Saturday, September 09, 2017

Landscape near Malines

The Listener magazine, founded by John Reith as a cultural supplement to the BBC's Radio Times, folded in 1991.  I think I remember some sadness when it ended, but it doesn't seem to have been much missed.  'It gradually declined after 1960 as British society changed, the BBC became more plural, and other sources of information became more readily available' (Wikipedia).  There is a digital archive but, perhaps surprisingly for a Reithian product, it is not freely accessible to the public.  Back in the early sixties, the Listener featured essays on art, first broadcast as part of a Home Service series called 'Painting of the Month'.  In each programme, an art expert would discuss in an accessible way a work that could be found in a British museum.  The aim was 'to contribute to the listener's understanding of what the artist is trying to convey, and in this way to increase his enjoyment of painting.'  In addition to the programmes and Listener articles, you could collect separate illustrated supplements each month with notes on the paintings, and keep them in special folders.  My parents still have complete sets of these and the accompanying Listener articles for four years, covering 1962-5.  The example above is for October 1962, when Andrew Forge discussed a landscape by Rubens which hangs in Birmingham University's Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

Peter Paul Rubens, Landscape near Malines, 1630s
See The Barber Insitute, where it is now called A Landscape in Flanders 

The talk on this painting sets it in the context of the great allegories and mythological scenes for which Rubens was famous, and spends some time discussing two of his more famous landscapes.  'The Rainbow Landscape and its great companion the Chateau de Steen in the National Gallery are in a sense no less public utterances than Rubens' figure pieces.'  However, these late works do convey more of a feel for his surroundings than was evident in Rubens' earlier compositions.  Mr Forge (as The Listener calls him) describes the Rainbow Landscape, for all its drama, as inconsistent in its design.  It is only the distant part that looks real - 'here all the busyness of separate incidents is resolved: everything is unified and calm.  Arrived here, one feels suddenly released - no longer tied to categories of things and no longer involved in watching events.'  And it is just this quality that we find in Landscape near Malines.  'The whole landscape turns in front of us, not with the coiling artifice of the earlier pictures but with the simple single unfolding that our own movement brings to landscape.'

Peter Paul Rubens, Rainbow Landscape, c. 1636
Source: Wikimedia Commons 

Over the course of 1962 Andrew Forge discussed two more landscapes, Constable's Leaping Horse and Matisse's Tree near Trivaux Pond.  Other speakers did three programmes each on still life, figure painting and portraits.  In 1963 the entire series was devoted to Renaissance art, which meant landscape was only touched upon, e.g. in Bryan Robertson's talk on Leonardo's The Virgin of the Rocks.  I have to admit to being fascinated by some of the advertisements in the old Listener magazines - turning from Leonardo you come to a full page ad for the British Iron and Steel Federation ('Britain needs more homes fast.  Steel shows the way in multi-story flats...')   In 1964 the series had twice as many paintings and included landscapes by Canaletto and Turner.  In 1965 the focus was on British art and there were landscapes by Gainsborough, Crome, Constable and Turner.  Perhaps I will draw on some of these essays in future.

I can't resist a list, especially a chronological one, so I was interested to see in the introduction to the 1962 series a table of 'Some Important Paintings in Europe in the Four Categories covered by the Talks.'  There are sixty in the landscape list, beginning with Lorenzetti's Good and Bad Government (which I wrote about here nine years ago) and ending with the Matisse I mentioned above.  Nothing more recent than Matisse and only five on the list by artists born in the nineteenth century.  This was the BBC that would soon commission Civilisation so the skew towards Old Masters is not surprising (nearly half the artists on the landscape list were born before 1500).  There is no mention of Caspar David Friedrich - as I have noted here before, he was barely known in Britain before the 1970s.  Here are the works on this list I have featured here before - just a fraction of them, because even though this is my 996th post on Some Landscapes, I have only scratched the surface of the history of landscape art.

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