Thursday, 4 November 2010

Face to Face

Such a strange feeling to read about my late grandmother Ruth Borchard and the Face to Face self portrait collection in this week's Time Out!

A (mixed) review of the exhibition at Kings Place

Self-portraits can be morbidly fascinating. It was the introspective nature of the endeavour that prompted the late Ruth Borchard to build a collection of 100 self-portrait paintings and prints by mainly British artists, each bought/commissioned for a maximum of 21 guineas. This selection, spanning 50 years (1921-71) offers welcome glimpses of several key developments in British painting, not least the kitchen sink school. The specificity of Borchard's interest, however, and this lacklustre, frieze-like display make one all too aware of the gaps: those who are not and should be represented here.

Borchard, who fled Hamburg during WWII, was clearly a woman of influence and a hard bargainer. Many decades on, it seems preposterous that artists of Euan Uglow and Roger Hilton's ilk would agree to part with such personal works for so little.The majority were made and bought during the 1950s and '60s, when post-war austerity and social realism ruled. The sobre palettes and serious poses generally reflect this, as opposed to more abstract concerns from across the pond.

Among the many art-school educators (William Coldstream, John Minton), David Bomberg looms large: from certain perspectives around the odd balcony space, there appears enough muddy slap to drown a field of festival revellers and overwhelm the more subtle but significant pieces of this art-historical puzzle. While one might argue that the holes in any collection are as pertinent to the backstory as the works included (the fact that only five women artists made the pack speaks volumes), one tends to rely on Borchard's accounts of her dealings with the artists as tonal chart to match these p‚té-hued views on the past.

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