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Page 30, 19th December 1970

19th December 1970
Page 30
Page 30, 19th December 1970 — Personal Choke WE have to thank Nicolete Gray, already well
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Personal Choke WE have to thank Nicolete Gray, already well

known to Tablet readers, for suggesting that the Arts Council should mount an exhibition based on the Sutherland Collection. The important point about this entredeux-guerres collection is that it was not in the conventional sense a collection at all. Helen Sutherland was not in the least concerned with acquiring works of art as a gamble, an investment or a status symbol. Indeed, she often gave them away so that they might become more widely known. She was not particularly interested in art history, fashion or new movements, although in fact most of the works which she bought would have been considered avant-garde at a time when both Establishment and popular taste in England were provincial and philistine. In such a climate the patronage of Helen Sutherland made an immensely valuable contribution to British art ; but she did not regard herself as a patron. Neither was she a connoisseur, though she had instinctively good taste, and she was only a dilettante in the literal sense of the word. It might be said that she bought from motives of friendship and love, both for the works themselves and for their creators. She did not always understand modern art, at least on first sight, but unlike most of her contemporaries she was willing to make the effort. For example, she wrote of Picasso, "One might not personally like the pictures, but one does feel he is a man to watCh and look for, and he has got the great. and personal handwriting " : and of Epstein's Rima, "It is a work of the imagination tho' not of the first water ". At a time when most people merely scoffed at abstraction, " distortion " and "lack of perspective ", she asked Ben Nicholson to explain why he painted that way.

Although Mrs. Gray's long land affectionate introduction to the catalogue was worth writing, I think it was perhaps a mistake to include so many passages from Helen Sutherland's own letters and diaries. Their exclamatory, parenthetic and emphatic style, when robbed of the distinctive handwriting and rubrics, seems rather embarrassing in impersonal 'black type.

The current exhibition of one hundred and eight works at the Hayward Gallery is of course only a part of this now scattered collection, but with few exceptions it represents very clearly the two aspects of art which appealed to Helen Sutherland. She liked what was elegant, classical and serene, but also what was lyrical and visionary. There was no place for realism (in any literal or naturalistic sense) or expressionism •in her appreciation, and in this context the two Courbets are odd men out ; but they were early purchases, before she knew exactly what she was seeking.

Aficionados of David Jones will find this exhibition mandatory. The opportunity of seeing twenty-one works by this artist, many of them well known but only in reproduction (which almost robs them of their magic) is worth a long journey. Anyone who has only seen, for example, the coloured plates in the old Penguin Modern Painters, will find the originals a revelation. In addition to such favourites as Rene Hague's Press, Briar Cup and Chapel Peri low, there are less familiar and more recent works including some drawings from the 1950s and an inscription of 1961. It looks as though an attempt has been made to evoke the atmosphere of most of the places in which David Jones has stayedDitchling, Capel-y-Ffin, Salies de Beam, Pigotts, Rock and Matterdale—never putting down roots into the earth but sitting in front of windows like a bulb in a hyacinth glass, and producing the same sort of

beautiful, deceptively fragile looking flowers.

Apart from David Jones, Ben Nicholson was Helen Sutherland's favourite artist, and the exhibition includes thirty-eight of his works in various media and genres— watercolours, oils, drawings, reliefs and prints, of abstracts, landscape, and still life. She also admired Barbara Hepworth and Winifred Nicholson, and it was probably through them that she became interested in other painters working in Cornwall. Personal relationships were an important element in her patronage, and surprising lacunae in the collection are no doubt due to lack of contact : for instance, one would have expected her to have responded with immediate sympathy to the understated art of Gwen John.

Of the other 'current exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery, I would warmly recommend the one devoted to Francois Mansart (1598-1666), whose most memorable achievement was to reconcile the architectural conventions of his native France (tall buildings, high-pitched roofs, chimneys, etc.), with Renaissance rules. The main part of the exhibition consists of drawings and photographs of Mansart's most important works, reinforced by some personal documents : but I particularly enjoyed a continuous performance of slides in the theatre, illustrating the buildings which survive.. From a comfortable seat one can watch a succession of beautiful coloured photographs of seventeenth-century chateaux, some handsomely preserved down to the last quincunx in a garden designed by Le Mitre, others gracefully crumbling away in autumnal parks, but all calculated to delight any Francophil.

WINEFRIDE WILSON