ian Dejardin, director of Dulwich Picture Gallery with Canadian co-curators, Katerina Atanassova the chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and visual arts professor at Toronto’s York University, Anna Hudson. It’s an east to west journey across Canada. The grand thing about the show from a painter’s point of view, is the juxtaposition of the finished canvas with the initial sketches, done on the spot.

It’s bold and bright, dramatic and gutsy. So it’s as uncompromising as the landscape that gave them birth.  These artists were not afraid of handling paint or colour but are not much talked about outside Canada. They should be. But that’s how insular, even precious, the art world can be. .

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Dulwich is showing 122 paintings, some of which have never been on public display.  Go see.  The Dulwich itself makes it a worthwhile trip especially for those who think it’s all in central London.

By the way, if you happen to see a twitching Jez, don’t worry. It’s just another excited art lover - I think.

 

ArtScene Quote of the Week

The maples are about all stripped of leaves now, but the birches are very rich in colour... the best I can do does not do the place much justice in the way of beauty. Tom Thomson

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments are…

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