The Easel

26th April 2022

Review: Photo visionary Imogen Cunningham gets a refocus in new Getty retrospective

Graduating in chemistry in 1907 marked Cunningham as different. And she was. Her soft-focus images of people and landscapes and subsequent sharply focused images of plants both conveyed a “warmth, intimacy” markedly different to the prevailing “commercial culture”. In the 1930’s she co-founded Group f/36 which prized “the making of a picture over merely taking one.” A current show “secures her top tier in the ranks of 20th century photography”. More images are here.

Gallery chronicle

Soviet Russia in the 1920’s enjoyed creative freedom. Cinema was hugely popular leading to an explosion in poster art. Most posters lasted about a week before being pasted over, so eye-grabbing visuals were essential. Little was usually known about the film, so designers drew on avant garde art and experimented freely with lithographic techniques. Political nervousness was momentarily “overcome by the idealism of some of the greatest graphic designers of the twentieth century.”

19th April 2022

The Melville of American Painting

People have long puzzled how to read Homer, the “chronicler of 19th-century America”. His contemporaries wondered why he painted foot soldiers rather than generals and called him the “obtuse bard”. For a time, he was seen as having “a kind of wholesome stupidity”. Rather than stupidity, modern eyes see complexity – “what is happening but not what will happen. He is the master of the ambiguous outcome, which also makes him the master of the unclear moral.”

The Story of a Stare Down

Holbein’s status as a “supreme” portraitist bestows renown on all his works. Some, though, become famous in their own right. New York’s Frick holds two, a “lushly painted” Thomas More and a “slit-eyed, hunted” Thomas Cromwell. The machinations of these adversaries and the convoluted path of the works before falling into Frick’s hands are the subject of this elegant essay. Perhaps enjoying the historical antagonism, Frick hung them either side of a mantlepiece, “staring each other down”.