Visit to the Leeds Art Gallery


Leeds is well blessed with cultural opportunities, both in the city itself and in the vicinity, so today a walk around the city centre gallery, which left me with several thoughts, not necessarily connected.

In a gallery of classical oil paintings (17th/18th century) it occurred to me that these are all at f22, in other words in focus from front to back, and sometimes extremely detailed in the far distance. That often created a sense of great depth and recession, almost an invitation to enter and be a part of the scene. Is it possible to paint in soft focus? Is that where the impressionists went?

The next room had a number of works by Francis Bacon, most strikingly “Head vi”, in which he seems to use something like depth of field to minimise the background, either making it of no significance or keeping the viewer at bay – no inviting depth here. That has the effect of emphasising the angst in the exactly central, screaming head – very powerful and dramatic image.

Continuing that train of thought while looking at other C20th work, some artists were using very plain backgrounds, others including a hint of context and even explanation in their backdrops. “The Leeds Picture” by G Sauter (1866 – 1977) has a group of women, attractive, well-dressed and presumably wealthy, in the foreground; behind them, as it were through a window, is a Leeds skyline of drabness and smoking chimneys. Contrast maybe between their wealth and the work that generates it, or two aspects of the life of a prosperous industrial and commercial centre.

A pair of photographs, printed very large, by Frederico Camara (b 1971) and both titled “untitled (Stutgart)”, which show empty animal cages, described, rightly enough, as visually unsettling because the absence of any animals makes them empty also of any obvious purpose or reason. Visually interesting though, particularly in anticipation of the assignment to come at then end of this current section of the course, because of the contrast between straight and curved. Straight in the multitude of verticals and horizontals in the bars, “furnishings” etc; curved in the hangings, mostly very symmetrical of what appear to be webbing straps draped on and around the “hard” fittings. The images are on Google – he’s on fredericocamaraphotography.com.

A quote: “As beautiful as the unexpected meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella” – attributed to Lautreamont. The quote was shown associated with a painting by J S Brigge of a shell and two cabbage leaves set disproportionately large in the context of a seascape. The incongruity of their juxtaposition and their size was certainly provocative and quite possibly beautiful!

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