A visit to the Tate St Ives

Mrs TD and I treated ourselves to a short break this weekend, going to the Tate St Ives yesterday, and driving on to stay at the quirky and charming Artist’s Residence hotel in Penzance. I was going to write briefly about both aspects of this trip here, but on researching the first part of it (as always happens) I got sidetracked, so shall focus here just on the Tate part; more on Penzance next time.

We wanted to take a look at the recently opened extension to the beautiful gallery, dramatically located overlooking the even more beautiful Porthmeor beach.

Porthmeor Beach

Porthmeor Beach seen from the ace café on the top floor of the Tate – hence the slight reflection in the glass. Arguably better than Miami Beach when the sun shines like this!

I wanted to visit an exhibition being held there: Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition inspired by her writings, Tate St Ives (until 7 April) – link is to the Tate’s page on the exhibition, with some lovely images from it (of course Woolf’s long association with St Ives is well known). My colleagues and I are going there again next week with our students, so I was keen to get a preview.

Do take a look at those images at the Tate site; it’s a fascinating set of exhibits – not just the variety of artworks reflecting aspects of Woolf’s life and work, but also letters and other interesting pieces. Dora Carrington, for example, was clearly a terrible speller, and had very large, dramatic handwriting (there are some of her works on display, even more dramatic).

Another artist (and writer) well represented in the exhibition, one I’ve been intending investigating further for some time, partly because of her writings about Cornwall, is Ithell Colquhoun. I hadn’t realised how yonic her art was…

But the one work that particularly drew my attention was this: Louise Jopling’s (1843-1933) Self Portrait, 1877:

Jopling, Self Portrait

Jopling, Louise; Self Portrait; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/self-portrait-205303; public domain Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND

She was born in Manchester, studied art in Paris for a time – she exhibited at the Salon there – and her work featured in shows at the Royal Academy from the late 186Os or certainly by 1870 (depending which source one consults). She worked vigorously on behalf of women artists and of the Suffragists. She struggled all her life against the restraints imposed by Victorian and later societies on women and women artists, and succeeded in forging a professional career and reputation that few of her women contemporaries achieved. She campaigned for the right of women artists to work with live models without the prudish constraints of the Academy that such models be ‘carefully draped’ – which surely ruined the whole point of life drawing!

Like the portrait by Ingres I wrote about seeing at the National Gallery last month, this one drew my gaze with its forthright, full on contemplation of the onlooker: poised and self assured, intelligent, slightly amused perhaps – look at her right eyebrow. And that hat is at such a rakish angle. It’s a remarkable image.

When I looked her up online, I discovered there’s a Louise Jopling research project website, University of Glasgow (started 2005):

 The project aims to document her career as a leading female artist and her close-knit artistic, literary and theatrical world of late 19th century London and Paris. It also seeks to understand better the climate in which women then practised as artists and, more generally, the climate for women’s growing participation in the workplace and in public life.

[There follows a list of ‘core aspects of the project’, such as compiling catalogues raisonnées and databases of all her artistic and written works, transcripts of her correspondence, and the online edition of her autobiography, Twenty Years of My Life, 1867-1887 (1925).

The project also cites Louise JoplingA Biographical and Cultural Study of the Modern Woman Artist in Victorian Britain, by Patricia de Montfort (Routledge-Ashgate, 2016).

There are links at this site to a brief biography, with photos, a catalogue of works with links to the galleries holding them, and a bibliography. Well worth a look.

It’s interesting to compare the handsome portrait 1879 at the NPG of Mrs Jopling (link only, for copyright reasons) by family friend John Everett Millais; a lengthy account of how it came to be painted, with extracts from the writings of artist and subject, is at the NPG site here

Whistler’s portrait ‘Harmony in Flesh Colour and Black: Mrs Louise Jopling’, at the Hunterian Gallery, University of Glasgow, reflects the fashionable social and cultural life this remarkable woman led, mixing with these artists who painted her, Oscar Wilde, and other notables of the time. She deserves wider recognition.

It’s possible to see an image and account of Jopling’s Self Portrait at the Manchester Gallery site. While there I noticed this: John William Waterhouse’s famous (and rather twee) painting Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) was removed from Manchester Art Gallery last month on the grounds of its sexist objectification of the semi-naked female forms depicted, as widely reported in the media; the Gallery’s website gives a strikingly different account:

The painting – part of the gallery’s highly prized collection of Pre-Raphaelite works – was temporarily removed from display as part of a project the gallery is working on with the artist Sonia Boyce, in the build-up to a solo exhibition of her work at the gallery opening on 23 March 2018. Boyce’s work is all about bringing people together in different situations to see what happens. The painting’s short term removal from public view was the result of a ‘take-over’ of some of the gallery’s public spaces by a wide range of gallery users and artists on Friday January 26th.

The event was conceived by Boyce to bring different meanings and interpretations of paintings from the gallery’s collection into focus, and into life…In its place, notices were put up inviting responses to this action that would inform how the painting would be shown and contextualized when it was rehung.


I suppose this is what would have been called Fake News in some quarters…


Outside the Gallery

18 thoughts on “A visit to the Tate St Ives

  1. Sounds like a marvellous exhibition, and I was very interested in your discovery of the Jopling painting, because it features on the cover of one of my favourite Virago books – “A Pin to see the Peepshow”! 🙂

    • Karen: what a coincidence. It is a beautiful portrait, isn’t it. the exhibition is running until 29 April, so plenty of time to visit. And to enjoy the amazing setting of the Tate: the views out of each window across the Atlantic are like works of art in themselves.

  2. Looking forward to learning more about Ithell Colquhoun, and checking out the link here to the exhibition.

    OK, did you meet the Man with Seven Wives? (I shall leave now)

    Maureen M. (Irredeemably Silly Person)

  3. What a lovely visit and I love the Jopling self-portrait – it made me think of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, oddly, I think the frank and open expression, maybe. We saw some Bridget Riley stuff that made our eyes go funny but was marvellous when we went to Tate St Ives – and I realised I’d been first the year it opened! Haven’t got back there the last few Pz visits, but plan to again. Look forward to your Penzance piece …

  4. I hadn’t known about the Woolf exhibition, Simon, so I’m very grateful for this post. I’ve been saying I’d get down to St Ives for months and never got any further. I do hope I manage it before 7th April. Ithell Colquhoun is totally new to me. Another pressing reason to get there soon!

    • Sandra- I’m glad you discovered it this way! Hope you enjoy it. Look out for the Jopling. Ithell C’s book is profiled on the Peter Owen website – in fact I think several are.

        • Ithell C moved to Cornwall (Lamorna I think) in the 50s. I first heard of her through P Owen’s listing of her book on Cornwall, The Living Stones – haven’t read it but it sounds interesting. Not sure about her fascination with the occult though

          • The word ‘occult’ carries certain connotations for most of us I think. Owen also describes her books as mystical and esoteric; both terms hold interest for me. I’m delighted to see 7 of her books available in our library system (including one that specifically refers to the occult in its title). So the opportunity to investigate is available to us. (I have to say I have been delighted and very impressed with Cornwall’s library service.)

          • Sandra- I agree entirely about Cornwall’s library service. My member’s card no. also provides free access to the OED online – an added bonus to the other benefits

          • Wow, Simon, mine also provides access. I hadn’t realised I had access to so much more than books! Brilliant! Thank again 🙂

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