Issue Number: 107
Editor Sarah Greenberg feasts on fresh summertime delights, from the RA Summer Exhibition to all kinds of art in the landscape.
Art has its sun-dappled summer pleasures open-air drawing among them as this photograph of Sir Hugh Casson (1910-99) attests. This year marks the centenary of the architect, President of the RA and founder of the RA Friends. While he held many honours, this snapshot of him sketching outdoors seems to capture the essence of a man famous for his impromptu drawings and informal style. The Friends organisation he founded in 1977 remains the largest of any British museum, with 97,000 subscribers. He would be delighted to learn of new plans to improve the Friends Room named after him and to read that the actor and RA trustee Stephen Fry feels ‘a special sense of ownership and community with living, working British artists’ through being a Friend.
Casson loved the popular appeal of the Summer Exhibition and, as an inveterate sketcher, he might well smile at its theme this year: ‘Raw’, which calls to mind fresh, unfinished, speculative work like drawing that reveals the creative process. ‘I chose the theme because I am often thinking about how a work of art is more than the sum of its parts sack cloth and muddy pigments. So I am interested when the humble ingredients of art are undisguised,’ says co-ordinator Stephen Chambers RA, whose hand-made design for our cover suggests some of these ideas. Both he and Fiona Rae RA talk about the artists they have invited to show in the Summer Exhibition and what draws them to certain works of art.
Known as the Van Dyck of his day, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was famous for his polished portraits, which were a hit at the RA Summer Exhibition. But, as his great-nephew Richard Ormond reveals, Sargent and the Sea presents an unknown, even raw side of the artist: the marine paintings and oil sketches he made as a young man, as he experimented with subjects and techniques.
The sculpture of David Nash RA could define the notion of raw: he carves unseasoned wood with a chain saw, leaving the marks of time and weather as part of the work. A major retrospective of his career opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where Nash’s muscular, monumental forms create a spectacular contrast to the Capability Brown landscape.
Picturesque landscapes such as this are ubiquitous in Britain, so apparently natural that they seem as old as their artfully formed hills. In fact, the idea was imported by Lord Burlington, the architect earl who built Burlington House. He returned from the Grand Tour with a dream of creating an Italianate landscape and did just that at his villa, Chiswick House, whose restored gardens are unveiled in June. An eighteenth-century Arcadian experiment’ in the words of Jenny Uglow, it was the first classical landscape in this country, dotted with sculpture and follies and designed to make a stroll through the park feel like walking into a picture by Claude or Poussin.
Viewing the landscape as art and viewing art in the landscape has become something of a national pastime, as the popularity of sculpture parks, and of artists such as Antony Gormley RA prove. In Wild at art we provide a guide to the many stately homes installing contemporary art in their grounds this summer, creating close and unexpected encounters between nature, art and history. While in Scotland in Summer, we point to Jupiter Artland, a sculpture park where the architect Charles Jencks has created a landscape that blurs the boundaries between nature and art.
This summer, the raw ingredients of art abound from the Summer Exhibition to art outdoors in every conceivable landscape forming a feast for the eyes that is probably green and definitely good for you. Dig in.