Monday, 27 September 2010

Sculptures by the Council Flats

Caroline took a trip to the Szorborpark in Budapest. Here is what she saw:

 In January I was lucky enough to find myself in Budapest. The old cities of Buda and Pest are separated by a gentle bend on the Danube, and together they form an architecturally striking city, rich in history but also thoroughly modern: one of the European Union’s bright new members.

European membership had been the ambition of successive Hungarian Governments since the fall of Communism in 1989-90, when the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party realised the jig was up and hung up their hammers and sickles in a peaceful abdication from political power. To meet the criteria for EU membership many changes took place in the subsequent years, including much privatisation, the opening of the Budapest Stock Exchange and purging the city of Soviet symbols. This included the removal of communist statues from various city squares and streets.

Statues of revolutionary heroes, socialist philosophers, and the odd Communist dictator or tyrant, as well as sculptures depicting workers’ solidarity or victorious Soviet soldiers were taken from their prominent positions in town and banished to a bleak park on the outskirts of Buda.

Lured by a pamphlet that promised a taste of history, I set off in search of the Szobor (Statue) Park on a bright but extremely cold morning. My mission began with a creaking tram journey to the end of the line and an unfortunate encounter with a surly person called Ticket Kontrol. I had apparently purchased the wrong “jegy”. After a mysterious (but cheap) breakfast at a junction in the middle of nowhere, I was told to get the yellow bus, and following a slow climb through the Buda hills was dropped off at the Szorborpark.

A thin layer of snow covered the park - a barren plain surrounded by dreary grey council blocks. The setting is an inspired piece of anti-communist propaganda, as if to say ‘old communists don’t die they just get made to live in a council estate’.

The park was designed by architect Ákos Eleőd, and features a boundary of an imposing brick wall. The wall is stark and strong, reminding me of the Iron Curtain’s dual function of fortification and separation. In large archways on either side of the entrance are looming statues of men who are preserved as they lived – larger than life.

Marx , of course, was the moustachioed, cigar-smoking, wisecracking star of early Hollywood comedies such as Duck Soup. Or, in fact as I check my notes more closely, Marx was the German philosopher, economist and social and political theorist whose seminal work Das Kapital identified modes of production as the site of class struggle and who, along with his sidekick Frederick Engels wrote the inspirational and tremendously influential Communist Manifesto – in which the plans are laid for the proletarian revolution against capitalism with the as yet to be realised aim of a classless society.

Leninism adds to the scope of Marxism through the recognition that globalisation is imperialism, and here we see Lenin with arms outstretched as if to convey the breadth of his ambition – a world revolution!! Ironically perhaps, Lenin built a bit of an empire himself with places all over the Soviet Union named after him and statues much like these found from Minsk to Hanoi and back again. Lenin had serious popularity issues and many of these statues were destroyed after the fall of Communism, but one enthusiastic e-Communist has put together a website of surviving Lenin statues for those who are interested.

The Szorborpark also has a number of sculptures to celebrate communist ideals or commemorate revolutionary heroes.

The Workers' Movement Memorial, for example, is quite beautiful in its simplicity, with cupped hands around a globe. To me, the hands represent the manual nature of ‘the worker’ and the globe the idea of solidarity. Together the two elements have a more literal meaning ‘the world is in your hands’. And thus the communist manifesto: workers of the world unite, the world is in your hands.

And finally, the very large and impressive Republic of Councils Monument which is absolutely enormous. It was designed from a poster calling workers to arms. The statue is screaming "Fegyverbe, Fegyverbe" which in Hungarian means "To Arms! To Arms!"

To wrap up my excellent tour of the Szorborpark, was a trip to the gift shop where I resisted the temptation to buy a double CD of Communist Anthems or a KGB cigarette lighter and settled for a postcard instead. It was a most inspirational visit and I applaud the new Hungary for recognising the historical and artistic value in these statues and deciding to keep them rather than destroy them.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Femmes Fatale, Degenerate Perverts and Guys in Funny Hats at the NGV

The current Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the NGV is one of the best in the series. We are very lucky that the Städel Museum in Frankfurt is undergoing refurbishment and that our city is allowed to host some of the works in their collection while this is happening. It is such a large collection that I went back for a second look two weeks after my first visit, and I may well go again before it departs.

The exhibition essentially traces the development of German art, but also includes a magnificent selection of works by other artists, among them Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh … some lovely landscapes by Corot, Courbet and Sisley … a gorgeous Picasso portrait of his mistress Fernande Olivier, one of his first forays into Cubism. And the list goes on. I was particularly delighted to see so many German Expressionist works, including a whole roomful of Max Beckmanns.

I have to say my first reaction was rather a heretical one: the piece de resistance of the collection didn't elicit much from me except an incredulous giggle. Tischbein's "Goethe in the Roman countryside" would more aptly have been titled "Goethe with two left feet, wearing the Queen Mum's hat." I don't know what Goethe did to offend Tischbein, but Tischbein certainly had the last laugh.

There were a number of lovely landscapes that held my attention: among them a dark Cezanne, a Sisley view of the Seine, a Courbet winter scene (very like the one he painted as a false front for "The Origin of the World") and two Corot plein air oil sketches of the kind that he used as reference for his studio work. I was thrilled to see the original of Monet's beautiful "Houses at Zaan" - it is reproduced so often and, as usual, it is smaller than I imagined and no reproduction could ever replicate the subtle, glowing colours. That Monet understood water!

I was entranced by a cottage painted by van Gogh when he was living near Nuenen in 1885 - the year before his brother Theo advised him to start using strong, bright colours. The cottage picture is all subfusc shades, very subdued and unlike the images that spring to mind at the mention of Van Gogh.

There is an spectacular canvas by Monet: "Luncheon" - over 2 metres high, with life-size figures of two women, a child in a high chair and a maid hovering in the background. They have not started eating and are clearly waiting for the man of the house to assume the empty chair in the foreground - his newspaper is waiting beside his plate. I don't know why this painting is not titled "Breakfast" - they are having boiled eggs, bread and fruit. Not to mention the newspaper. Either way, if you haven't been to see the exhibition yet, you will miss this painting because it is travelling to Paris on 1st September for a Monet retrospective.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the original of the oft-reproduced The jealous lioness by Paul Meyerheim. He specialised in realistic animal paintings with an anthropomorphous subtext. In this case, he tells a story about romantic rivalry through the image of the strutting male between the snarling lioness and the beautiful woman possessively caressing his mane.

The concept of the femme fatale was a popular one at a time when the inequality of women was becoming an issue: women had very limited freedom. Artists and writers began to depict the femme fatale as symbol of aggressive femininity, who could use her beauty to gain power in a society that did not recognise her intellectual value.

Another such femme fatale is Max Liebermann's Delilah in the arresting life-size "Samson and Delilah". Samson slumps forward submissively under Delilah's hand on his head, while she triumphantly holds his shorn locks aloft towards the Philistines waiting in the wings. His tanned, muscular body is in stark contrast to her pale, fragile one, yet she is plainly the victor here.

I was very taken by the simple beauty of Max Klinger's enigmatic "Woman on a Rooftop in Rome". She perches rather stiffly on an upright chair on the bare rooftop: her expression contemplative but her thoughts inscrutable. She seems almost a giantess against the Lilliputian cityscape behind her. Klinger's work is has all the ambiguity of the Symbolist that he is, but in this picture he seems to veer towards the incongruity of the surrealists. A mesmerising picture: I found it difficult to move on!

"At the Window" by Fritz von Uhle reminded me very much of a picture I had seen in the Hans Heysen house in Adelaide: the gentle, dappled morning sunlight, the sewing machine, the woman's dress and hairstyle … oh, well, Heysen was a German too: maybe it's in the genes!

The Max Beckmann room is worth a return visit all to itself. The painting that I found most poignant is the Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main. It is a disquieting work, full of leaning buildings and spiky angles, imparting a sense of anxiety and foreboding, which is only heightened by the contrast of the unruffled cat in the foreground. Beckmann's foreboding was realised when the synagogue was burnt to the ground by the Nazis in 1938.

By that time Beckmann was living in Amsterdam, having been denounced as one of the "degenerate artists" by Hitler's regime. In 1937 the Nazis mounted an exhibition of "degenerate art", comprising works confiscated from museums throughout the country. The purpose of the exhibition was to incite revulsion in the public when they saw for themselves the disgusting filth churned out by Jews, Bolshevists and perverts such as Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne and other reprobates of their ilk.

Goebbels, who arranged it all, certainly shot himself in the foot because over the four months that the show ran, three million people flocked to see it: four times the number that visited the exhibition of "decent German art" that ran simultaneously in a nearby gallery.

Several of the pictures lent to the NGV for the current show, were part of the Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937. My favourite one is Franz Marc's "Dog Lying in the Snow". While I can't think why the misguided pooch would want to lie in the snow rather than in his basket in front of the fire, this does not make him a debauched and disgusting sight by any normal standards! The Nazis were a weird lot and we are well rid of them, if you want my opinion.

Another strange business is the double portrait by Max Beckmann. It is discreetly just called "Double Portrait". It started out being a portrait of Frau Swarzenski, who was the wife of the then Director of the Städel Museum. For reasons best known to himself, Beckmann saw fit to add a portrait of the Director's 18-year old mistress, Carola Netter. On completion of the painting, Herr Swarzenski sensibly thought better of taking it home and instead donated it to the Städel collection.

You'd think that one day at the breakfast table Frau Swarzenski would say: "By the way, Hans, when are we getting that portrait that I sat for?" Why didn't he donate it to some other museum, preferably one safely across the Atlantic in the USA? Surely hanging it at his local was just staving off the inevitable? And even if Herr Direktor managed to stall his Frau's inquiries, what did do when they held a fund-raiser at the gallery and she accompanied him in her best tiara to schmooze the wealthy patrons? Hide the double portrait behind a Courbet winter scene?

Life is full of interesting little conundrums if you hang out at art galleries.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Tamara de Lempicka: Deco Diva

Tamara de Lempicka was a fashionable socialite and portrait painter in the 1920s and '30s - the heady days of the Bright Young Things, of flappers, prohibition, the Charleston, the Great Gatsby and the purple prose of Elinor Glyn. It saw the birth of Art Deco, with its geometric motifs and bright, bold colour, which was to become the hallmark of Tamara's painting.

Tamara was born Maria Gorska in Warsaw, Poland. She was the daughter of wealthy but divorced parents, spending her childhood at boarding school in Switzerland and holidays with family in Italy and on the French Riviera. At age 15 she went to live with a rich and aristocratic aunt in St Petersburg.

Here she met and fell for Tadeusz Lempicki, a handsome but impecunious layabout and notorious womaniser. He, keen to get his hands on her teenage body and her substantial dowry, swept her off her feet and they were married in 1916.

In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, Tadeusz was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Maria searched the prisons for him and after several weeks secured his release by means of bribes and personal favours. They ended up in Paris among other aristocratic Russian refugees, where they lived for a while from the sale of family jewels.

Maria gave birth to a daughter, Kizette, while Tadeusz (no surprise) proved unwilling or unable to find work. Maria, who had studied art, changed her name to Tamara and became a painter with a distinctive Art Deco style, with a touch of cubism. Her nudes remind me of Ingres, even though the style is so different.

She held her first major show in Milan in 1925 and after that there was no looking back. She was soon the most fashionable portrait painter among the social elite. She commanded up to $5,000 per portrait - a wagonload of shekels in today's money.

Tamara was famous for her international bohemian lifestyle - among her friends in Paris were Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide. She had many lovers of both sexes and was closely associated with lesbian and bisexual women in the arts, such as Vita Sackville-West and Colette. It finally became too much for Tadeusz to put up with when she became seriously involved with Suzy Solidor and he left her in 1927.

Suzy was a famous singer who owned a chic society nightclub called La Vie Parisienne, one of the trendiest night spots in Paris and much frequented by lesbian couples. She was a favourite model for the best-known painters of the day, but she would only pose on condition that the painting be hung in her club. By the time Tamara painted her, there were over 100 portraits of Suzy Solidor on the walls of La Vie Parisienne: among them works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Suzy Solidor spent her last years in Cagnes Sur Mer on the Riviera and left her collection of over 150 portraits to the Chateau Grimaldi, where they can be seen to this day.

Meanwhile, Tamara travelled widely in Europe and America and rarely saw her daughter, who was away at boarding school in France or England. Kizette spent her holidays with her grandmother and one year she was so angry with her mother for not returning from America for Christmas, that she burned Tamara's enormous collection of designer hats.

In 1928, the wealthy Baron Raoul Kuffner commissioned Tamara to paint his mistress. Tamara finished the portrait, then took the mistress' place in the Baron's life. The Great Depression had little effect on her frenetic lifestyle or her work: in the early 1930s she painted King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece. Museums began to collect her works.

She married Baron Kuffner in 1933 and settled with him in Beverley Hills where she became "the baroness with a brush", the favorite artist of Hollywood stars. She retired from professional painting in 1962 and after the Baron's death she moved to Mexico where she died in 1980.

I have only room here to touch on a few highlights of this fascinating woman's life and work, but you can see a gallery of her paintings at and I can recommend the biography "Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence" by Laura Claridge.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Ron Mueck @ the NGV

The exhibition of hyper-realist sculptor Ron Mueck's work (at the NGV till 18th April) is well worth a visit.

Mueck's early career was as a model maker and puppeteer. He worked for Jim Henson (Sesame Street)and later he moved into cinema animatronics. He was increasingly frustrated by having to make realistic images which were in effect one-sided - the studios were not going to waste money on creating the side that was not visible to the camera!

In 1996 he moved into fine art and started to make realistic sculptures that are perfect from all angles. I was entranced by the Wild Man's back - it has various little pimples and moles and even a few hairs!

Charles Saatchi was impressed by Ron Mueck's work and invited him to contribute an exhibit to the Saatchi Gallery's "Sensation" show at the Royal Academy in 1997. Mueck showed Dead Dad, a nude, two-thirds lifesize figure depicting his late father. The work received a great deal of critical acclaim and made Mueck's name as an important modern sculptor.

Dead Dad is the first sculpture you will see as you enter the show at the NGV. Mueck used resin, fibreglass, silicone and polyurethane as he does for all his sculptures, but this is the only work in which he also used some of his own hair. This is a haunting work with a lot of emotional power. It exudes an air of poignancy, as indeed many of Mueck's sculptures do.

They are all a bit unsettling and disturbing to the viewer - perhaps the scale has something to do with it: they are either much bigger or much smaller than lifesize. In an interview with The Guardian, Ron Mueck said: "I never make life-size figures because it never seems to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day."

His figures, very often nude, seem imbued with pathos and vulnerability and the viewer has the uneasy feeling of encroaching on their privacy.

The notes supplied at the exhibition for each work, mention merely the title and the materials used. There is no background information, which makes each work a kind of three-dimensional Rorschach test: an ambiguous figure on which the viewer projects their own imagined "story" and emotional response.

I saw the Wild Man, clenching his toes and clutching his stool in his anxiety, as someone who had just emerged from decades of a hermit-like existence and is flinching from his "rescuers". Of two friends with whom I discussed the exhibition, one thought he was being interrogated at Abu Ghraib and the other (who once had similar issues) said he is having terrifying hallucinations in a detox clinic!

In the Guardian interview, Mueck mentioned that he modelled the newborn infant (A Girl), on his own newborn daughter, reproducing the details of the umbilical cord, the blood and the mucus. He made her 20ft long, he says, because for the first weeks of her life, she loomed so large in the family's life.

It is interesting to look at the sculptures in conjuction with one's fellow-visitors. As the viewers come into the line of sight of the figures, they seem to become part of the tableau: the two old ladies seem to be gossping about whoever they are at that moment disapprovingly looking at; the apprehensive woman in bed is looking with some concern at those who are standing at her bedside.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tackling the Technology: Never Too Old!

Many older people are in a quandary: on the one hand, it seems very difficult to learn how to use a computer – on the other hand, life is getting harder all the time for those who can't use the confounded machine.

Until recently one could say :"Oh, I don't need the ghastly thing, let the children play with it", but sadly, the world is becoming so dependent on the internet that it is now sink or swim time.

It is very frustrating that everything is online these days – whether you want to pay an account, do business with your bank, reserve a library book, buy a plane ticket or just find out when the next train is, it is practically impossible to get a real live person to talk to and very often you get charged extra for it, too! You are constantly confronted with strings of double-yous and told to go to and click on things.

Your back is to the wall. In self-defence, you have to get a computer. Then you have to learn what to do with the blasted thing.

First up, you need to buy a computer that is suited to your needs. You don't need a machine that will enable you to design a space station or balance a medium-sized country's budget. Talk to a reputable dealer who will not try to sell you expensive high-powered stuff that you don't need and will never use.

To start with, just buy your computer and a printer. Wait until you are au fait with using them before you begin to add scanners and webcams and other expensive toys.

If you have not used a computer before, you will find that your first frustration will be the physical task of learning to use the mouse and the keyboard. Perhaps you already know how to type, but if you have no keyboard skills, don't despair: your hunt-and-peck method will improve with practice until you are using more than two fingers and know where all the keys are.

It is important to choose a comfortable keyboard when you buy your computer. If the keys are small and close together, it is not easy to manoeuvre unaccustomed fingers around them. It looks so easy when the kids do it, but remember, they have small fingers and no arthritis! Plus they started practising while they were still breastfeeding.

Mastering the mouse can also be very frustrating for a first-time user. Right click, left click, single click, double click … you have to learn how fast to click, how long to hold the click down, how soon to let go when you drag and drop … go and make a cup of tea, yell at the budgie, kick the cat and try again. Remember when you learnt to ride a bike? Wobble-wobble and then suddenly, one day you could do it. Persevere!

The next thing you have to do is get someone to teach you how to use the e-mail and the internet and the word processor. Not the kids.

"Do this!" they say. Their fingers fly over the keyboard. When you ask to be shown again, they sigh and roll their eyes. You feel old and stupid. They feel clever and important. They forget who taught them to wipe their butt and tie their shoes. You didn’t roll your eyes when their little fingers struggled to get a button through a buttonhole!

So, don’t ask the kids. You need a teacher who will not make you feel embarrassed to ask the same thing several times over. Nobody can remember everything, especially when it is new information totally unrelated to any previous experience. You will need to ask again and again; it does not mean you are stupid. Your brain needs to develop new neural pathways. (I just made that up - don't know if it means anything, but it sounds good!)

Like any new skill, it takes time to learn to use your computer. Not only do your hands have to learn the physical skills, but you have to get a picture in your mind of how it all fits together – where does your e-mail go? Where does the stuff that you download come from? Why can you only have one thing on the clipboard? What is the clipboard, anyway?

If you wanted to learn how to drive the V-Line train to Sydney, you would have some point of reference because you can drive a car – if you have to learn how to cook a gourmet meal, at least you have used a sharp knife before and you have basic knowledge of how the stove works. But when you come cold to learning computer skills, you have no previous experience or similar skills to draw upon. You have to start from scratch. It is easy to become discouraged and give up, because nobody likes to feel incompetent. You need encouragement!

If you have a friend who is handy with a computer, ask him or her to give you a couple of lessons. They will be happy to help you. If you don't know anyone like that, go to your local library. They all run e-mail and internet classes for beginners. They know all the pitfalls that you will face: many beginners have passed through their hands!

While you are at the library, borrow a "Dummies" book. With their distinctive yellow covers, they are the most useful thing to come out of the publishing racket since Mrs Beeton told us how to stuff a rabbit. "Internet for Dummies" and "E-mail for Dummies" is what you want. When you return them, you will probably buy copies of your own so you can refer to them any time you like. They explain clearly and simply so even a six-year-old can understand. Or in this case, a sixty-year-old: the six-year-olds have no problems!

You may also like to try the BBC's excellent online basic computer training site, "The Absolute Beginner's Guide". It gives you simple instructions, with diagrams, and you can practise each step as many times as you like before going on to the next one. The computer never gets bored or impatient and it has no eyes to roll! To try it, go to

The key factor is to keep practising – practice makes a prefect, as my little sister used to say. With assiduous practice, you will be a prefect in no time, even head prefect! Don't be scared of your computer – you will not break it by pressing the wrong key, unless you use a sledgehammer to do so. Fossick around in all the drop-down menus, try clicking on different options – experiment!

Your efforts will be richly rewarded: a new window on the world will open for you. When I was learning to read, my mother told me: "If you can read, you will never be lonely – if you have a book, you have a friend." Could she have seen into the future, she might have added: "… and if you have a computer, you have lots of friends!"

Whatever your interests, from applique to zoology, there are millions out there who share them and want to discuss them with you. (There are also millions out there who want to sell you dodgy stuff and rip you off, but that is another story for another day.)

You will meet lovely people. An Alaskan lady who answered my query on a cookery site ("how much butter is "a stick" in an American recipe?") became a good friend and we have been corresponding by e-mail for over ten years.

Go to to find a penpal of your own age and similar interests.

You will never have to use a recipe book or a dictionary again – Google will tell you how to make haggis and chocolate brownies; it will tell you what any word means and how to pronounce it to boot.

Do you fondly remember Basil Fawlty not mentioning The War, Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, Sam playing it again in Casablanca and that wonderful credit title sequence in "A Walk on the Wild Side"? It's all on YouTube, to watch any time you like. Free of charge!

If you are of a more morbid turn of mind, you can watch Kennedy getting shot (either one) or Princess Di getting buried. If you are feeling exceptionally morbid, you can also watch her getting married, all unconscious of her doom!

You can play bridge or chess or Scrabble with an opponent in Uzbekistan or Gundagai; you can publish your poetry and your holiday snaps; you can browse through the collections of all the great art museums; you can buy your groceries or a new pair of shoes and sell that horrible vase you got for Christmas, all without leaving your chair. Give it a go!

… and every time you feel a bit intimidated by your computer, just remember this: it has the same IQ as your toaster and no opposable thumbs. They are machines, who can only do as they are told. You are the powerful being who can unplug them!

The Post-Impressionists Visit Canberra

I went to Our Nation's Capital to see the collection of 112 Post-Impressionist works kindly lent to us by the good folks at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, while their gaff is undergoing renovations.

Very often loans from foreign art museums consist of lesser works by famous artists, but this time they sent us the Good Stuff. Everything you've seen on posters and coasters. No runners-up.

An enthralling exhibition, well worth a visit.
The first Impressionist exhibition was held in 1874, ten years after the famous Salon des Refuses … the paintings in this exhibition date from the mid-1880s, when a new generation of artists broke away from Impressionism, creating the various Post-Impressionist styles which became the foundation of Modern Art.

The seven Van Goghs on show were painted between 1887 and 1889, and clearly show his progression from the subdued colour and impressionistic style of his Restaurant at Asniéres and Caravans at the Gypsy Camp near Arles, to the vibrant colours and unique style of his later work.

I particularly liked Imperial Crown Fritillaries in a Copper Vase: an exuberant swirl of colour, texture and light. One tends to forget that Vincent didn't only paint sunflowers!

Members will fondly remember Starry Night, which was a highlight of the NGV's blockbuster exhibition of 2004. I even spotted a few more works that were paying us an encore visit: Still Life With Fan by Gauguin, a small study for the Bathers at Asniéres by Seurat and Georges Lecombe's dramatic Purple Wave.

The Monets on show are the larger and more decorative ones he started painting in the late 1880s, when he also took to painting series. They include the iconic bridge over the lily pond and one of his many famous views of the Italian village of Bordighera. He painted fifty or more views of the town and surrounding area during a protracted stay in 1884: our members will be familiar with them.

My favourite among the Monets, however, was his view of the sun through fog on the Thames, with the Houses of Parliament in the background. I was fortunate enough to have seen this picture as part of the exhibition "Turner, Whistler, Monet: Impressionist Visions" at the Tate Britian in 2004 and I got the Whitehorse/Manningham Libraries to buy the catalogue.

Members might like to borrow the book from the library: these three great artists repeatedly painted the same spectacular views of the Thames, the Seine and the Venetian lagoon, depicting the effects of the light through mists and fog at various times of the day: it is interesting to see the similarities as well as the differences in their approach.

Meanwhile, back in Canberra, there was a row of five still lifes that caught my attention: two Cézannes, a Gauguin, a Sérusier and a Picasso. All centred round the same basic motif of apples on a table. It was interesting to see how the other artists had taken cues from Cézanne: the almost geometric shapes, cropped compostion and tilted planes.

I noticed how Picasso had used the same hatched brush strokes Cézanne does and how he reconfigured the elements of the picture into shapes that already foreshadowed his Cubist phase. It always amazes me how much great painters influence each other's work.

There were a number of Cézannes on display, including the famous Bathers and two lovely landscapes. The one I found most striking was his portrait of the art critic Gustave Geffroy, who had been fulsome in his praise of Cézanne's work. Cézanne disliked him personally, but painted his portrait as a "thank-you" for his support.

The figure of Geffroy forms a strong triangle in the centre of the painting. Both Picasso and Braque were fascinated by the structure of the bookcase and the space on the table surface: geometric and yet with unusual perspectives.

Perhaps because of his antipathy to the man, Cézanne left the face and hands incomplete, creating a mysterious and vaguely menacing image.

Pointillism, spearheaded by Georges Seurat, developed as a reaction against the free impressionist style—it was based on scientific colour theories using dots of colour from opposite sides of the spectrum, which blend when viewed from a distance.

It was too much to hope that they would part, even temporarily, with Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, but they did send a couple of studies for that and for the Bathers at Asniéres.

I was charmed by an early Seurat experiment with pointillism: Landscape with 'The poor fisherman' by Puvis de Chavannes, which he inscribed on the back: "Hommage à Pierre Puvisse de Chavannes".

The very painting by Puvis de Chavanne is also included in the exhibition, among the Symbolist works. Its bleak ambience and subdued palette is very similar to "Winter" by the same artist, in the NGV's collection. Our members will have seen it there.

The next room was dominated by Gauguin: his iconic Tahitian Women had pride of place, but most of the other works dated from his stay at Pont-Aven in rural France, where he led a group of young painters who developed Synthetism, a style inspired by the pious rural community of the region.

These paintings have a tranquil, almost spiritual air about them. I was particularly taken by the works of Emile Bernard, who uses large blocks of colour, often with black outlines.

There are also some Touluse-Lautrecs in the room: his cabaret and brothel scenes in total contrast with the Synthetists' rural tranquillity.

There is just not enough space to mention all the pictures I would like to talk about, but I can't go past Edouard Vuillard's In Bed (Au Lit). It caught my eye because I have always been fascinated by Vuillard's equally enigmatic The Doors, in the NGV's collection. Both have a neutral, almost monochromatic palette and planes of flat colour.

The pale green bar across the top of In Bed makes it seem as if the sleeper is under water - and what is the significance if the T-shape that floats over the sleeper's head? Is it a crucifix cropped by a green blind or is it the symbol of a dream?

Skipping right along to the last room in this marvellous exhibition, there are some beautiful, large decorative panels, cleary influenced by Art Nouveau. I particularly liked Public Gardens, a five-panel ensemble by Vuillard and two panels for a girl's bedroom, by Maurice Denis.

The NGA has a gallery of pictures from the exhibition on their website at where you can get a bit of a preview of what is on offer.

The exhibition is still on until 5th April 2010.