A Moomin Winter’s Eve / Tove Jansson (1914-2001) – Dulwich Picture Gallery

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This year I read the Moomin books for the first time, and I also visited the Adventures in Moominland exhibition at the Southbank Centre. Continuing the theme, Dulwich Picture Gallery announced a Tove Jansson exhibition for 2017-2018, covering her artwork and illustrations from self-portraits to the Moomins and beyond.

Some friends and I booked to attend the special December event, A Moomin Winter’s Eve. This was an after-hours event that offered activities as well as a chance to look around the exhibition. When we arrived – after spending a while waiting for a bus at Brixton – we headed straight into the exhibition before it got too busy.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) begins with the artist’s early work, striking self-portraits sitting alongside magazine illustration and magical landscapes. Her later work incorporates more traditional painting, before she turned to illustration in a bigger way. I had no idea Jansson was responsible for illustrating Swedish versions of The Lord of The Rings and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – her work is distinctively her own but also clearly captures the atmosphere of the stories.

Then comes her Moomin work, which forms around half of the exhibition. I love her wonderfully expressive drawings of these fantastical creatures, and it was fascinating to see them close up. As the daughter of two painters, Jansson saw herself primarily as a painter even while the world revered her for her work as a writer and illustrator, but while this exhibition helps to paint a wider picture of the artist, she is likely to remain best known for the Moomins. And why not? Her illustrations are certainly classifiable as art, and her books are children’s classics.

pom pom table

After the exhibition, we decided to check out some of the activities. First we went to make flower garlands in a Pom Pom Blossom workshop, run by Pom Pom Factory. We ended up wearing them for the rest of the evening.

My Moomin masterpiece

We then went to join the table drawing Moomin self-portraits. I am certainly no artist, but having a framework of a Moomin silhouette to work on, I managed to produce something passable.

Moomin collage

Finally we went down to the Moominvalley Photobooth, the idea here being to create a collage inspired by Moominvalley and have your photo taken, then superimposed onto your background. Sadly the camera battery ran out while we were making our collage, but it was still great fun.

The exhibition and the evening were lovely and a nice relaxing way to spend a Friday night.

Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) – Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Dulwich Picture Gallery in leafy south London does have some interesting exhibitions, and the most recent was Painting Norway by the Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928). Many of these paintings are being shown for the first time outside Scandinavia.

Astrup grew up in Ålhus in Jølster, where his father was a priest. A sickly child, Astrup spent a lot of time indoors but most of his pictures are concerned with the landscape outside, though he also painted places and buildings that were important to him, such as the parsonage where he grew up and his farmstead at Sandalstrand (later named Astruptunet after him).

I was drawn to the unusual, almost mystical landscapes, the colours and the representations of Norwegian culture. My favourite pictures were Astrup’s depictions of Midsummer’s Eve bonfires, the fires bright and almost otherworldly amid the landscape of the fjords. He painted many scenes of his home town in south west Norway, in all seasons and weathers, fields covered in marsh marigolds, midnight skies glowing purple, mountains which take on human qualities.

Astrup is little-known outside his native Norway, but this really needs to change: his work is superb, unusual and really worth exploring.

The Amazing World of M. C. Escher – Dulwich Picture Gallery

Exhibition poster

I’ve admired the work of artist M. C. Escher for a long time; his pictures are unique, and have influenced popular culture to a significant degree. In particular, a major scene from the film Labyrinth was inspired by an Escher work, and Mick Jagger even tried to commission a picture from the artist for a Rolling Stones album cover, though Escher, having never heard of Jagger or the band, turned him down.

It’s rare to have several Escher works collected together for an exhibition in the UK, so I was very excited to hear about The Amazing World of M. C. Escher, which runs at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London until 17 January. The exhibition has been organised by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, and showcases nearly 100 works from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in the Netherlands.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

I had heard that the exhibition was rather busy, so I decided to book online in advance and choose an early time slot. I arrived in time for my 10.15 slot which was ideal – the exhibition was very quiet, with no queues as yet! Tickets cost £14 for adults and £7.50 for concessions/Art Fund members; children and Dulwich Picture Gallery Friends get free entry.

The exhibition follows a chronological timeline, beginning with Escher’s early landscape prints and tracing his development as an artist as he grew interested in perspective and developed knowledge of the mathematical principles that would inform his later work. The first major UK show of his work, it includes woodcuts, lithographs, drawings, watercolours and mezzotints, as well as exclusive archive material such as initial concept drawings and correspondence with mathematicians such as Roger Penrose, who assisted him in the execution of some of his later designs.

Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972) started out by training as an architect. In 1918, he was studying at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, Holland, when a teacher noticed his talent as a draughtsman and printmaker. He was advised to move into the Graphic Art department, and his career as a printmaker dates from this moment.

Escher spent several years moving around Europe, and this is reflected in his earlier prints which include Italian townscapes, Netherlands landscapes, and influences including the Islamic tiles he saw on a visit to Moorish Spain. His early work consists of distinctive woodcuts, lithographs and drawings which are more straightforward in design, before he began playing with perspective. Though his work bears some resemblance to Surrealism, he had no contact with the Surrealist group.

I loved all the pictures, but one of my favourites was the still life that transformed seamlessly into a street scene. I also loved the picture showing lizards crawling out of a two-dimensional tessellation to become three-dimensional creatures. In fact, all the tessellated pictures were fascinating and extremely clever. Later in the exhibition, I loved the “impossible pictures” showing monks climbing neverending stairs and water flowing in impossible ways.

Escher’s career spanned two world wars and his work increased in popularity as the century wore on. His work was so different from that of any other artist and by the time of his death he was truly acclaimed. Today, his work is still appreciated and admired. I’m so glad I was able to see this exhibition and I left with an even greater appreciation of Escher’s work.

As a nice touch, the exhibition ended with the opportunity to take a selfie in an Escher-like pose!

Escher exhibition selfie

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames – Dulwich Picture Gallery

The other week, I headed down to Dulwich Picture Gallery to check out the exhibition An American in London: Whistler and the Thames. The exhibition, which runs until the 12th of January, looks at Whistler’s early paintings of London and the Thames, alongside other photographs and artworks of the river at this period. I loved looking at the river and how it looked in the mid-nineteenth century. I also loved Whistler’s pictures, particularly the Nocturnes.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery was my destination of choice on Saturday. To get there, I took the train from Victoria station. It had been raining that morning, but by the time I got there, the sun was out and it was actually quite warm.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery

There were some rather odd sculptures in the garden: faces made up of flowers and foliage. I think they were meant to represent the four seasons, but it took me some time to work out which was which.

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I think this one is Spring…
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Summer… or possibly Autumn.
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Autumn, I think.
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I reckon this is Winter, just because it’s more gnarled than the others.

Dulwich Picture Gallery was the first purpose-built art gallery in England and was designed by the architect Sir John Soane (who was also responsible for the Bank of England, and is now most famous for his museum in central London), created with top-lighting to illuminate the pictures to best effect without causing too much light damage. The collection was built up by Noël Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois, originally for the King of Poland, though after his forced abdication the pair were left with the collection on their hands. After trying unsuccessfully to offer the works to numerous figures of royalty throughout Europe, none of whom seem to have bothered to reply, Bourgeois (Desenfans had died earlier) left the collection to Dulwich College, stipulating that it should be on public display.

The Gallery concentrates on the Old Masters of the 17th and 18th centuries and there is some impressive art in the collection, including paintings by Rembrandt and Van Dyck. I’m no art expert but I enjoyed looking at several of the paintings on show, including Rembrandt’s famous Girl at a Window and a copy of Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse by Sir Joshua Reynolds. There was a temporary exhibition of Andy Warhol’s pictures but I didn’t bother with that.


Address: Gallery Road, London, SE21 7AD

Website: dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Opening Hours: 10am-5pm; closed on Mondays.

Prices: £6 adults, £5 Senior Citizens; free for children, Art Fund members and Friends of the Gallery.