The Wilson Newsletter is a publication produced for (and largely by) The Friends of The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum. When the editor invited me to write a ‘What’s On’ article for the Autumn 2015 issue, I was pleased to have the opportunity to be involved. It enable me to write about and reflect upon a temporary exhibition in The Friends Gallery, entitled ‘Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space’, which I had assisted the curator of fine art with in terms of research and display. A copy of the text is below.
Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space
The Friends Gallery has an area for dynamic temporary displays, the latest being Interior Life: Portraits and Private Space, which opened in July and runs until 8 November. This is an intimate and intriguing exhibition, celebrating a selection of portraits from The Wilson’s collection. It presents oil paintings from the 17th to the 20th century, and includes two works from the founding collection, donated by the Baron de Ferrieres in 1898.
The paintings have shared themes of privacy and contemplation, hinting at the emotional lives of the people portrayed. Thus, the interior spaces that exist in these works are not just the physical spaces that the figures inhabit, but are also the spaces that belong to their minds. This focus on interiority is reflected in the solitary activities depicted, such as reading in Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet’s painting A Woman Reading, about 1630-1650. It is also enhanced through the sensitive use of personal or even spiritual places, such as the cosy domestic sitting room in The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, Seated Reading, about 1935, by Gerald Gardiner, or the interior of the church in Malvern Abbey, Worcestershire, 1892, by Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson.
Parallels can be made between some of these ideas and those of contemporary artist, Bill Viola (b. 1951). In Viola’s film pieces, private moments, devotion and the passing of time are common themes. Viola’s work can be seen on display in the third floor gallery of The Wilson from 3 October 2015 – 7 February 2016 as part of ARTIST ROOMS On Tour.