This week Masterpiece opens. The London-based fine-art-and-fabulousness event that replaced Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair six years ago, and has moved away from a dark basement ballroom to a light, airy and elegant tent in the grounds of Chelsea’s Royal Hospital. I’ll be reviewing the very best of this glamorous fair — second only to TEFAF in terms of the quality of dealers and clients — next week.
For now, though, I’m previewing London Art Week, an event that runs from 3-10 July in the city’s St James district and neighbouring Mayfair (shaking up the area’s reputation as a fashion hub). St James has been a centre of the very best art since James Christie hung out his shingle in Pall Mall 249 years ago.
For a while, it looked like the fashion boutiques would banish the art galleries — as they did in many parts of Mayfair, notably Cork Street. Thanks to support from the Crown Estate, however, they seem to have been saved. With new and established galleries such as Philip Mould relocating to spanking new premises in Pall Mall, London Art Week might well attract artists and their patrons to the area for another two hundred years.
Rhinoceros, German, 18/19th Century. Courtesy Tomasso Brothers Fine Art
For my money, the double creature feature offered by neighbouring galleries Rafael Valls and Tomasso Brothers is the absolute winner amongst the shows. In his 1977 book Animals and Men, the art historian Kenneth Clarke charted the relationship between animals and art; The Tomasso Brothers follow in these venerable footsteps, presenting The Sculptor’s Menagerie next door to Raf Valls’ Painter’s Menagerie. Together, they present animals of every description — from an exotic rhinocerous carved in coloured marble, to an early and absolutely charming study of a mouse by Jan Brueghel the Younger. Works date from Classical antiquity to the 19th Century, with pieces by European and British painters and sculptors.
Francisco Michans Gargori, Court Aviary Keeper. Courtesy Rafael Valls. Andrea Scacciati (1642–1710), Still Life of Roses & Parrot, Courtesy Rafael Valls
There are wonderful horses, too: a bronze by Francesco Righetti (1749-1819) paired with a depiction of a richly caparisoned white stallion by Viennese Court painter Philip Ferdinand de Hamilton (1664-1750). There’s also a rare portrait of The Court Aviary Keeper by Francisco Michans Gargori depicting a servant to the Spanish Royal family, surrounded by parrots (see above). Other depictions of animals include a roaring lion head in bronze — which might have been a waterspout in Ancient Rome — and depictions of pumas, hounds, monkeys, camels, birds of prey, zebras — even a turkey and ducks.
Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626-1679), A Pair of Natural History Studies: Snakes, Spiders and Caterpillars contorted to spell
the Artist’s Name. Signed with insects and reptiles: JoAn Van/Kessel. Courtesy Johnny Van Haeftan.
At neighbouring Johnny Van Haeften, there’s a fascinating show of paintings on copper. From Jan van Kessel the Elder comes an exquisite evocation of redcurrants with a moth, ladybird and other insects. Stephen Ongpin is offering a charming drawing of a man with an owl on a stick.
If London Art Week is a splendid opportunity to see the best in animal art, it is also an opportunity to see excellent shows by new galleries: Agnew’s Gallery will be showing portraiture through the ages, with Old Master drawings and medieval sculpture being amongst other highlights. Other recommended exhibitions include the selection of Elizabethan portraits, presented at The Weiss Gallery.
London Art Week runs 3-10 July. Main image at top: Philip Ferdinand de Hamilton (1664-1750), An Anglo-Arabian Horse in a Spanish Dress Saddle standing in a Landscape. Oil on Canvas. Courtesy Rafael Valls.
A Curious Compendium of Sea Creatures
Etching from Ponsonby’s Curious Compendium of Sea Creatures by Dr Georges Dussart and Dr David Ponsonby, Ivy Press, 2015
And now for creatures from the other 71 per cent of the world’s surface: the sea, which is virtually unexplored and whose inhabitants remain mysterious. Some of the exquisite line engravings in Ponsonby’s Curious Compendium of Sea Creatures by Dr Georges Dussart and Dr David Ponsonby show us creatures through the eyes of the early naturalists, and there is a fascinating text full of history, anecdotes and strange facts.
It’s the newest Compendium from Ivy Press, who really do publish the most delightful little books and who are responsible for the Curious Compendium of Insects and Spiders. There are over six hundred engravings of animals from the deep in the latest addition to the series, and so beautiful are these original line engravings they really ought to be on show at London Art Week, joining the creatures on land.
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