Exhibition Reviews: Sargent Portraits of Artists and Friends at NPG / Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern

So I recently became a member of the Museums Association which for a small subscription allows you into most of the major London exhibitions for FREE! So instead of spending £25 on student tickets, draining my student budget and forcing me to live off yellow labelled Sainsbury’s goods for a fortnight, I strolled in with my £3.35 a month MA card. In short if you regularly go to exhibitions in London check out Museums Association.

Anyway, to the actual exhibitions. John Singer Sargent was the Edwardian portrait painter mainly known for portraits of society beauties in voluminous dresses, often with even more voluminous hair. The portraits are organised in the exhibition as a timeline of his work and are mainly of the friends he makes on his travels through Paris, America, London and elsewhere. The focus on his friends meant that the portraits displayed are also the ones that Sargent himself chose to do; of writers and artists such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Rodin.

John Singer Sargent ‘Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth’, 1889
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, Sargent

My highlight however is the amazing portrait of the stage actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth with her shimmering beetle green dress and dramatic pose, a painting that needs to be actually seen in person to be fully appreciated. It’s usually in the Tate Britain, so can be seen for free after the exhibition as well.

The exhibition showed Sargent as far more than just a society painter for the rich but someone of variety interested in his sitters as people and by contextualising the images both in the free mini-catalogue and with a room dedicated to the history of Sargent’s life, prevented this being a slow shuffle from one vaguely interesting portrait to another. Rating: 4/5

From portraits of life to landscapes of death. The Tate Modern’s exhibition is a sobering look at the effects of war and instead of shocking with images of maimed bodies, wounds and its effects on the human body, does so through the effects on the landscape and those left behind at various points after conflict. The photographs cover a variety of conflicts from the 19th century American Civil War and Crimean War to the more contemporary conflicts in the Middle-East. The versatility of photography is also on display ranging from Taryn Simon’s study highlighting the effect of the Bosnian genocide on bloodline to the simple black and white photography of Richard Peter in a decimated Dresden. Photography here is shown not just a way of documenting war through recording it but also as a way of highlighting and expressing its effects. The exhibition ends in a week but Dan Snow’s video gives a nice snapshot, albeit with the usual unnecessary shot of ‘presenter walking down corridor.’ Rating: 5/5

Richard Peter Dresden After Allied Raids Germany 1945
Richard Peter – Dresden After Allied Raids Germany 1945

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