Leonardo da Vinci : The Anatomist

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy At the Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace.


After one of the most successful and popular Leonardo exhibitions at the National Gallery last winter, the Queen’s Gallery presents a closer inspection of Leonardo’s intriguingly accurate anatomical drawings helping to reveal more of the Renaissance master that he truly was.

In terms of practicalities- fewer queues, more tickets, free audio guide- this exhibition is far superior to the one at the National Gallery. No paintings were shown, only drawings belonging to the Queen’s private collection. Essentially there was nothing new or exciting about these works, no dramatic publicity or corporate sponsorship. As cringe-worthy as it sounds, the drawings really did speak for themselves.

Everyone knows who da Vinci is; the inventor, the painter of the Mona Lisa, the man who wrote backwards in his journals and of course, the star of the filmEver After. Many do not know of his outstanding grasp of the human anatomy in which his studies vastly differ from his contemporaries, with his constant questioning of where life comes from.

Had his work been published he would have been one of the most important anatomists of his time. Alas, it was not and to many his recognition of the fact that the aortic valve pumps blood in only one direction or that women are sexually equal to men because they produce an egg necessary for procreation are merely two trivialities in the grand notion of the great Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo’s ability to make even the most clinical drawings seem life-like is pure genius. Seen together with his sketches of living people (see his sketch for the head of Judas where Leonardo goes beyond simple anatomy) Leonardo surpasses superficial examination. You really do have to see it to believe his skill not only as an anatomist as this exhibition so clearly demonstrates, but as an impeccable draughtsman who captures life.


Angel or Demon

Angel or Demon?


Since it’s erection in 1998 Anthony Gormely’s Angel of the North has sparked much debate. It’s imposing 20m high presence on the side of the A1 in Gateshead is impossible not to notice, with it’s rusted plane-like industrial 54 metre wingspan.

The question is, do people still appreciate Gormley’s sculpture or has it become something of an eyesore? Whilst traveling on the train to Scotland I overheard two middle aged women who- incidentally- were merrily munching on some pork pies and swigging on tins of pre-mixed bracardi and coke whilst dismissing, ‘that piece of junk’ and rolling their eyes at Gormley’s Angel.

As a longstanding appreciator of Gormely and his work, my opinion remains split on this piece. Where his installation Another Place on Crosby Beach connects the sculptures to the surrounding environment, presenting an ethereal, peaceful effect encouraging the contemplation of time and the selfThe Angel of the North has no human grace or poise, but stands tall like a past war monument left over from times of hardship and terror. For me it is too menacing to suggest contemplation and reflection, too industrial to be human, and perhaps just a bit too close to the roadside to be understood in context.

Gormley states, “People are always asking why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears.” –

Perhaps then these women have forgotten their past, and have no fears other than  drinking too much bracardi and missing their train stop. Whizzing past on the train or motorway doesn’t allow for a proper glimpse of the sculpture, the image along with it’s message is blurred and confusing in the mind’s eye.

Tellingly upon it’s erection the Sun paper likened Gormley’s Angel to a monumental clanger, and many other tabloid’s were similarly unimpressed by the work. For something that is supposed to inspire the masses, sadly this work doesn’t quite translate.

74 Million Later

£74 million Later



I know I’m almost a week behind now but I am still in shock.  This pastel work which is one of four sound in just 12 minutes in Sotheby’s New York last Wednesday. This version, is (of course) superior to the others because it has one of Munch’s poems on the reverse:

“I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

After the news of the double DIP recession surely this lavish spending is a sign that the art market is stronger than the rest of the economy, fighting back when times are tough. Or is it just another classic example of the money and goods only mixing with those who already have it. Obviously a work with such prestige as this belongs in a gallery, but I am sure that the new owner would be delighted to donate their newfound acquisition if the exhibition in question enhanced their public image?  Yes, art should be available to all, but sometimes it becomes more special when you can only see it for a select period. Just look at the latest Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition over Christmas. Tickets sold out in hours. Exclusivity sells, clearly.

Isabella d’Este

Da Vinci, Isabella d’Este, 1500.

Thinking of my dissertation title, and trying to work out just how similar all of Da Vinci’s women look. Their dainty hands is the one trait that I cant help but envy and hope that some form of idealisation has occurred.

This was sketched on a flying visit to Ferrara, and I’m pretty sure old Leo wasn’t a great fan of Isabella, and she certainly never really caught on to his talent until it was too late feeling giving his sketches to all friends and family. No Wonder he didn’t want to be her court painter I suppose. Imagine having mistakenly given some of Hirst’s original dot paintings away, mistaking them for the latest Emma Bridgewater, poor Isabella.



Hockney’s Bigger Picture


Hockney’s Bigger Picture


iPhones, iPads, iMac’s, Kindle’s, blackberries, tablets, the never-ending list of must have gadgets that everyone wants and needs. No-one can live without them, not even the usually more technology challenged painters who have traditionally spent decades fighting against cultural tides in their quest for the ultimate beauty. David Hockney has upped the techno-game replacing his easel with an iPad in an exciting exhibition at London’s Royal Academy.

The iPad works are hung on canvases around a large room and admittedly upon first glance they appear- shock horror- just like oil paintings. The iPad, according to Hockney is the quickest way to “paint” and “no other medium using colour is as fast” (in an email to Marco Livingstone, 30 April 2011). However, Hockney’s interest isn’t in the medium of his works, but rather in the subjectivity of the landscape, the flamboyant colours and interchangeable weather effects representing nature’s beauty through his eyes.

If this fifty-year-old can master the iPad and produce “art” to Royal Academy standards, then does it mean that anyone can? Perhaps artists should just give up painting altogether and let technology do the talking?

Before deciding on whether or not iPad drawings- which are essentially an advanced form of paint that many a childhood days were spent doodling on, creating the next background for the archaic family desktop computer- could ever be classed as art, there was the rest of the exhibition to explore.

There is an energetic vitality and vibrancy to Hockney’s work, with his earlier canvases in the first rooms echoing the Cattelan surrealist genius Joan Miró, with their imagined dream-like scenes. The landscapes then focus solely on Yorkshire, with the vibrant colours and undulating forms in the Salt Mill of 1997, where the imagined scene is transposed onto a place very close to Hockney’s heart. A common motif of a purple pathway that twists and folds across many of the Yorkshire landscapes leads the eye through Hockney’s wild imagination, and the lollipop-esque trees echo those from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” of 1889.  You can’t help but be mesmerised by Hockney’s hypnotic sceneries.

Hockney doesn’t shy away from Van Gogh’s influence, it his affinity for nature- not technology- that is his driving force; preferring to paint a field whilst actually standing in it, rather than from some far off vantage point with an idealised perspective.

In fact, the exhibition contains the largest en plein air  painting to date, at 15 x 40ft, and comprising of over 50 canvases, Bigger Trees Near Water from 2007 was the catalyst for this exhibition. Ironically this work proves that bigger isn’t necessarily better, and his Woldgate series are much more interesting and engaging works, presenting the same scene in different seasons, à la Monet.  

Yet Hockney takes this further by using different canvases for each image, breaking up the picture plane and by using slightly different view points for each canvas he challenges the way we compose the picture in our mind’s eye. At first glance the works appear mismatched and childlike, but in a room surrounded by canvases the effect is quite mesmerising. The true sense of the landscape is evoked through Hockney’s playful colour palette, and ironic use of perspective, making the viewer the crucial element for each paintings completion.

If Hockney’s Bigger Trees Near Water fails to shock or impress through it’s mere simplicity and it’s being “too perfect” and the Woldgate series appears to be “too mismatched” then perhaps the iPad drawings provide the perfect solution.

Not as immediate or as lifelike as photography and  not as refined and carefully planned as paintings but rather the restriction to a certain size and a certain colour palette provides Hockney with the only tools he needs to demonstrate his affinity to the landscape and to showcase his artistic and technological genius.

My only issue with the works is their method of presentation. Why could they not be displayed on screens instead of being transposed onto canvases? For being inherently 2D they all have an unnatural flatness that would perhaps be transferred into some sort of electronic sparkle of life had they been displayed on screens. This however, is my only objection of Hockney’s playful ironic attitude towards his painting. His iPad sketches are not a permanent alternative to paintings, but rather an exciting new way of capturing his imagination at any given time.

Who knows if his ideas will take on, it does sound like a tempting idea to sit in a field painting without having to worry about all the materials, and just “paint” but then again, maybe the less artistically gifted among us should just stick to draw something





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