William Blake: Apprentice and Master – Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

(Image linked in from the website of The Independent review, below)

I think this is one of those exhibitions in which the more you know about the artist beforehand the more you get out of it. I knew almost nothing about Blake before I went, and hand on heart I don’t think I knew a heck of a lot more about him after I’d been. I knew a lot more about printmaking, and I had more of an understanding of Blake the printmaker and how he was keen to both exploit new techniques and to innovate in his own workflow. But I didn’t get any sense of the man at all from it, no feeling of engagement with the person behind the printing press.

Now, not for one bit am I doing down the exhibition. It’s like everything at the Ashmolean well planned and executed, though due to the nature of the materials on show the light levels are very low so seeing some of the details is a challenge for those of us with less than hawk like vision. It moves chronologically from his early days as an apprentice engraver through to his late work, and then includes work by those influenced by him. There are original copper plates on show so one can appreciate the amazing detail in the engraving, as well as some of his woodblocks. Lots of his prints to enjoy of course, including different prints from the same plate to illustrate how they differ. I’m going to put my hands up for this one and admit that frankly, I don’t find I engage with Blake very well, somehow I just don’t get that ‘wow moment’ – sorry.

Here are links to a couple of good reviews of the exhibition, either of which I wish I’d read first 🙂

Richard Dorment, Daily Telegraph
Maev Kennedy The Guardian
Nick Clarke The Independent

I think though, for those more knowledgeable about Blake, his life and work, there was much more to be taken away from this exhibition than I did. So if you’re going to see it and you’re not a Blake fan, then my suggestion is that some background reading might be an idea

It’s on till the first of March, so you’ve got another month to catch it – more information here


Peder Balke – National Gallery

I had some time after a business trip to London last week so I stuck my head into the National to take a look at their Peder Balke exhibition.


And you’d be right, the chap is almost unknown outside his native Norway, and for all I know he may not be too well known their either. I was quite taken by the bit on the National Gallery website where he’s referred to as a ‘forerunner of Modernism’ and I do like a bit of modernism. Truth be told, it didn’t look too much like modernism to me, but that might be my lack of a firm grip on what this might mean in art crit terms. I found this review by Alastair Sooke, who does know what he’s talking about, and he rather seems to agree with this..or perhaps it’s fairer to say I agree with him!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did and I’m glad I dropped in on it. I’d have been less enamoured if I’d trekked up to London just to see it mind, as there isn’t a whole lot of it and there is a limit to how many shipwrecks and lighthouses I can enjoy. The later ones where there is little or no colour are interesting, and the big one just to the left of the door as you go in is the one I kept going back to look at.

The exhibition is on loan from the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromso – having taken a look at some of the exhibitions they’ve had on their website I rather wish it wasn’t so far away…