The Ulster Museum’s exhibition ‘Order & Revolution’ contains a mixture of formal portraits, landscapes, and some furniture and sculpture, which is a refreshing mix and should be encouraged. On entering the gallery I was immediately drawn to a large mahogany cabinet from the 1730’s. I thought the doors were very unusual as they fold in half back on themselves when they’re open to give easier access to the inside of the cabinet and let more light in. What was particularly beautiful was the curve of the drawers being reflected in the detailing on the doors and the curved top section of the cabinet. The cabinet is thought to be a custom design for a Dublin merchant and is about 8 feet tall.
Another one of my favourites was ‘The Family of Thomas Bateson of Orangefield’ because it demonstrates how portraits were used to show the wealth and social standing of the person portrayed. In this artwork behind the children there is a landscape of Belfast harbour, showing how Thomas Bateson obtained his wealth, and a landscape of the family home and estate to show the full grandeur. The children are pointing at a globe, to show their father was a wealthy well-travelled merchant.
Image courtesy of NMNI
I also liked the contrasting colours of George Barrett’s ‘Sunrise and Ruins’ painted around 1755. It’s different from many of the painters at this time who copied the style of the European greats. I really liked the contrast of the hazy early summer morning just appearing over the ruined buildings in the background with the darker green of the trees in the foreground. I was fascinated by the cracks in the paint as well, and it got me thinking how difficult conservation of paintings must be with the age and size of some of the artworks and all those layers of paint!
It was lovely to see a sculpture in the exhibition, a copy of Antonio Canova’s ‘The Three Graces’. I liked the way the sculpture was lit, with the shadows the light was casting on the curves of the figures, and the different position of each figure. I was impressed to learn that it was carved from a single piece of marble, given the complexity of the piece.
An interesting fact about the portrait of Theodosia Magill of Castleward by Joshua Reynolds is that Theodosia’s nose has been altered from the original depiction. Looking at the layers of paint using infrared reflectography showed that Theodosia’s nose had been made smaller and straightened. Since there was no photography in the eighteenth century portraits were the only representation of people and artists needed to create a flattering portrait so that they would continue to work, so minor amendments would be made, like an earlier version of Photoshop!
Image courtesy of NMNI
Order & Revolution is on at the Ulster Museum until 26th April so you’ve got plenty of time to catch the exhibition