The arrival of new paintings from Alan’s St Ives studio never fails to generate a frisson of excitement in the gallery. Their scale, confident technique and effortless style take us back to a golden era of painting, when the greatest artists in the land chose linseed oil and pigment, not formaldehyde, to push the boundaries of art.
Often referred to as palatial in conception, it is surely fitting that his latest collection of canvases celebrates that palace of cultural delights, Hertford House in Manchester Square. A monument to Victorian philanthropy, its glorious interiors have housed the eponymous collection of Sir Richard Wallace since 1890.
The culmination of four generations of aristocratic self-aggrandizement, the collection fell into his stewardship over a century ago. An illegitimate offspring of the 4th Lord Hertford, Wallace keenly felt the social responsibility that his new wealth brought with it. He saw the collection appropriately housed and improved upon in its current home and after his death his widow, herself of humble origin, realized her late husbands wishes by bequeathing it to the nation.
There is a wonderful inevitability in this meeting of artist and subject. The Wallace interiors and Alan’s paintings share a rich sensuality, a luxuriance in surface texture and pattern that seems out of step with the austerity of the modern aesthetic. The sumptuous rococo decorations retain their vivacity and silks and gilts shimmer and sparkle anew under his brush.
However this is no simple elegy to one man’s favourite museum. For all their figurative beauty these paintings are not mere records of a place. In many ways this is the most abstract exhibition Alan has ever produced. His exploration of these abstractions is design led, perhaps the most successful example being ‘Vitrine in Blue and Gold’. At close quarters the dazzling glazes of the Sevres porcelain begin to lose form as they drift and merge into a pattern of a thousand reflected lights. Two steps back and the painting returns to figuration but the sense of abstraction remains - not an effect reproducible in a catalogue illustration.
These twelve compelling canvases, possibly Alan’s finest and most important show to date, represent more than eighteen months work. Each painting is meticulously and laboriously planned leading to a deft flurry of execution that leaves no room for doubt or reappraisal. As these works witness, his search for perfection borders on the obsessive and often oils can take months in conception before brush strikes canvas.
Matthew Hall, 2015
12 November - 27 November 2015
Panter & Hall
11-12 Pall Mall
Monday to Friday
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