Art | Voyeuristic Practices


The new temporary exhibition at Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, ‘Attitudes in the City’ has been curated by a group of MA students from the University’s School of Fine Art. The exhibition effectively depicts early 20th century scenes of a rather mundane nature. However each picture is drawn with vibrancy, capturing the very essence of its era, making this no dull display. The collection is wonderfully curated and provides insight into history; each work accompanied by a short piece of text providing extensive explanation of the practices, ideologies and philosophies of the time.

Central to the exhibition is the controversial nature of the Camden Town Group as artists, who, inspired by the more bohemian ideas of Europe, presented images reflective of the ‘free flowing’ attitudes of French impressionism. These ‘post impressionist’ works incorporate European ideas of impressionism into works that are quintessentially English.

The works focus on scenes of a domestic nature, and it is not surprising therefore that the figures depicted are predominantly women. Impressionism was frequently concerned with women within domestic confinements, or else as the subject of the gaze, scrutinized in a public sphere. Showing women in various domestic activities, such as sewing in Malcolm Drummond’s ‘Woman with a Sewing Machine, acts as an interesting contemporary statement on the ideas, and indeed ideals of their sex.

The works have a further theme of voyeurism, the women depicted seemingly unaware of being subjected to our gaze. We, the viewers, effectively have our face pressed up against the window of an early 20th century domestic household, watching these everyday activities. This provides a level of excitement to our looking: we are watching what shouldn’t be seen.

Amongst this, viewers will be delighted to find the familiar scene of Leeds University buildings depicted through ink and crayon by Charles Ginner in 1915, in addition to exciting escapism by Spencer Frederick Gore, who takes us back to a time of extravagance in ‘Study for Britannia Ballet’. The study provides an insight into the artist’s intentions for painting, and how he has gone about mapping the perspective in a way that incorporates the viewer into the ballet’s audience.

This beautifully presented exhibition indeed offers historical escapism and aesthetic delight, whilst simultaneously outlining the fundamental societal issues of early 20th century England.

Anna Beketov


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