Saturday, 5 September 2009

Fabiola


Monday was a bank holiday here and my boyfriend and I decided to spend some of viewing the Fabiola exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I first read about the exhibit at Stuck in a Book the month before and as it is finishing on September 20th, I didn't want to miss the opportunity of seeing it. It was helped by the fact that it was free! I now live in such an exciting city for culture, rich and vibrant with things to see, but often I forget that there is so much to do cheaply.

The installation is by the artist Francis Alÿs who has collected over 300 copies of the lost painting of Saint Fabiola. The original portrait of Fabiola in profile was painted by Jean-Jacques Henner in 1885 and since its loss has been replicated by artists worldwide. Alÿs has collected these versions of the original, all in different sizes, forms, and mediums, from flea markets, antique shops, and private collections for over a period of fifteen years and is now presenting them in one travelling display.

The concept intrigued me and the exhibit is striking, especially with the predominantly black and red paintings against the strong teal colour on the walls. The display itself is held in a small space -in two connecting rooms- but there are so many replicas to view en masse, some framed or on canvas, in oil or tapestry, one even in beads and seeds and other jewelled ones and tiles in a glass cabinet. I was amazed by the versatility of the presentation and the diversity of the art. I truly appreciated how one image can be shown in so many unique and effective media and methods; the range and diversity in replicating the one image and the capability of distinguishing one from the other as an individual piece of art, is breathtaking.

Saint Fabiola was the patron saint of, amongst other things, victims of abuse, and is considered the protector of abused women. I found this fascinating as the iconography of a young saint in a crimson veil strongly reminded me of the Vintage
cover of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I don't have my copy here to check the cover-art but I wonder if it is coincidental that the subjugated handmaid, Offred, strikingly resembles Saint Fabiola, the protector of victimised women.

I urge you to see the Fabiola exhibition if you can as it is a stunning collection with a wonderful cohesion to it.

We happened to accidentally go to The National Gallery instead of The National Portrait Gallery (they are around the corner from one another) but happily saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers in the former (along with Monet and Vermeer and Da Vinci and Picasso...) before then going to see Fabiola. It was an enlightening day of Art.





10 comments:

Rachel said...

I went to see it too a few weeks ago and was equally impressed. I went by myself and just stood there for ages staring. It was very overwhelming to be surrounded by the same image over and over again, but fascinating to see how one inspiration can be interpreted in so many different ways. I loved the juxtaposition of the reds and green...and didn't you think it was strange how some people had changed the colour of Fabiola's hood to green, from red? I wonder why. Thanks for such an interesting post, and for reminding me of this exhibition!

Darlene said...

Both galleries are one of my first stops when I'm in London. You're very lucky to see such an interesting exhibit Claire.

Paperback Reader said...

Rachel, I'm glad that you have seen it too. It is quite overwhelming but such an inspiring collection. I did think the colour-change was weird! Those really stood out, of course, but in quite a jarring way for me ... a break in the cohesion but also an interesting re-interpretation.
You're welcome; I really wanted to post about this and even tied it in with a book cover!

Danielle, I am so thankful to be here is such a wonderful city and so glad that I saw this. I know how much you love London and I never take it for granted. I still have so much to see and do here; it was my first visit to both of these galleries (hence my confusion - I just thought that there were separate entrances) after so many visits and having lived here for almost a year.

StuckInABook said...

So glad you managed to get to this, Claire, I found it so breathtakingly good. I could have stayed looking at each one for hours.

Mae said...

That looks like an amazing exhibition and a brilliant idea. Looks slightly unnerving though, seeing all those 'identical' portraits grouped together.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, thank you for bringing it to my attention; I really enjoyed it.

Mae, thank you for commenting. It was a very impressive exhibition and although the scope of the collection is overwhelming, it wasn't unnerving.

Vintage Reading said...

I saw the Fabiola room a couple of months ago, too. I thought it was the most stunning display in the whole gallery (although I actually only visited to look at the Jane Austen miniature). I hadn't made the connection between Fabiola and the Atwood cover, but yes, it is very similar.

Paperback Reader said...

Vintage Reading, it was most definitely stunning. I went on an execution only mission (after time taken up in The National Gallery) so missed the Jane Austen miniature; am I right in thinking that the famous Brontes portrait is also there?

Vintage Reading said...

Yes, I spend some time looking at the Bronte portrait. Emily's eyes are haunting and Branwell is a ghostly shadow in the background where he'd painted himself out. Well worth another trip to see!

Paperback Reader said...

Vintage Reading, I'll pop in the next time I'm in that part of London (which is fairly often) and concentrate on the portraits this time.