Will and Tom (2015): Matthew Plampin

★★★★

Will Turner arrives at Harewood House in the summer of 1797 in a turbulent frame of mind. His invitation from ‘Beau’ Lascelles, the eldest son of Baron Harewood, could be the beginning of something big. Will’s talent has been noted by his contemporaries and by the press. Now he might be able to win the greatest prize of all: an understanding patron. On the other hand, in order to achieve said prize, Will is going to have to endure several days in the company of frivolous aristocrats without causing offence which, for an obstinate working-class Londoner with a chip on his shoulder, won’t be easy. And worse is to come. For Will isn’t the only painter who’s been invited to Harewood this summer. When his boyhood friend (and fellow – rival? – painter) Tom Girtin unexpectedly turns up, looking mightily comfortable in this aristocratic milieu, Will bristles, assuming they’ve been set up to compete for the nobles’ amusement. But the truth – if truth it is – turns out to be more peculiar than even he could have imagined.

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Drawn From the Antique

Agostino Veneziano: Baccio Bandinelli's Academy

Artists and the Classical Ideal

(Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, until 26 September 2015)

It’s 1531. A group of men have gathered in a low-ceilinged room in the Belvedere wing of the Vatican. All natural light has been banished. Clustered around a table, they are drawing from a classical statuette, lit only by candlelight to emphasise the curves and shadows of its graceful form. At the back, holding the statuette, is a bearded man in a cap. He is Baccio Bandinelli: sculptor, draughtsman and master of this little group of students. This engraving is the first depiction of artists drawing from classical models, and also the first depiction of a gathering which regarded itself as an art ‘academy’.

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Turner and the Sea

Turner: The Fighting Temeraire

(National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, until 21 April 2014)

J.M.W. Turner grew up with water always close to hand: his childhood was divided between London, on the banks of the Thames, and Margate, on the Kentish coast. In the last quarter of the 18th century, this was a world of sail power, where fishing, travel or warfare depended on a good wind. By the time he died in the mid-19th century, however, that world had vanished, replaced by steamships, ironclads and roaring coal furnaces. The sea remained central to British life, though, and it found a similarly enduring place at the centre of Turner’s art.

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