Monday, 31 August 2009

"A Passion for Movement". Note 23.

"A Passion for Movement" is the title of a revealing exhibition of paintings, pastels, watercolours and graphics by Lowes Dalbiac Luard at present at the British Sporting Art Trust's Vestey Gallery, Newmarket. It remains open until 1 November 2009. Nearly seventy of Luard's pictures have been brought together for this exhibition curated by the artist's grandson, Lord Lyell. This is a remarkable assembly since the majority of the works have not been seen previously being drawn from private collections.

Luard's forbears, like many distinguished soldiers of their time, had considerable amateur artistic talent. This comes to full fruition during the life and in the work of Lowes Luard. He was born in India in 1872. Educated in England, Lowes veered away from studying mathematics at Balliol at the last moment and subsquently trained at the Slade School of Art from 1893 to 1897. Here his tutors were Fred Brown and Henry Tonks; Augustus John and Ambrose McEvoy were among his companions. Initially, he earned a living painting portraits and as an illustrator. Soon after his marriage, Luard went to Paris for a six-month period of study under Lucien Simon and Emile-Rene Menard. Excepting the interruption of the First World War and some summer visits to England, he and his growing family spent the next 25 years in France.

The expansion of Paris before the First War included building and industrial construction in which horses still played an important part. Luard was fascinated by the working teams of Percheron carthorses that were used in stone and timber hauling often on the banks of the River Seine. The strength, intelligence and muscled movement of these large animals provided the artist with many subjects for numerous drawings, watercolours and oils, including the large (30 x 72 inches) and extraordinarily vigorous painting of Timberhauling on the Seine, 1914 that is in the exhibtion. These horses are again the the subject of a more relaxed scene of Percherons at Water, 1911 (24 x 36 inches) beneath a wooden bridge with their 'carter'.

Aged 42, Luard joind the army as a second lieutenant in the Army Service Corps in August 1914. He was in France from that time until 1918, being awarded the DSO, Croix de Guerre avec Palmes, and he was mentiuoned in despatches on five occasions, repeating the bravery often shown by earlier generations of his family in India and the Crimea. During this time he managed to make a number of studies of horses at war, usually with the guns or hauling munitions in the appalling conditions of wet and mud that prevailed. There are some of these charcoal studies in the exhibition.

Returning to Paris with his family after the war, he continued to paint working horses and in 1921 his classic book Horses and Movement was published by Cassell & Co. His summers were spent in England where his interests broadened into land- and sky-scapes, as well as exploring what was to become a second fascination: the movement of the racehorse.

The family came back to Engalnd in 1934, settling in St John's Wood. At the time St John's Wood was the home of many artists. Luard was surrounded quickly by neighbours and friends with the same outlook and interests, some of whom he had known in Paris. Undoubtedly he gained fresh strength and inspiration by being in this milieu. It was now that he regularly visited Newmarket and, not unnaturally, many of the pictures in this marvellous exhibition are of racehorses training on the gallops or streaming across panoramas in a smooth flow of vibrant, exciting colour. The rugged, patient workhorses of Paris have given way to the excitable and, in some pictures, almost feline-like racehorses. Like other artists of his generation, Luard was also attractd to the circus. The bright lights and colours, the perfoming animals and the clowns furnishing him with subjects to draw and paint. Above all, his drawings of trapeze artists and acrobats are outstanding in their capture of human movement in a few deft strokes of brush or pastel. Lowes Luard died in 1944.

In the admirable catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, mention is made of Luard's relationships with many of his mentors and contemporaries in the artistic world. Two gaps among them occur to me. It is difficult not to presume that Gericault was not an influence in his early study of horses such was their joint exploration of equine vigour; and also that Luard must have been particularly aware of the work of his close contemporary and Francophile, Robert Bevan (1865-1925). The latter's interpretation of the structure of a hores's movement was in many ways similar to that of Luard, mostly in their graphic illustrations. I wonder if anyone would agree?

This is a beautifully presented exhibition of the work of an artist with a much broader perspective of life and art, not least of horses' movement, than is usually found among 'sporting painters'. Lord Lyell must be congratulated on gathering together such a wide-ranging selection of his grandfather's otherwise little known work accompanied, as I have said, by a most informative illustrated catalogue that can be obtained from th BSAT.

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