GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts
ALTHOUGH private are making few sales, winding. down exhibition programmes and in some cases closing down there is much new to be enjoyed at the public galleries.
This week t he Queen opened the Sainsbury Extension at the National Gallery; the Royal Academy. has the new Seckler Gallery which is worth seeing even without the bonus of its Fauve exhibition and the Constable show has opened at the Tate Gallery.
Largely ignored has been the arrival of the Aberdeen Art Ga.11ery's exceptional watercolour collection at the Bankside Gallery off Blackfriars Bridge. The proximity of North Sea oil to Aberdeen has led Texaco to sponsor Brush to Paper (daily except I'vlonday until July 28; £1.50) v% hich with 120 paintings surveys three centuries of watercolour.
This wonderful introduction to great names is nor chronological but thematic so we see David Cox next to Edward Bawden and Paul Nash in the "Footpaths and Pavements" section. Erie Ravilious's famous Train Landscape shows the view from a third class carriage passing Westbury's White Horse.
In restoring the picture Aberdeen's keeper, Francina Irwin, discovered that the hillside chalk figure was originally to have been Sussex's ()Id Man of Wilmington who still lurks beneath the collage panel.
In "Sacred and Secular" William Blake's Raising of Lazarus is appropriately next to Samuel Palmer's Sacred Ruin which blazes in the sunset. A Burne-Jones window design for Oxford Cathedral is immensely detailed in telling the story of St Frideswide but not surprisingly it proved impractical and better as a watercolour.
Missing is John Constable but a wealth of Constable watercolours can be seen at the Tate's massive show (daily until 15 September: E5 but children free). This is far more comprehensive than the 1976 centenary exhibition when tickets were 50 pence and sponsorship unnecessary.
Constable's bank is now part of Barclays which has made possible the special reception area at gallery's backdoor with toilet and refreshment facilities for the queues. However, it is sometimes possible to walk straight in and the chance to be alone with over 300 Constable works should not be missed.
Since the last exhibition new
paintings have been identified including The Wheatfield, found in America, and a Suffolk sketch which has been hanging unnoticed in a Madrid gallery. The Hay-Wain (not shown in 1976) appears along with many variations of the scene.
The large show affords the tnusual opportunity to see how Constable drew a scene over and over again to build up source material. But it is also possible to follow his developing ideas and perspective in paint. There are three versions of the same riverside bollard with and without a barge rope and subtle changes in the water reflections.
It is extraordinary that the places Constable chose to paint have changed so little. If a Dedham scene is now different it is only because of increased vegetation. Even his London home was in the one suburb to have been least spoilt. Constable believed that Hampstead was where town and country were united and there he is buried.
It is to Hampstead's Kenwood House that one must go to see a rare Constable nude at the Artist's Model exhibition (daily until August 31; free) Even more unusual is a plaster cast of a crucified body. In 1801 the body of an executed convict was nailed to a cross to prove that religious painters were not depicting a hanging form correctly.