Paula Modersohn-Becker: Mother with Child on her Arm, Nude II, 1906 – Oil on canvas. 80 x 59 cm
I guess no one needs to be told about the Royal Academy, founded in 1768 and iconically located not once but thrice: in the former Royal Palace of Somerset House (1771- 1836), the National Gallery (1837-67) and Burlington House, Piccadilly (1868 onwards). It used to be considered crusty and old-fashioned (the Royal Academy o‘ Farts, perhaps) but has become cooler in recent years. And having the full run of Burlington House since 2018 provides room for three substantial chargeable exhibitions. That may sound enough, but there’s always plenty else you can see for free. For example the Collection Gallery which sets out the RA history along with work by RAs; the tea / print room; displays related to the RA schools; photographs of all the current RA’s; and even odd corners are hung with works, for example three prints by Mali Morris in a stairwell. None of which is to deny that the big shows are the main draw. ‘Making Modernism’ advances the case for the importance of seven female artists active in Germany early in the 20th century. All have their merits, but the main reason to visit is that this is the first substantial UK showing of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s paintings. I confess to bias, as I’ve been to Bremen, where most of her work resides, and wrote my M Phil dissertation with reference to Sujata Bhatt’s brilliant reimagining of Modersohn-Becker’s thoughts in the poetry sequence ‘A Colour for Solitude’ (2002). Plenty has been written since about her, as an inspection of the RA’s shop will demonstrate, but I would still recommend Bhatt first.
London’s gallery scene is varied, from small artist-run spaces to major institutions and everything in between. Each week, art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent gives a personal view of a space worth visiting.