The Common Viewer in Paris (19th Sept.)

what a day at the Pompidou! so many fabulous paintings such as Sonia Delaunay’s “Le Bal Bullier” (1913) which stretches the length of a wall – a vibrant, joyous dance of colour:

also Natalia Goncharova’s incredible “Femme au Chapeau” (1913) which, I learned, is actually a self-portrait – those eyes!

earlier in the day I discovered the doorway to Goncharova’s Paris apartment at 16, rue Jacques-Callot, right next door to the La Palette cafe!

my painting of the day though just has to be Wassily Kandinsky’s “Painting with Red Oval” [1914] – shimmering with colour

just as Paris itself is shimmering in glorious autumn sunshine!

Art, Books and Culture Group meeting at The Beecroft (24th Sept.): Surrealist Magic (3) – the Art of Leonora Carrington

Join us at the Beecroft Gallery, Southend on Saturday 24th September (11.15am-12.30pm, or thereabouts) for the last in our little series “Surrealist Magic”.

We’ll begin with works such as Edith Rimmington’s The Oneiroscopist [1947, Jewish Museum] and, as we open our minds into the possibility of other ways of seeing ourselves and the world, our focus will turn to the life and art of Leonora Carrington whose ‘artist manifesto’ might be seen from her early

“Self Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse)” [1937, Metropolitan Museum, NY].

It will be a morning of stunning and inspirational pictures, I promise!

All are welcome to join us, £10 on the door with coffee & biscuits to follow.

The Common Viewer in Paris (16th Sept.)

Well, whilst some people might visit the Louvre to see Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”, for me the absolute highlight of the entire collection is:

Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842)’s portrait of Madame Mole-Reymond, painted in 1786; the blue and lilac are quite extraordinary.

And for those of you who share my fascination for Marie Laurencin (1883-1946), some of her work is on show at L’Orangerie, including “Femmes au Chien” (1926):

Again, the colours!

Laurencin’s usual pinks and blues plus, here, a dramatic stripe of yellow-gold – quite thrilling!


The Common Viewer in Paris (15th Sept)…

and today it is very much back to the 1920s, les annees folles and modernes:

I mean where else would one find a ‘street art’ portrait of artist Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968), one of the characters of inter-war Montparnasse life?

My main mission though was to be ‘on the trail’ of Nancy Cunard,

Nancy Cunard in her Paris flat; photo by Man Ray c.1928, Pompidou Centre

finding not only her flat at 2, rue de la Regrattier, overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame (amazing to see the ongoing restoration work)

but also the site of her Hours Press shop at 15, rue Guenegard:

Then on to the most extraordinary exhibition: “Les Cercles de la Baronne” at Galerie La Minotaure.

The eponymous la Baronne was Hélène d’Œttingen (1887-1950), whose story is little known and yet, as the painter François Angiboult, she was a heartbeat of the modern art movement in Paris that included Nina Hamnett’s friend, the brilliant artist Marie Vassilieff (1884-1857) who designed numerous puppets, shown at the exhibition.

All very exciting indeed… more to come!

“Words and Pictures” Book Club (Sept. 2022): Bohemian Lives, by Amy Licence

Join us for the “Words & Pictures” book club on

Friday 23rd September, 2pm at Pebbles cafe (in the old Havens on Hamlet Court Road)

to discuss Amy Licence’s “Bohemian Lives”

All welcome for a relaxed, informal conversation over coffee & cake!


Ida Nettleship was a flamboyant Bohemian who gave up a promising artistic career to marry Augustus John. She had five pregnancies in just six years, lived with Augustus and his mistress in a menage a trois, and died exhausted in childbirth aged thirty. Ida’s story of unconventional love is equalled by two other Bohemian women of the same era: Picasso’s first love Fernande Olivier, who was prominent in the Paris art scene, and the writer Sophie Brzeska, who lived with the artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, nineteen years her junior – he would die in the First World War and Sophie’s slow descent into mental instability would begin. Bohemian Lives follows the achievements and sacrifices of the three women and how their lives overlapped and contrasted, in education, childbirth, illness, marriage – and psychological disintegration. All three women had a huge influence on their more famous partner and challenged the accepted model of male-female relations of the time. At once touching and harrowing, their struggles for recognition in their own right hold a mirror up to the prejudices of an age – and what being ‘bohemian’ really meant.

Aberley publishing, 2019

A portrait of Ida Nettleship painted by Augustus John in 1902:

John, Augustus Edwin; Merikli; Manchester Art Gallery;

A portrait of Sophie Brzeska painted by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in 1913:

Sophie Brzeska 1913 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915 Purchased 1957

and Picasso’s 1909 portrait of Fernande Olivier (Stadel Museum):


Some Notes & Images on British Surrealists [The Beecroft, August 2022]

Greetings! There was so much intrigue & interest in our ‘gallery’ of British Surrealist art, that I have copied & pasted some of the presentation slides below, really so that you have a list of the artists’ names to research further. Whilst I would recommend just typing names into the browser and seeing what comes up, particular websites for research include: ArtUK; Christie’s; Sotheby’s and Bonhams.

There is a website dedicated to British Surrealism; also the Tate has a lot of archival material, especially about Eileen Agar, John Banting and Ithell Colquhoun – much of which is digitally available.

There is an exhibition of the Sherwin Collection at the Hepworth until January 2023. The Dulwich Picture Gallery has some interesting online resources, and Austin/Desmond has a fabulous little online gallery.

Books are available on some individual artists, but I’d suggest the best overview is “Surrealism in Britain” by Michel Remy.

NB Len Lye is renowned for his experimental films. “The Colour Box” and “Tusaleva” can be found on YouTube. I’d also recommend “The Birth of the Robot” which Lye made with John Banting. See also The Len Lye Foundation.

Books on Eileen Agar: Hatchards

NB: The BBC’s “Desmond Morris – Secret Surrealist” is on YouTube.

We’ll continue our discussions next month (Saturday 24th September, 11.15am, The Beecroft), starting with Edith Rimmington…

Edith Rimmington, The Oneiroscopist, 1947
Photo credit: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem by Elie Posner © Estate of Edith Rimmington c/o Country Life

…and our focus with be the surreal world of Leonora Carrington:

The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) [1947; private c/o Wikipedia]

And if you would like to read your way into Leonora Carrington’s world, then there is no better path than her wonderfully brilliant novel: The Hearing Trumpet.

Happy researches (and do please let me know what you discover)!


Art, Books and Culture Group meeting, Saturday 27th August: Surrealist Magic (2) – Surrealism in Britain

Join us for the second in our Summer of Surrealism series to discuss

the manifestation of Surrealism in 1930s & 40s Britain:

Saturday 27th August, 11.15am-12.30pm

at The Beecroft Gallery, Southend-on-Sea.

NB The gallery’s new exhibition of paintings from the Reiff Collection, includes works by Surrealists Eileen Agar and Conroy Maddox, and is well worth viewing!

Maddox, Conroy; Prefiguration; The Reiff Collection;
Attributes of the Moon 1947 Ithell Colquhoun 1906-1988 Presented by the National Trust 2016

As ever, all are welcome to join the Art, Books & Culture Group – a relaxed and open discussion of ideas.

Tickets cost £10 on the door. We will start at 11.15am and finish around 12.30pm with coffee & biscuits. The meeting will be held in the Lecture Theatre at The Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend.


The Words and Pictures Book Club (August 2022): “The Empress of Art” by Susan Jaques

The next Words and Pictures Book Club will meet on 19th August, 2pm at the Pebbles cafe [Havens community hub, Hamlet Court Road] to discuss:

“The Empress of Art: Catherine the Great and the transformation of Russia” by Susan Jaques.

published by Pegasus Books, 2016

An art-oriented biography of the mighty Catherine the Great, who rose from seemingly innocuous beginnings to become one of the most powerful people in the world. A German princess who married a decadent and lazy Russian prince, Catherine mobilized support amongst the Russian nobles, playing off of her husband’s increasing corruption and abuse of power. She then staged a coup that ended with him being strangled with his own scarf in the halls of the palace, and she being crowned the Empress of Russia. Intelligent and determined, Catherine modelled herself off of her grandfather in-law, Peter the Great, and sought to further modernize and westernize Russia. She believed that the best way to do this was through a ravenous acquisition of art, which Catherine often used as a form of diplomacy with other powers throughout Europe. She was a self-proclaimed “glutton for art” and she would be responsible for the creation of the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, second only to the Louvre. Catherine also spearheaded the further expansion of St. Petersburg, and the magnificent architectural wonder the city became is largely her doing. There are few women in history more fascinating than Catherine the Great, and for the first time, Susan Jaques brings her to life through the prism of art.

Pegasus Books

The Words & Pictures Book Group meets monthly over coffee and cake to discuss books – either fiction or non-fiction – that draw on art, painting and the lives of artists. It is free, relaxed and all are welcome!

Please follow here on WordPress or @TheCommonViewer on Twitter for updates.


Art, Books and Culture Group meeting Saturday 30th July – Surrealist Magic (1): The Art of Eileen Agar

Eileen Agar: The Muse of Construction [1939; private]

Eileen Agar (1889-1991) was, to my mind, one of the most exceptional artists of the 20th century, especially during the 1930s when her paintings presented the generative power of life and imagination against Europe’s descent into horror, cruelty and war:

“Apart from rampant and hysterical militarism, there is no male element left in Europe, for the intellectual and rational conception of life has given way to a more miraculous creative interpretation, and artistic and imaginative life is under the sway of womb-magic.”

Today we shall explore Eileen Agar’s womb-magic with particular reference to her extraordinary painting:

The Autobiography of an Embryo 1933-4 Eileen Agar 1899-1991 Purchased 1987

The Autobiography of an Embryo [1934; Tate] which offers a wholly new philosophical way of seeing and understanding the world around us – and might indeed serve as the artist’s manifesto.


As ever, all are welcome to join the discussion – an open forum for ideas.

Tickets cost £10 on the door. We will start at 11.15am and finish around 12.30pm with coffee & biscuits. The meeting will be held on Saturday 30th July in the Lecture Theatre at The Beecroft Art Gallery.


Note: Eileen Agar’s painting “Caliban” [1945, Reiff Collection] will be on show at the Beecroft this summer:—British-Artists-of-the-20th-Century

Note 2: In August we continue the Summer of Surrealism with an overview of British Surrealism, then in September our focus is on the art of Leonora Carrington who, in 1936, wrote: “When one is overcome by demoralization and defeat, depressed or on the verge of suicide, that is the time to open one’s Surrealist Survival Kit and enjoy a breath of magical fresh air. To lay out its marvellous contents carefully before you and let them play …”

Leonora Carrington: The Giantess
[1947; MoMA]


The Words and Pictures Book Club: “Still Life” by Sarah Winman


Well, should Sarah Winman ever read this, then our Words & Pictures book club meeting today gloried in the brilliance of “Still Life” from the characters to the story-telling, the history of Florence to the interweaving of art and art’s histories.

paperback, published by HarperCollins

1944, in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa, as bombs fall around them, two strangers meet and share an extraordinary evening. Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. She has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the wreckage and relive memories of the time she encountered EM Forster and had her heart stolen by an Italian maid in a particular Florentine room with a view. Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed in Ulysses’ mind that will shape the trajectory of his life – and of those who love him – for the next four decades. Moving from the Tuscan Hills and piazzas of Florence, to the smog of London’s East End, Still Life is a sweeping, joyful novel about beauty, love, family and fate.


For anyone who hasn’t yet read it, “Still Life” is full of humanity: real, tangible, positive, hope-giving humanity. It’s a novel that, personally, I have promised myself I shall never be without: a touchstone as it were for when the world seems to be on fire and there is nothing one can do about it.

It is also jam-packed with ideas and, I do recommend the article for Vanity Fair [click here] in which the author reviews the influences & inspirations behind the writing of the novel and there is also a lovely interview piece in The Florentine [here].

One fabulous ‘introduction’ offered by the novel to the reader is to the still relatively unknown nun-artist Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524–1588) about whom Caroline Moorhead wrote in The Guardian [article] with regard to the restoration of Nelli’s extraordinary painting of The Last Supper; including an image:

Detail from the Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli, showing apostles, possibly Thomas and Peter. Photograph: Rabatti & Domingie.

The colours are enough to take one’s breath away, let alone anything else and, c/o the Museum of Santa Maria Novella magazine, there is a video revealing Nelli’s painting in all its glory [here].

Responding to the question: What do you hope readers will discover in Still Life? as part of an interview with Booktopia [here], Sarah Winman suggested:

“Laughter. Joy. A moment of lightness and belief in the world again after the ravages of the last year [the Covid pandemic] and the constant grip of right-wing politics. I like to think that my book is a re-charging of the batteries!”

and, wow, did she achieve that – and much more – for the Words & Pictures book club readers.


The Words & Pictures Book Group meets monthly over coffee and cake to discuss books – either fiction or non-fiction – that draw on art, painting and the lives of artists. Please follow here on WordPress or @TheCommonViewer on Twitter for updates.