Week 20 – Watercolour Painters

Watercolour Painters

Edward Burra 1905-1976

Born in Rye in a house known as Springfield, in 1920 he travelled to Paris, which would change him forever, an unfolding entertainment.  Also drawn to the seedy ports in the South of France, and their Spanish influence.  Disabled from childhood with arthritic hands, he was a man on the outskirts of life.   His art was meticulous and carefully constructed.  He painted from imagination, methodically from left to right as evidenced by his last work.Edward Burra (English, 1905-1976), Landscape, 1976. Pencil and watercolour, 29½ x 51½ in. (75 x 130.8 cm.)

Edward Burra ‘The Snack Bar’, 1930<br />
© The estate of Edward Burra, courtesy Lefevre Fine Art, London

The Snack Bar 1930

In 1933 he visited Harlem, but it was Spain that captivated him.  He loved its rawness and roughness, and was living there in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  It was, not unexpectedly to have a profound effect on his work.

Edward Burra, The Watcher,1937

The Watcher 1937

In the 50s he painted flowers that were sinister.

He used symbolic language in his later work, ghostly figures in Sugarbeet.

Sugarbeet, East Anglia 1973. Watercolour on paper by Edward Burra.  http://suttonauckett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/pallant-house-gallery-part-1.html

His later landscapes feel like an attempt to connect with something bigger than himself. 

Near Whitby, Yorkshire 1972


Andrew Graham Dixon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BoLh8xgOdI and his review in the Telegraph hthttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/9013684/Edward-Burra-at-Pallant-House-Chichester-Seven-magazine-review.html


Jane Stevenson wrote his biography, Twentieth Century Eye.

Eric Ravilious

English, born in Eastbourne in 1903 – 1942 in action as a war artist.

Norway by Eric Ravilious, 1940

Norway 1940

Tutored by Paul Nash at the RCA, a contemporary of Henry Moore and John Piper.

Ravilious, Eric - Chalk Paths

Chalk Paths 1935

Known for his watercolours of the South Downs.

There is to be a major retrospective at the Dulwich Picture Gallery from April to August, curated by James Russell a Ravilious expert.


Paul Nash

English 1889 – 1946, educated at the Slade.

With thanks to Gerry’s amazing art blog Thats How the Light Gets in, https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/paul-nash-and-world-war-one-i-am-no-longer-an-artist-i-am-a-messenger-to-those-who-want-the-war-to-go-on-for-ever-and-may-it-burn-their-lousy-souls/#comment-16679

Paul Nash, Wire, 1918

Paul Nash Wire -1918

And James Russell’s blog on his life and death http://jamesrussellontheweb.blogspot.co.uk/p/dear-old-thomas-and-lucky-paul-james.html

Woods on the Downs 1930

Another perspective on his life http://www.rennart.co.uk/nash.html

Patrick Heron

British 1920-1999.

Ultramarine, red & black vertical

Ultramarine, red & black vertical  5 x 3¾ in. (12.7 x 9.5 cm.)

This is clearly a watercolour but most of his work is oil or silk screen.

Marlene Dumas

Born is South Africa in 1953, now resident in Amsterdam.  She works mainly in inks and oils.

I visited the Image as Burden exhibition at the Tate last week.  I wanted to find her work amazing and unforgettable, but sadly, I didn’t.  In fact with fourteen rooms of challenging images, I found myself extremely low the following day.

Dumas goes where other artists fear to tread.  Laura Cummings writing in the Observer http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/08/marlene-dumas-image-as-burden-tate-modern-review-painterly-provocative ‘There is a painting in this show of the man who murdered the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, shooting him repeatedly before slashing his throat. It is delicate and pale, materialising in beautiful veils. There is another of Osama bin Laden in the glowing stained-glass hues of a Rouault. Should they be quite so gorgeous, these canvases? Should these men get such lavish treatment?’

‘Her way of painting can appear rhetorical: those vague attenuations around the neck that make you wonder what happened to the rest of this poor person; those coloured auras that seem to emanate from certain faces; those seeping blurs that allow for extraordinary ambiguities in a face – seeing or sightless, unconscious or dead? Shapely masks – chalk white, pale blue, tinged with fading pink or magenta – are superimposed on heads for an immediate sense of misfit or detachment. Her people seem to wear their faces.’

Marlene Dumas retrospective, Tate Modern, London, Britain - 03 Feb 2015

Seven years ago Dumas briefly became the world’s most expensive living female artist.  You would imagine with that exhalted claim to fame would come a degree of self assuredness, but it appears not.

Rachel Cooke writing in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jan/11/the-daring-art-of-marlene-dumas-duct-tape-pot-bellies-and-bin-laden is impressed by her self-deprecation ‘“When I start work on a painting, it’s total kitsch!” she wails at one point. “When I painted myself pregnant, I couldn’t do the legs, and the blond hair made it look like a bad Klimt!” she cries at another. No other artist I have interviewed has ever come close to making statements like these. Their acceptance of their own brilliance was simply part of the deal.’

The Painter, 1994.

The Painter, 1994. The Museum of Modern Art, New York © Marlene Dumas

This disturbing portrait is of her own daughter, Helena, now 25, was considered too explicit for Tate and Moma outdoor publicity material.  “The nakedness made it impossible, but they also didn’t like that she looked so angry.” said Dumas in an interview with Vogue’s Sophie Rushton.  ‘Of painting her own child, she says, “When I’m painting I do have a distance, it’s not that I’m in this emotional state all the time… although I do use my paintings to work with my own fears and anxieties.” Think of Lucian Freud, she says, who asked his daughters to pose in the nude. “He was very good at what he did – but I’m totally opposite in that sense – he painted his daughters, lying there,” Dumas flings her body back into a splayed pose, “I mean, I wouldn’t paint my daughter like that! I’m still surprised that doesn’t upset people!”‘

Rachel Cooke from the Gaurdian comments ‘On a wall are the latest drawings for her Great Men series, a collection of portraits of gay men (the Tate show will include drawings of Alan Turing, Tennessee Williams and Tchaikovsky). She looks at me looking at them – I’m drawn especially to her young Auden and to her Francis Bacon, both of which seem to capture something of their very essence – and when I turn around, I can’t help but notice that she is wearing quite a daffy smile. Dumas doesn’t, unlike some artists, simply accept compliments as her due; it’s clear that they still have the power to thrill, and on receiving a genuine one she radiates graciousness, relief and a kind of simmering excitement.’

Alastair Smart writing in the Standard, whilst recommending the exhibition comments that it is ‘Not a barrel of laughs.  Dumas is proof that, even in a world awash with imagery, painting can still move.’

‘Dumas’s art does, after 14 rooms, start to look slightly samey. Following a few experiments with collage, she hit upon her signature painting style early on and hasn’t really ever deviated from it.

In fact, in recent years she appears to be an artist whose inspiration has run dry: hence her decision to start depicting celebrities, from Amy Winehouse and Phil Spector to Osama bin Laden.’

The artist would disagree.  In an interview with Sophie Rushton for Vogue ‘There is humour, she says, behind her paintings of Bin Laden and the now-incarcerated Spector, and you only have to hear her speak about them – in a throaty half-Dutch, half-South African accent that frequently dissolves into laughter – to believe that is her intention. “I always quote Beckett,” she says, “‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’ I often choose things that are quite tragic, and I know it’s not funny ha-ha, but there is definitely an element of humour.”  I am not sure I see where she is coming from and certainly not my sense of humour.

Dumas claims not to be political. Smart comments ‘Her work has often been seen through the prism of apartheid in her homeland, as if she were always passing comment. Dumas fundamentally rejects such a reductive outlook, but there’s no doubt the Africa of her youth has infused her art.’

Marlene Dumas, Black Drawings, 1991-1992

Black Drawings 1991-92

Smart continues ‘The artist herself, though, stresses her aim wasn’t political but simply to deploy black ink aesthetically – something she certainly achieves through some loose brushwork and lovely poolings.’

Critic Waldemar Januszczak writing in the Sunday Times and as ZCZFilms in Faceook

‘All the heads have an in-built sense of symbolism. All of them seem to have been through a battle to find the best painterly approach with which to suggest their bigger meanings. A portrait of Dumas’s mother, also called Martha, is as washed out as the Turin Shroud. While a portrait of Moshekwa, an artist friend of Dumas’s, and a rare appearance here by a male face, uses a surprising splodge of Rothko purple across the forehead to smuggle powerful abstract expressionist emotions into the image.

As a display of inventive mark-making, all this is impressive. The suggestive possibilities of paint are treated to an exciting exploration. Here, it’s done with splodges. There, with monochromes. Unfortunately, painting large heads is not enough for Dumas and, having shown how potently she can do it, she spends the rest of the show growing more ambitious in her subject matter, less impressive in her art.’

A face that fits

Sheila de Rosa writing for a-n   ‘Unfortunately I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with Januszczak when he says that this exhibition should have been called ‘How to be Old-Fashioned in a Contemporary Way’ and is a clumsy attempt by deep and ancient human emotions to express themselves with fiddly and ill-fitting conceptual methods.  This is where I humbly suggest that you need to be a practitioner yourself to appreciate exactly what she has achieved in her works and just how accomplished she is, and what a joy they impart.  Marlene Dumas is a breath of fresh air and her work combines both conceptual acuity and visual pleasure which, I submit, is what the visual arts are all about.’

My feeling is that here is an artist with the ability to infuse real, often painful emotion, into her portraits.  This is when she is being  her most authentic.  It is when she tries to develop her ideas that she looses that authenticity and appears to be ‘chasing the money’.

Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7

Marlene Dumas Great Britain 1995–7

Private collection, c/o San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Marlene Dumas

Is she worth £3m, soon expected to increase to £5m at her next auction?  That is a seriously heavy burden for any artist to bear.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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