Issue Number: 95
To coincide with Edinburgh’s annual culture-fest, Peter Murray picks three shows not to be missed
As they amble through London’s theatre district, architecture lovers may pause to admire the remnants of a fine neoclassical house at 16 Great Windmill Street. However, behind the elegant facade, they will now find the Lyric Theatre. Nothing remains of the extraordinary museum, school and library, which was built there in 1767, and decorated in a fashionable Pompeiian style. it was once the domain of William Hunter, an anatomist and collector, who was among the group of Scottish intellectuals who contributed much to culture and politics in eighteenth-century Britain.
In this house, surrounded by skeletons, stuffed polar bears and artefacts from the South Seas, Hunter researched his great scientific work, The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus, a large volume that is remarkable for its detailed engravings of fetuses nestling in the womb.
Born and educated in Glasgow, Hunter was appointed the first Professor of Anatomy at the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. Edmund Burke attended his lectures, while James Barry and other academicians borrowed from his library.
Hunter’s portrait was painted by Allan Ramsay, probably to commemorate his appointment as Physician extraordinary to Queen Charlotte. On his death, the great collection of books, anatomical models and artifacts from his London home were bequeathed to his native city.
Jean-Simeoin Chardin, The Scullery Maid, 1738
This summer, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow celebrates its bicentenary with an exhibition documenting the life and achievements of its remarkable founder. As well as being a celebrated anatomist, Hunter was an avid collector of paintings, especially those depicting aspects of human life and death. Among the highlights of the show are The Entombment, c.1630, by Rembrandt, and The Scullery Maid (pictured above) and The Cellar Boy, 1738, two exquisite paintings by Jean-Siméon Chardin.
For millennia, male and female bodies have inspired artists: the earliest example is the Venus of Willendorf, carved 30,000 years ago, which portrays a rotund ideal of womanly form that might cause concern for today’s national health service. now, an ambitious exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery examines the body in all its glory and goose pimples.
Lewis Morley, Portrait of Christine Keeler, 1963
‘The Naked Portrait’, displayed over two floors of the magnificent neogothic gallery, focuses on the art of the twentieth century, exploring the human form, as seen by artists Pierre Bonnard, Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud, and by renowned photographers Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin.
In a praiseworthy effort to maintain political correctness, while avoiding the prurient, the gallery may disappoint those who come in search of cheap thrills. it highlights a range of ethnic representation, the projection of ‘otherness’ and the gradual process of ageing, but the word ‘erotic’ is not mentioned.
Nevertheless, the image which is most likely to stir the stout citizens of Edinburgh is Lewis Morley’s iconic photograph of Christine Keeler, 1963 (above).
The sculptures of Richard Long RA are often viewed as conceptual, but it is perhaps truer to describe his art, with its emphasis on geometry, symmetry, harmony, texture and weight, as a high and austere form of classicism.
Long is an exceptional artist, because he takes off on extended hiking trips over high mountain passes and arid deserts across the globe, while most sculptors make work in their studios. After traversing inhospitable terrain, he then constructs circles and lines with found materials like sticks, mud or stones, to make pieces such as A Line in Scotland, 1981 (below). These simple works in the landscape are among his most striking creations.
Richard Long, A Line in Scotland, 1981
It comes as a disappointment to learn that, after being photographed, the stones and sticks are often returned to their original random state. Some remain intact, and are transferred to museums and private collections.
Exhibitions of Long’s work in art galleries include photographs and documentation of his walks, as well as sculptures made of rock or wood. After drawing mud from the banks of the River Avon, the artist uses his hands as brushes and delights in creating joyous, gestural, abstract wall paintings. Playing with the tension between notions of the transitory and the permanent, of art inside and outside the gallery, and referencing diverse cultural roots, from Plato to arte Povera, Long’s work is rewarding yet frustratingly elusive.
His Edinburgh retrospective provides an opportunity to catch up with an artist who moves fast and leaves few tracks.
My Highest Pleasures: William Hunter’s Art Collection, The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow (0141 330 5431), 15 June–1 Dec
The Naked Portrait, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200), 6 June–2 Sep
Richard Long: Walking and Marking, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200), 30 June–21 Oct