The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery: Episode 3

Beaverbrook Art GalleryDecember 13, 20170 Comments

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery: Episode 3


As you’ve no doubt heard by now, we’re always trying to find new ways to bring people and art together here at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So far in this series, we’ve covered two different strategies to look at artworks in a gallery. Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the art on display, but we hope that with this series everyone will find a new way to get the most out of their visit. In part 3 of this series, we’re sharing another top tip and new way of experiencing art.

Strategy #0: Don’t panic! Galleries and museums are places to enjoy yourself. Don’t feel that there is only one right way to experience art; wandering through and stopping for things that catch your eye is a perfectly good way to start!

Strategy #1: looking at the technical approach. Read more here.

Strategy #2: Influence and Inspiration. Read more here.

Strategy #3: Imagery immersion

Almost every artwork has a story to tell; when you stand in front of a painting, the easiest thing to think about may be “what is going on in this artwork”. However, that may only show you what is going on at a surface level. To fully understand the time in which the work was made, and some of the choices the artist made, it may help to think about the context further.

Imagery immersion is a handy trick to really allow you to “get into the painting”; start thinking about not just what is happening, but also who are the people, what is their relationship, and what is the mood in the painting? As Christina Thomson, program coordinator at the Gallery, asks, “How do you become invested in a story and feel present in an artificial environment? Visual art has long been inviting viewers to step beyond the frame and experience the representation as a reality.”

One work, Hunt the Thimble (1909), by Henry Tonks, is part of our Masterworks collection, and offers an opportunity to practice imagery immersion. Henry Tonks (1862-1937) was a British draughtsman, a gifted caricaturist, and an influential art teacher at the Slade School of Art in London. Hunt the Thimble is part of a series of paintings that the artist referred to as his “nursery genre,” and may be based on the memory of a popular party game from his childhood.

The game “hunt the thimble” (also known as hide the thimble) is a party game in which all but one partygoer leaves the room. The person remaining in the room hides a thimble, or other small object, somewhere in the room. When everyone comes back in, they must locate the hidden object. A variation of this game is the inverse, in which only one person leaves the room and everybody else hides the object. In this artwork, we see a child with eyes covered – perhaps instead of leaving the room entirely – while the other three in the room are hiding a thimble (in the box on the right).

Now that we see a surface level of what is going on in the work, we can use imagery immersion to go a little bit further. Looking at the colour scheme of this artwork, we can see that it’s painted with an orange hue. Now, imagine being there. Given the era this work is painted, a fireplace is likely the reason for the warm hues in this work. If you were there in that room, imagine how the warmth would feel, or how much harder it might be to see details given the low light. By imagining yourself there in the room where this painting is set, you can gain a much deeper experience than by looking at is as a passive bystander.

Another way we can use imagery immersion, beyond simply understanding the setting, is to understand the mood within an artwork. One example of this can be found in another one of our famous masterworks by James Tissot (1836-1902), A Passing Storm. The title is a clever joke on Tissot’s part: in the background, storm clouds gather while in the foreground, young lovers have obviously just quarreled. The artist used light and positioning within the painting to create a very specific mood. Imagine how it might feel in the room if you were there; what is the artist inviting you to experience?

Hunt the Thimble and A Passing Storm are both examples of paintings that depict a scene that has a narrative,” says Thomson. “The artists have created intriguing stories with characters in highly detailed settings, and have set the mood with attention to light and shadow and the choice of colours. The painterly illusions of depth and space offer an imaginative visit into two rooms: one flickering with firelight, and the other offering a gloomy refuge from a stormy port.”

Next time you visit the International Wing of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, take some time to visit and immerse yourself in these two Masterworks. As Thomson adds, “Both Tonks and Tissot have employed artistic devices to captivate the viewer and to help them become part of the drama. It is your presence that brings the painting to life!”

Stay tuned for the next installment in this blog, where we look at the elements of abstract art.

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