Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Colors of Florence, Richard Hamilton

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Reymerswaele’s The Money-changer and His Wife

Florence. What is it about men who wear red socks? Mother warned me. Ronnie’s second husband had them sent from Gammareli, the Pope’s tailor, too lovingly folded in whispy tissue.  So when she discovered that he was laying the mistress of a particularly pompous bishop, what does she do? Bobbitise him? No. She puts all his Gammerelis on a hot wash. Exquisite revenge.

When I walk into the Palazzo Strozzi and see My Number One Fan sipping his third first espresso of the morning in shiny new red silk socks I‘m thinking he has Vatican ambitions or, maybe mother was right.

Then I see the director general of the Palazzo Strozzi striding across the columned hall. I tell you, James Bradburne wears the best waistcoats in Florence. Long pointed purple silk enough for any Medici or, better still, any Strozzi.  My Number One Fan says Bradburne’s waistcoats are talking points at the Members Table at London’s smartest gentlemen’s club, The Athenaeum. That place is the centre of London off-duty intellectualism. If that’s all they have to chatter, then all’s right with the world.

I’m thinking we need more pointy purple waistcoats and scarlet womanizing socks. Every church, cloister and gallery in this most magnificent of Renaissance cities makes us wonder at the sheer fabulousness of color and dyed wealth. Envy? Mostly utter unforgettable awe.

Color is unforgettable. Think a childhood first glimpse of a ripening apple and you have the most memorable and awesome image we shall have for ever. Just look at Marinus van Reymerswaele’s The Money-changer and His Wife, in Bradburne’s latest exhibition Palazzo Strozzi, Money and Beauty (on now). Simply put, mammon and culture are comfortable skins for any society to don. Vibrant colors that only celebrities dare wear today.


I was wondering about this when I heard that the founder of British Pop Art, Richard Hamilton had died.  He was born on my birthday - although forty years earlier - and I always sent him a mental birthday card.  What he would have done with it, goodness only knows.

Richard translated the emerging mass media, consumerism and culture of youth into distinctive and original works.  The term Pop emerged from the Independent Group of artists who stood for Popular, Expendable, Low Cost (mass produced and disposable) and of course the enviable culture of Youth (witty, sexy, glamorous). 

Not surprising then that he first hit us (in 1956) with his collage, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing - should that have been appalling? And, as everyone remembers he did The White Album for the Beatles.  But don’t get the idea that he was flashy and celebrity hooked. His influences were Dadaist Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce. Hamilton was never given to spontaneous responses in his craft. Full of thought and excruciating slow execution. Here was a display of extraordinarily inventive and refined technical ability - especially as a printmaker - constantly devising  new ways of producing the image.

Richard Hamilton.jpgOn the day Hamilton died, I was looking at Fra Angelico’s, Annunciation. I wondered how much the very 20th century Hamilton and the pious 15th century Fra Angelico could have in common.  One, painting among a host of angels in preparation for his own death? The other, full of humour and even ribaldry. Both, of their own time, bringing the color of that moment to those who had time to see it. Both making more sense as time has passed. From pastel to Technicolor and back.

So maybe the red socks are fine.  The purple waistcoat wonderful. From Angelico to Hamilton the message is simple: color is truthful. Want proof in this age? Bankers wear grey.

ArtScene Quote

In art, it's the mind, not the eye that should be active. Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)

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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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