A fond farewell
Review of The Picturesque Tour exhibition at the Laing, Newcastle. art critic For The Journal, May 1982. exhibition major British watercolours from artists on the Picturesque Tour
The exhibition was curated by Gill Hedley who is an independent curator, writer and consultant on contemporary visual arts.
Gill Hedley, who recently resigned from her post at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, to take up a new appointment in Southampton, has left us with a most marvellous going away present.
Complete with purpose-built "gazebo" and white, summery, linen tents, it is a valediction of the work of Northumberland-born Lancelot "Capability" Brown, who left the North-East when he was 23, died two hundred years ago this year, and was, among other things, the Sheriff of Huntingdon.
With the famous Nathaniel Dance portrait of the landscape gardener in his mid-fifties, brought up from the National Portrait Gallery in London, for starters, the show traces Brown's work in the North at Sandbeck, Rothley Lake and Alnwick Castle by means of drawings, paintings, plans and photographs.
Since he himself was not a painter his own work is perhaps a little difficult to come by — except of course out there in the field. None the less the show manages to cover Syon House (1760), Temple Newsham (1762) (which the exhibition will also visit) and that period, post 1764, when Brown was Master Gardener to the King — George III that is. There is also a neat aside to introduce Hogarth's friend the actor David Garrick in a sequence of Conversation Pieces by Johan Zoffany that have been loaned for the occasion by Lord Lambton.
In many ways the exhibition is a logical successor to others that have gone before, coming, as it does, in chronological sequence, a little before the recent concern with the Picturesque and a longish while after the famous Claude Lorrain show of a much earlier Newcastle Festival. Brown's stock in trade of course, being to spot the "capabilities" of those natural landscapes that could be improved to take on the look of Claude's classical compositions.
Tyneside, in a way, lost out on the Claudian venture with others down South getting the praise. As a result the exhibition, which later visits the Bowes Museum, at Barnard Castle, and the newly-opened County Cleveland Gallery, in Middlesbrough, will not go to London. Instead all those who live south of Watford will be expected to beat a path to the Laing Art Gallery's door. It is a fond hope, but perhaps I should remind them that in promoting the earliest of the John Moores exhibitions in Liverpool the promoters had to hold their first Press conference in the Metropolis and then put on a series of first class railway coaches from London as well as wining, dining and booking overnight accommodation for the art critical gentlemen of the Press at the Adelphi. And the Arts Council had to resort to a similar ploy when the recent Coal exhibition was shown in the Northern fastnesses of Sheffield.
Anyway, to mark the occasion, locally, the Laing has provided a series of illustrated Wednesday lunchtime lectures which, alas, have not been tape-recorded for onward transmission with slide changing "bleeps."