The RA Magazine team pick the best from the UK's new crop of Spring exhibitions
Painting Flowers: Fantin-Latour and the Impressionists at the Bowes Museum
16 April-9 October 2011
In 1866, days after Henri Fantin-Latour had exhibited his first bright, lush flower still-life at the Paris Salon, Josephine Bowes, the French wife of British businessman, John Bowes, bought a similar painting Fruit and Flowers (1866).
Bowes, an actress and a talented amateur painter, was ahead of her time. In Paris, the art establishment placed still-life far down the hierarchy of genres, despite the interest in it shown later by leading figures of the Impressionist movement.
Although this was the only Fantin-Latour Bowes bought, by the time she died, in 1874, she had also purchased works by pioneering painters of the day, including Courbet, Boudin and Monticelli, all destined for the museum she and her husband were creating in England’s North-East.
Now the Bowes Museum has gathered 30 Fantin-Latours from all over the UK – the artist was championed by Whistler and sold most of his work to private collectors – placing them alongside works by his avant-garde friends, Courbet, Renoir, Degas and Fantin-Latour's wife, the painter Victoria Dubourg.
The museum has also invited botanist David Ingram to identify the depicted flowers, which in their day were fashionable horticultural novelties. This exhibition illuminates a turning point in the history of French Impressionism, while at the same time exploring an episode in the evolution of British taste, where gardens have always been as important as paintings.
Roger Hilton at the Newlyn Art Gallery, Cornwall
Until 2 May
A survey exhibition to mark the centenary of Roger Hilton's birth is on view at the Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall (until 2 May), where Hilton was a regular exhibitor.
Selected by Rose Hilton, widow of the artist, the exhibition includes oil paintings, gouaches, sketch-books and letters, as well as a recording of Hilton, made a year before his death in 1975. At its best, Hilton's art is exuberant and celebratory, evoking the great Abstract Expressionists and European artists such as Nicolas de Stael. The sense of animistic closeness to nature captured in his work is a quality sought by many artists and intellectuals who settled in Cornwall.
The focus of this show is on Hilton's work from the late 1950s, when he first took a studio in St Ives, then one overlooking Newlyn harbour, before moving to Cornwall permanently in 1965.
Jaume Plensa at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
9 April-4 September 2011
The recent unveiling in Salzburg of Jaume Plensa's marble sculpture Awilda, underlines the international recognition that this artist, born in Barcelona in 1955, has achieved. Although its title derives from a Teutonic saga, Awilda is a portrait of an immigrant from the Caribbean who came to Austria in search of work. This sense of alertness to the contemporary world is characteristic of Plensa's approach to public art. His Crown Fountain in Chicago, again featuring an ordinary citizen of the city, is highly popular, while his Breathing (2008), atop Broadcasting House in London, projects a beam of light skywards each evening at ten o clock, commemorating BBC war correspondents killed in the line of duty. Plensa's new work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park includes three large fibreglass resin 'angels'. Suspended from the gallery walls, the figures radiate a soft white light.
Other works in the exhibition are Jerusalem, a circle of eleven gongs engraved with text from the Song of Songs, and In the Midst of Dreams, a group of monumental illuminated heads with closed eyes.