Genius and Ambition IV: The Heavy Hitters

Naturally enough, the exhibition contains the Royal Academy’s two great heavyweights, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. The Constable is the magnificent a Boat Passing a Lock

Constable 1

He painted the scene again in The Lock


The centre of both pictures is dominated by the structure of a lock and the figure of the lock keeper who is releasing the turbulent power of the river. In Passing a Lock, the lock itself and the boat are in a state of chaotic energy. This is in contrast to the rest of the picture and in particular to the calm and poised figure of the lock keeper who controls not only the force of the river but indirectly the force of the thunderstorm that sweeps across the background. It’s a combination of neoclassical ideas of man imposing order in nature with the well-kept fields, the church in the village in the background. It’s even got a dog who has moved to the other side of the picture in The Lock.

The dog pops up again in The Cornfield and Dung Hill

Dogs: The Lock, The Cornfield and  Dung Hill

Dogs: The Lock, The Cornfield and Dung Hill

It’s works like this that make the trip to Bendigo worthwhile.

The other heavy hitter is, of course, Turner but we are not treated to one of his major works rather Dolbadern Castle which he clearly painted when he was having a game in the reserves.

Turner Dolbaden

It’s a moody, dark portrait of a ruin in the wilds of Wales, with the romantic story of an imprisoned Prince, and with the obligatory human dwarfed by nature in the foreground. It’s not one of his major works which is a pity. However, it’s a nice contrast to the Streeton’s Corfe Castle. The programme notes indicate that Streeton probably saw Dolbadern Castle during his time at the Royal Academy.


Is clearly in the Royal Academy genre of the “sublime” landscapes but for me it is lifted by the silhouetting of the castle against the skyline in the clouds which looks forward to Streeton’s work back in Australia.

And while we’re on Australians and Streeton in particular, there is a wonderful painting that I was assured by a charming lady who had worked at NGV was having its first outing for many years.


It’s a luminously beautiful painting with the castle shrouded in mist with the golden light of the houses on the river radiating through the painting. Apropos of almost nothing, there is a scene towards the end of Ralph Fiennes’ movie The invisible Woman which looks onto Winter Castle from somewhere over to the right of this picture. As I said, apropos of nothing.

Another blockbuster is Solomon J Solomon’s St George where are our hero has swept the damsel off her feet and thrown her over his shoulder before despatching Dragon with his large weapon.


George appears casually unaware of the young woman, preferring to focus on despatching the dragon. She, by contrast, appears to be completely uninterested in the fate of the dragon, being more interested in maintaining her position in the arms of her rescuer. The painting has a wonderful sexual energy in the dynamics and colour of the relationship between the two figures.

It’s always interesting to look at other paintings by artist in exhibitions. Isn’t Google a great thing? He was obviously quite into muscular men rescuing scantily clad women. The idea of St George is reprised in AjaX and Cassandra where the outcome for the damsel was rather less pleasant.


Solomon, like so many of his contemporaries, had a keen interest in the female form.


The other real standout in the exhibition is the John Singer Sargent painting An interior in Venice.


Apparently, Sargent offered the painting as a gift to the older woman in the foreground who refused it on the grounds that made her look too old and showed her son, who was in the background with his newly married wife, standing in such idle manner showed great disrespect. Well, she would, wouldn’t she. It’s a wonderful painting demonstrating all of Sargent considerable talents but also capturing brilliantly the distance between the two couples and the dynamics of the relationships between them. The two older people sitting silent, clearly with nothing to say to each other and, I think the old girl’s response was accurate, the attitude of the newly minted groom to his wife is arrogantly disrespectful, which she is clearly at pains to ignore. Brilliant!

One of Sargent most famous portraits is Portrait of Madam X, in fact high society beauty Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was married to a French banker and famous for her rumored infidelities. The original that was exhibited in Paris showed the shoulder strap of the subject’s the reputations of dress having slipped down over her arm. Sacre bleu, Un scandale immédiat. This is the original:

John Singer Sargent, 1884 - Madame_X_(original) - e

Apparently altogether too much flesh for the Parisians so Sargent did little touch up job but unfortunately not enough to restore the damage that was done to the reputations of both him and his model who soon retired from public life.


2 thoughts on “Genius and Ambition IV: The Heavy Hitters

  1. You know this is just the same with everything in life.
    You would think experience showes us at least anything, but alas.
    Hate all you want but the world changes, and we have no control whatsoever over it.
    E.g., If only Barack had enough balls to put Russian bear to his place, but it seems like it’s never happening, welcome WW3.
    A truly inspiring post, thanks!

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