Charles Naper: Ella Playing Mouth Organ

This exhibition shows self–portraits of the Newlyn School artists alongside portraits by other artists, amusing caricatures and photographs with the addition of mini biographies. This results in unusual opportunities to see the artists in different ways and is far more interesting than I had anticipated. I found out that Tuke said Newlyn was ‘simply reeking with subjects’.

Charles Naper was so sensitive to criticism that he stopped painting and burnt a lot of his work. Harold Harvey did a picture of Midge Bruford, who also sat for Dod Proctor. Her portraits of Midge and of Eileen Mayo, appearing side by side, show how similar she made them look. Harold takes a different view with the woman staring straight at us with an intense sadness.

The women provide fascinating glimpses of changing fashions. Dod looks the epitome of twenties chic. Others have enormous hats covered in roses. Nearly all the men have mustaches. There is a great picture of Gertrude Harvey by Ruth Simpson showing her big turquoise-blue eyes. Laura Knight’s ‘Spring’ was damaged in Pittsburgh by smoke from the Carnegie Steel works.

Would a show of contemporary artists along these lines be possible? Are artists drawing or painting one another? Would it be mostly photos now? Can most artists nowadays draw a likeness? Why have things changed so much and does it matter?

Mary Fletcher

‘Artists by Themselves’ at Penlee Gallery, Penzance, 8th June 2019

Volume 33 no 5 May / June 2019

1 thought on “Portraiture captures far more than a person

  1. If there is an art to -write- the mind’s construction in the face, it’s surely the art of portraiture. There’s a line in Macbeth, Act I, Scene 4, “there is no art to read the mind’s construction in the face”, said by King Duncan once Malcolm told him the Thane of Cawdor has been executed. Duncan suggests there is no way to tell a person’s character by looking at his face. Michelangelo disproved that.

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