Another first for me, the opening night of a sculpture exhibition. The subtitle is Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture so pretty intriguing.
Fortunately we were treated to an introduction to the works on show by Laurence Sillars, Head of the Henry Moore Institute, who said that the exhibits raised questions about the Victorians’ attitude to various facets of life, such as sexuality, slavery and the way in which women were perceived.
When I began to look around the rooms I was surprised to find that, in addition to the advertised sculptures, there were paintings and books to illustrate the point. Not all of the items on show were Victorian in origin, there was a sculpture by Sanford Biggins from 2021 and a Cibachrome print by the Scottish-Ghanaian photographer Maude Sulter made in 1989. The programme notes say that they are included to reflect the scrutiny lately being exercised with regard to racist and sexist attitudes, but I thought that they were incongruous in an exhibition focussed on Victorian attitudes. As we have seen lately on many occasions, you can read about and study a period all you like but you can never replicate the environment, mind-set and atmosphere of the past, not even shortly before your birth, let alone a hundred and fifty years ago.
Anyway, to the pieces themselves. The exhibition was divided into sections entitled; The Rise of Colour in Late Victorian Sculpture, Echoes of Slavery and Deathly Women.
The warm tones of Venus c1850 by John Gibson R.A.
The first section contained examples of the way in which traditional white marble subtly morphed into a wider range of hues to add another dimension to the works. This was first used in the nude figures but, as the century progressed, much bolder colours and materials were used and the second two sections contained quite remarkable pieces.
La Femme Africaine 1857 by Charles Cordier from Echoes of Slavery
Although colour had been introduced and the subject matter broadened, the poses were mostly conventional and even the most radical were still a faithful representation rather than abstract. I think that we can thank the man after whom the Institute is named for popularising that school.
Lamia 1899-1900 by Sir George Frampton R.A. from the Deathly Women Section
If I sound as though I am getting a bit above myself here it is because, as a relative stranger to this medium, I have had to rely on the programme and a scan of the internet for background and there seems to be a lack of humour in either source, the subject matter was hardly cause for hilarity either.
Should you be a stranger to sculpture then I highly recommend this exhibition because it not only examines attitudes but the pieces are absolutely stunning as stand-alone works to be admired for the artistry involved. If you are a sculpture buff then a) please forgive my ignorance of the medium and b) I am sure that you will have had this event in your diary for quite some time so will be going along anyway.
The Colour of Anxiety is at The Henry Moore Institute on The Headrow, Leeds until 26th February 2023. Entry is free so what have you got to loose. For more details of this and other events at the Institute please go to https://henry-moore.org/henry-moore-institute/whats-on-henry-moore-institute/
Photographs by Stan Graham. I apologise for the reflections but some of the pieces were obviously in glass cases and the Christmas fair was in full swing – no pun intended – when I took the feature shot.