29 MARCH 1963, Page 21


Painter's Collection


EVERYONE knows the dilemma of the Royal Academy, dis- established by the new Estab- lishment of officialdom and dealerdom guarding their fashionable favourites. But no one questions that the Aca- demy's student painters have

taken a leading place in the Young Contemporaries' exhibitions. It is the height of irony that they will be deterred by some West End galleries from exhibiting with the insti- tution which gave them free training under teachers as distinguished as William Scott.

Suppose that the Academy abandoned these amorphous summer miscellanies, crippled by de- privations and bringing it nothing but reproach. Suppose, instead, it let its main galleries in the vacant season to instructive causes and un- familiar art school enterprises, while the members confined themselves to the ample Diploma Gal- lery. What then? Its more deserving Qutside exhibitors might merge in some association else- where, and the Academy's prestige rise from its nadir as its essential function became plain.

That role is the instruction of students in the art schools where Etty sat and Sickert was a knowing visitor, and the wider diffusion of learn- ing through the winter collections of European and Oriental treasures, catalogued with scholar- ship. Properly a breeding-ground of ideas and ideals, the Academy's popular image is that of a charitable mart, an inferior Salon des Refuses on which Reynolds turns his coat-tails in the courtyard. In 'A Painter's Collection,' the in- structional role is now finely reasserted. These 350 paintings, drawings. and sculptures, picked up for their intrinsic qualities and not for specu- lation during the past thirty years by Mr. Edward Le Bas, a learned painter member, lend a pecu- liar warmth and dignity to the Diploma Gallery, Moreover, this collection of generally twentieth- century British and French works, unrivalled in English private hands, contains a number of masterpieces hardly less jubilant than Bonnard's Le Sol de Lait—an intimate and vibrantly lumin- ous interior with a girl moving away from a win- dow, an intricate marvel of design and colour at first sight seeming so natural an arrangement as to be almost artless.

It is the clue to Mr. Le Bas's taste. Generally he has gone for the sensuous qualities of colour and matiere in imaginative translations of nature. Thus Ethel Walker is surprisingly well seen, her dwindled vogue meaning nothing to an indepen- dent taste which has selected quality (often at an artist's debut) with almost unfaltering consis- tency. Without the chroniclers of trends and dominant reputations, no doubt art could never be charted. This, collection says, more truly, that art means only so many individual experiences: endless, unrecordable studio moments when the juiciest little woodland panel, by a Mrs. Hum- phrey Holland might rival, the finest Sargent at the century's turn. Thus contemplated, Sickert's toothy Hogarthian female, or Gilman's mosaic- ally encrusted Interior with Mrs. Mounter em- bodies all manner of associations to oust the mental classification 'Camden Town.'

Professor Gombrich has, indeed, lately under- mined the purely aesthetic approach of art his- tory by investigating the relationship between image and beholder in psychological terms. His exciting, far-reaching theories in Art and Illusion need not be oversimplified here. The point is that this collection particularly invites the psycholo- gical approach, involving understanding of social, literary, and other pressures besides the artistic, which together shaped the artist's image, match- ing it to an already existing 'schema' in his per- ception. Thus, a full comprehension of the Gil- man interior here is not to be gained simply by 4: relating its broad planes and brilliant colour

mosaics to the impulse inspired by the first Post- Impressionist bombshell, which overwhelmed Gilman and Ginner together at the Grafton Gal- leries. One has imaginatively to tap,the other channels of communication in the London air around 1916 as Gilman was seizing the essential character of his landlady, Mrs. Mounter, *in his Maple Street rooms and exhibiting it on canvas in all its bearings.

The wistful, vaguely orientalised art of Mary Potter finds a niche in this collection, but not, as it happens, the thrillingly less accountable painting of Anthony Fry, Both artists now re- turn to the Leicester Galleries. How has Fry de- veloped under the stimulus of his recent Fellow- ship study in the United States? His gaucherie has gone. The strangely troubled compassion re-

mains. It remains, at least, in the more haunting of his sketchy nudes of pastel-like quality, re- clining sensually in landscape. The texture is rich, the handling more freely expressionist now. A danger signal only appears in sophisticated effects in his flash-lit, sulphurous landscapes.