Interlude: Russian Impressionism – to brighten the day!


As all the galleries across the world are closed, it’s the online ‘exhibitions’ that come to the fore – not that many of us could just pop over to Moscow even in usual times! But this is just a quick note to direct anyone following my little “Art & Artists of Russia” articles that there are some glorious paintings on the Russian Impressionism Museum website: the English version is at Collection – Russian impressionism museum (

My favourite painting (today!) from the Museum is “Little Church at Abramtsevo” painted by Valentina Diffine-Christi (sometimes Valentina Mikhailovna Diffine-Kristi) in 1953 [website link].

The picture is radiant with sunlight; the brushstrokes so loose and free with paint and colour, that it would be so satisfying to relate its expressiveness to the broader context: 1953 was the year that Stalin died.

Even if that’s not the case, the painting certainly looks back to a previous time. The Abramtsevo estate had been a vibrant and radical artists colony in the 19th century – a community that included perhaps the most famous pre-Revolution artist, Ilya Repin, and artists from the Wanderers movement who excelled in depictions of the Russian landscape such as Konstantin Korovin whose impressionism – inspired by trips to Paris, where he would settle permanently in 1923 – is a direct antecedent of “Little Church”. Here’s his painting “Yalta” from the 1910s (also at the Russian Impressionism Museum [website link]).


Hoping this might have brightened your day!


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Introducing: “The Art and Artists of Russia”

It’s New Year’s Eve, the last day of this “unprecedented” year and very much a time to look forward – with optimism and hope – to 2021. I’ve taken all the projections that there will be ‘some kind of normal’ come Spring/ Easter very much to heart – especially with our art discussion meetings and reading groups in mind; won’t it be wonderful to come together again?!

Natalia Goncharova: “Khorovod (Circular Dance)” 1911; private collection; c/o Wikimedia

In the meantime, I have a plan for these pages here on The Common Viewer – to explore, over the next twelve months or so:

The Art and Artists of Russia

Interweaving history, culture and literature, we’ll work in fairly chronological order from the 1850s to the present day and, I promise you, it’s a fascinating story!

As always, I’m keen to draw together as many ‘resources for further research’ as possible as we go along, and one of the most important is the Russian Art & Culture website which includes news from across the arts-world, interviews and articles. They also co-ordinate “Russian Art Week” which is held in London twice a year. The Moscow Times is another brilliant general resource for contemporary Russian art and culture, current exhibitions opening across Russia, as well as film and television – and definitely worth dipping into every now and then to ‘get a flavour’ of the depth and extent of the extraordinarily vibrant Russian art world.

I’ll continue to publish the main story fortnightly (keeping each article fairly short), with ‘extras’ added in at random as we go along. And remember this is very much a ‘group project’, so please do feedback with ideas, questions and any relevant resources you come across that I can then share with everyone.

“Inaugaration of the Academy of Art (with Catherine the Great), 7th July 1765” by Valery Jacobi [1889; Louvre]

In January we’ll begin with a broad background and introduction to the project:

9th January: “Peter the Great – the birth of St Petersburg”

23rd January: “Catherine the Great – the Hermitage”

I’m really looking forward to this project and hope you’ll come and join me! For now, though:

see The Calvert Journal‘s article “Yolka: the story of Russia’s ‘New Year’ Tree” and

Happy New Year!


Protected: A Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (Part 2): New Visions

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Protected: A Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (Part 1): The Art of Elizabeth Siddal

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Protected: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Part 2): It’s all in the Detail…

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Protected: The Pre-Raphaelites: Part One – The Brotherhood

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(Interlude): Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace – exhibition

With many apologies, our “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” research is very slightly delayed and will now ‘go live’ on Sunday 6th December.

However, in the meantime, I thought you might be interested in the exhibition that has just opened at The Queens Gallery: “Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace” which I have to say is an absolute delight, especially after the year we’ve all had!

Photograph by author: Canaletto paintings displayed in “Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace” (3rd December 2020)

As the Press Release notes, the paintings in this exhibition are usually in the the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and so only on view (to the common viewer) during the summer opening of the State Rooms where they are displayed one above the other, filling the walls. Here, in The Queens Gallery, the sixty five paintings are all at regular height, meaning one can get up ‘close and personal’ to them – and what a wonderful experience it is.

Just look at this “Self-portrait” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Dated 1623, it was presented to Charles I by way of the artist introducing himself to the king “as a gentleman and a courtier”:

Photographs by author

I have to say I became slightly besotted by this: the artist’s eyes have an element of intense scrutiny to them, as if nothing could ever be hidden to his sight, yet they are seemingly sympathetic, even kindly. The “info” on the gallery wall refers to students subsequently studying Rubens’ flesh tones to see how he made the features “so solid, tactile and vivacious”. However, I was more fascinated by the contrast between the perfection of the face (the delicately smooth pink and white, the fine flicks of the beard; those lips), and the roughness of the background painting just behind him where the paint is ‘raw’ in colour and texture, the canvas (almost) exposed. ‘I’m not only a gentleman and a courtier’, Rubens tells Charles (perhaps), ‘but an alchemist, a magician: I can ‘make flesh’ out of these raw materials’. It’s actually very exciting.

Two paintings that really jumped out, given our recent discussions of the Norwich School of Painters and the influence of the Dutch masters upon them, were, firstly,

David Teniers the Younger’s “Fishermen on the Sea Shore” [c. 1623]:

Photograph by author

which has that dramatic contrast of colour and chiaroscuro in the figures of the foreground in comparison with the grey blues and ochres of the background – an effect explored by Joseph Stannard in his sea coast pictures. Paintings such as these would also influence the early Newlyn School artists later in the century. Secondly, you remember those extraordinary still-life paintings by Emily Stannard and her niece Eloise Harriet Stannard, well they had drawn their inspiration and standards from paintings such as:

Gerrit Dou: The Grocer’s Shop [1672]

Photograph by author

which is only a few inches square and yet a gem of delight, it overflows with detail and bustle.

There are so many paintings and each of us will be drawn to different ones for different reasons. To see Johannes Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” (early 1660s) is, for example, a truly heart-stopping moment.

And, on the wet, drizzly and cold day of my visit, I definitely needed colour…

Photograph by author

“The Libyan Sybil” (1651) by the Italian Baroque painter known as Guercino. The combination of the pink and orange in direct contrast to the blues is heavenly, and the whole rhythm of the drapes, shoulder, arm, book and hand render an enormous sense of radiant calm, most suitable for one of the prophetesses of the ancient world who foresaw the coming of Christ.

Rather more dramatic in subject matter:

“Judith with the Head of Holofernes” by Cristofano Allori (1615)

Photograph by author

It’s said that whilst the painting is based on the classic story in which, to save her city, Judith beheads Holofernes, the leader of invading troops, it is also the autobiographical story of one of Allori’s love affairs – and that it is he who is represented as beheaded by his mistress masquerading as Judith! In turn, however, if you can avoid the head being thrust towards us, just look at that velvet mossy green, the shimmering silk pink and the embroidered yellow-gold – simply exquisite!

It really is a gorgeous, satisfying and stimulating exhibition, a jewellery box of delights! There is more information on The Queen’s Gallery website (including a couple of upcoming online events that look very interesting). The exhibition runs until January 2022, and I really would recommend popping in – all the Gallery Assistants are so brilliantly warm and welcoming and the paintings, well: balm to the soul!


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Remembrance Day, 2020: Women Artists of WWII

It’s been a huge honour that these last couple of years I have been asked to research, write and discuss themes related to art and war on behalf of the Mayor’s Charity here in Southend.

However, with our communal life made impossible by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to keep everyone safe, the Charity itself has been suspended for 2020. Furthermore, public Remembrance Day and Armistice Day ceremonies have been severely restricted if not curtailed.

Southend Cenotaph

Yet, remember we must, one way or another.

Here I have posted some of the slides from our 2019 Mayor’s Charity Memorial Talk showing a range of paintings and drawing made by women artists working on the Home Front. Some of the artists you might find familiar, others not; certainly their art is an extraordinary insight into a time and place we, for the most part now, can only imagine.

This is only a small selection, but I hope they might inspire you to research these artists further. The best place to start is the Imperial War Museum website or via

In the meantime, stay safe and take care. I believe there’s to be a two-minute silence ‘on the doorsteps’ of the nation.

And remember: “we’ll meet again… some sunny day!”