[Peonies in a Chinese Vase (1925) Leslie Hunter]
At senior school, a few of us were so keen to imbibe as much theatre, literature, film and art as possible that we thought about starting up a 'culture club'. But the idea never got off the ground and, anyway, I thought the name 'Culture Club' wasn't helping matters. (It never held back Boy George a few years later, though).
I've been continuing in this cultural vein ever since. So of course I booked in adavance for the Manet exhibition. Of course I made sure I was there for my timed entry slot. Of course I queued for the cloakroom, queued for the ladies, queued to get in, queued to buy postcards. Of course I made my way as slowly as everyone else round the rooms, craning my neck to see the paintings, waiting patiently for a gap to appear so I could see a whole one, waiting even longer to get close enough to read the captions. And I sped through the 'padding out' rooms (blown-up map of Paris, enlarged copy of painting, C19 photographs) which seemed to me to be there as crowd decompression chambers as much as anything else.
Of course, there were some absolutely wonderful paintings (but there were also too many poor ones - a bit of surprise). I loved the way Manet uses black paint but conjures up brilliant light effects, the way he captures personality and mood, the way that you can see the connection between him and his sitter. But you do come out feeling as though you've been extruded though a cultural sausage machine.
[Stocks in a White Vase (c.1930) Leslie Hunter
What a delight, then, to discover that just round the corner from the Royal Academy is the Fleming Collection, an 'embassy' for Scottish painting in a beautiful building. It's free to go in, virtually empty, and has just held a lovely exhibition of paintings by Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) who was one of the four Scottish Colourists. It was on two floors and there was a generous numbers of works (although, again, a few duds which served to highlight just how good Hunter could be).
Hunter once wrote, 'Everyone must choose his own way, and mine will be the way of colour', and this exhibition could not have been a greater contrast with the Manet in terms of palette as well as visitor numbers. Hunter's still lifes were the stars here, and the thickly applied paint, the gorgeous depth and vibrancy of his colours, the confidence and élan were wonderful to behold.
[Still Life with Marguerites (1930) Leslie Hunter]
In later life Hunter suffered 'increasing ill-health', a euphemism for drinking himself to death, and you can see the effects in the marguerites painting above. I can't imagine why it was chosen for the exhibition poster as it's a sad still life which looks as though it was painted while he was unwell and under the influence: the flowers are unsteady and listing, there are messy blood-red splashes and drips, and close up the whole thing looks desperate and wild.
Both Manet and Hunter died in their early 50s; Hunter ended up squandering his talent while Manet was not given enough time to explore the full extent of his gifts. Both were worth going to - but much as I love landmark exhibitions, these days I think any culture club I might belong to would have to meet in places where it's possible to actually see and breathe.