‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art’ – National Gallery London – May 2016
This was an exhibition which I needed to see. My visit came at a time when I was struggling with some issues in regard to my own work – how to find a focus for the body of work needed for my personal study – how to contextualize my work in a ‘real’ way and not just come up with a list of other artists – what the purpose of ‘contextualising’ is – issues around composition which I was continually working through – and so on! All of these questions and more were continually swimming around my head and sitting in my studio alone with only a tutor report as a guide was not helping at all.
So I took myself off to this exhibition and certainly got more than I had expected. I found it an extraordinarily interesting exhibition because of the breadth it covered. I didn’t know anything about Delacroix and am not sure after seeing the paintings that he is an artist who I enjoy. But it was the element of seeing his influence on other artists which fascinated me. For me it became an exhibition about contextualisation. I began to see how artists learn from artists, even the great ones. Each room of the exhibition showed his influence on artists such as Signac, Cezanne, Manet, Matisse, Redon, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Bazille. Apart from the amazing display of wonderful paintings, it was a real learning experience.
The second thing I got from the exhibition was the opportunity to focus on elements of composition. I spent time studying the paintings to see how the pictures were constructed and there is no doubt that this is the way to get a better understanding of this element.
The third element which impacted on my thinking was summed up in a quotation by Delacroix written on the wall toward the end of the exhibition. It read: “Oh, young artist, you want a subject? Everything is a subject; the subject is yourself…You must look within yourself and not around yourself” I began to understand that, in relation to my own work, it wasn’t a subject I needed to be looking for but simply a greater understanding and confidence in my own expression. The paintings I had been looking at in the exhibition were all influenced by the work of Delacroix but the individual creative mark stamped on every painting was coming from each artist. Contextualising didn’t mean copying – no two pictures were the same – they couldn’t be because each painting was about the painter himself. I saw that my emphasis now had to be on realising and having confidence in my own ‘mark’.
This has been an exhibition which may well prove to be a turning point for me in my own practice.