[Any Wintry Afternoon in England (1930) CR Nevinson]
I was wandering round Manchester Art Gallery yesterday wondering why I felt so reassured to be there. It brought back memories of my visits as a teenager when I went to look at 'my' paintings, to make sure they were still there, to rediscover a few constants in turbulent teenage times. Once again, I found I could look at Work for ages and still find something new, I could float in Albert Moore's pale, lush colour studies, and I could almost smell the burning leaves in Millais' painting. It's like finding old friends; you pick up where you left off and they don't seem to have changed.
[The Schoolroom (c1937) Vanessa Bell, lithograph still available]
All the while, I was searching in my mind for the quote that explained the security I always feel in this gallery, and today I've just looked it up. It is of course from Breakfast at Tiffany's when Holly Golightly explains how she copes with the 'mean reds' and the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's: 'The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there'. This is how I feel about Manchester Art Gallery: nothing very bad can happen in there and in fact, like Tiffany's, it's such a grand, solid building and holds so many beautiful things, I'd like to be able to get a taxi to it in times of need.
[The Eiderdown (1928) Sydney Carline]
It has always been free to get in, full of Manchester industrial pride and prosperity, with a famous collection of over-heated Pre-Raphaelite paintings which appeal to teenagers, plus a lesser-known but tremendous collection from other eras and genres. Now it also has a brilliant extension, part modern, part old, which I like a great deal and think works perfectly, and thus huge amounts of exhibition space.
[The Picnic (1924) Mary Adshead, painted to look like a tapestry]
These two assets - space and collection - come together in the current exhibition which has brought out all sorts of paintings I've never seen before. It's large but focussed and although there may not be many masterpieces in there, it's packed with famous names and gives a clear and comprehensive overview of the period. It's a simple theme done well. It doesn't cost a penny to see - and you really can see it as there are never too many people in there at any one time. Plus, there is a transcendentally lovely painting by Winifred Nicholson on display, and nothing bad ever comes of looking at her paintings.