It is a crisp and fresh Spring morning. I am on my way to see the ‘Sorollo’ art exhibition at the National Gallery, followed by a talk on abstract paintings. I need to be back home in time to babysit this afternoon and it is going to be a bit of a tight squeeze.
Pumping iron at the gym brings with it some downsides. Even though I am only lifting a fraction of the weights which the musclemen and women around me are doing, I am taking home the bugs. Frequent head colds and runny noses, illnesses I can do without. As I walk to the station, I am warmly wrapped up but my head feels like it is sitting in a refrigerator. I hope it doesn’t get worse.
I get off at Tottenham Court Road station and walk the rest of the distance to the museum. A street musician livens up the walk but there is work going on and the sound of drills drown out the music. Fresh cakes and pastries fill the window displays at cafes. The early morning commuters, construction workers and tourists line up to get their fixes. In front of the Palace theatre where the ‘Harry Potter and the cursed child’ show is taking place, tourists and families with children stop off to take a snapshot for their albums. At Trafalgar Square the street artists are marking their spots and setting up their artwork for the day. Some writing messages, some drawing pictures and some dressed up in costumes. The Gallery is not open yet and I join the queue. A street brawl, guides pointing out important landmarks to tourists, interesting conversations and much more are happening around me. I admire the Syrian artwork on the fourth plinth. Made of recycled material as a replica of a destroyed monument in Syria, it reminds us of the destruction of art that is going on around the world in the name of war.
The doors open at ten and I make my way to the floor where the exhibition is taking place. A short film takes us through Sorolla’s history and achievements. Monet called him the ‘Master of light’. I have already seen the pictures and marvelled at how Sorollo managed to capture the effect of sunlight with his brushstrokes. The actual paintings are even more dazzling. The fisherfolk going through their daily routines and children splashing around on the beaches temporarily transports me to the Valencian sunshine. The brightness and sunshine bouncing off the characters and objects not only makes the pictures come alive but adds a touch of vibrancy to it.
Some of the pictures capture the harshness of life without passing judgements. He drew the pictures as he saw them. A woman who was being transported to prison for killing her child, children born with disabilities passed on by the illnesses and addictions of their parents having a day out on the beach under the guidance of the priest who is now caring for them, a young fisherman dying from the injuries he sustained during a fishing trip. There are paintings where he tried to emulate another famous Spanish artist, Velázquez. In one of which he painted his wife in the pose of the Rockeby Venus, a pale figure reclining on shimmering pink satin sheets.
Time is running out for me and I rush through the last room. The introductory talk on Sean Scully’s collection is just starting as I take my seat. Described as one of the world’s foremost contemporary artists, he is well known in Europe and the States but not here despite being born in Ireland and having lived in England. The talk explains how Scully took inspiration from Turner’s ‘The evening star’ and Van Gogh’s ‘The Chair’ and came up with his creations. Scully’s ‘Sea Star’ and Turner’s ‘Evening Star’ are totally different types of paintings. They don’t belong side by side, but the curators of the collection came up with a clever idea to exhibit the two in the same room, so that they don’t clash but the similarities can be observed. I am starting to understand the difference between modern art and contemporary art and how far apart Rothko’s works are from Scully’s although I find it hard to see the difference.
I cannot resist stopping for lunch at my favourite dim sum restaurant before making my way home.