Swinging London, a museum tour… with Chanel, Philip Guston and Holbein

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The Chanel show is spectacularly designed at the V & A

Landing in London and being immediately spirited away to the Victoria & Albert Museum Chanel exhibition was quite fun. Virginia Fraser, mother of model and L.A. gallerist Honor Fraser, and a writer for House and Garden, has a sharp eye. She spotted all the brilliant details of the vey early (1928) and exciting dresses or ensembles sold by the couturier to all her chic English friends, whom she met through Boy Capel, her lover of ten years, and inspirer of her tweed jackets. And this is what I liked most in this show, curated in partnership with Palais Galliera and the Patrimoine de Chanel. With over 100 new objects not shown in Paris, including many jewels, the exhibition focuses on foreign clients’ orders and I discovered dresses I had never seen even in photographs. The large rooms of the V&A were definitely more gracious than in Paris.

Philip Guston, “Dawn”, 1970, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, at the Tate Modern

I have always been fascinated by Philip Guston‘s works since I saw his first painting, in 1976, at collector and art critic, Michèle Cone’s house. Born Philip Goldstein in Montreal, in 1913, in a Ukrainian family, he was brought up in Los Angeles. His father committed suicide and his brother died a few years later after a car accident. He turned to the arts, which he discovered at the library and to politics. This led him to creating large scale murals influenced by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, in which he fought with a group of artist friends, against racial injustice in the US.

Philip Guston, “Female Nude with easel”, 1935, Promised gift of Musa Guston Mayer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

His very early paintings are very different from the later ones (a little bit like his contemporary Rothko) and come after his period as a muralist in L.A. and in Mexico. Just before the war, he changed his name to Guston to protect himself from antisemitism and painted multiple works of his wife, Musa McKim, also an artist. He started teaching at the University of Iowa City and in St Louis. “Bombardment” (an exploding tondo in honor of Guernica), 1937, and “Gladiators”, 1940, are still quite figurative  and it’s only with “The Tormentors” 1947-8, that he starts abstract shapes. “Beggar’s Joys”, 1954-5, is abstract at last and corresponds to the moment when he joins Sidney Janis’ Gallery where de Kooning, Pollock and Rothko already showed.

Philip Guston, “Beggar’s Joys”, 1954-55, Private collection

In 1960, Guston represented the US at the Venice Biennale and two years later, the Guggenheim Museum in New York organized his first retrospective. A fascinating black and white photo of the museum enhances the importance of his work, then. In 1977, he paints a moving “Couple in Bed” where the artist clings with equal measure to his paint brushes and to his partner McKim. This corresponds to the time when his wife fell ill. She will survive him though, until 1992 and move permanently to Woodstock. At the end of the show, the  film, directed by Michael Blackwood in 1981, shows him talking at length about his art. The show is completely overwhelming and will last until February 25 at Tate Modern.

The view of London from Tate Modern

I ended my stay in London with the Holbein exhibition at the Queen’s gallery, Buckingham Palace. It is a thrilling experience already to enter the palace and be welcomed by the numerous members of super deferential staff. The premises are beautiful and the drawings of the exhibition are surprising in their modernity for a 16 th century German artist from Augsburg (1497-1543) compared to Clouet‘s (1520-1572) in Chantilly which are much more restrained.

Hans Holbein, William Reskimer at the Queen’s gallery

This show of “Holbein at the Tudor court” allowed us to see a few more glorious paintings from the King’s collection like Princess Elizabeth’s portrait by the Flemish school and the family of Henry VIII in 1545, probably made for Whitehall Palace. And visiting the gift shop was extremely fun. While talking to the nice guards, I realized hat one could book a private tour of Buckingham Palace all year round. Next time I will…

Brother Noah and Mother Phanella Fine celebrate Otto’s bar-mitsva (center)

My visit to London was planned around Otto Fine’s Bar-mitsva and this was a first time for me. I found the ceremony at the synagogue and the importance of officially becoming a man totally riveting. He was very brave carrying the heavy Torah around and reading the prayers in Hebrew. But what struck me the most was the importance of family values and the strength of getting together.

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