February 27, 2024

Byrne and Pugin: two new shows open at the Fine Art Society

The Fine Art Society on New Bond Street is the oldest commercial gallery in London. It pioneered the one-man show, exhibiting Whistler’s views of Venice in 1880. In their basement John Byrne’s latest show has just opened, showing the Scottish artist’s recent works in oil and pastel.

Entitled A Matter of Life and Death, the exhibition has a film noir atmosphere of glamorous danger, with the images mainly comprising caricatured reprobates and dancers. There is though a still life of roses and a portrait or two in the mix that diminish the atmosphere of the rest of the show.

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Many of the paintings have narratives and and a many film directors would be proud of the mis en scene. There’s something going on all over the images whether a skeleton holding a shiv, coloured pastel marks bulking together to make barricades or someone wielding a revolver.  There’s great theatricality in the naïf imagery, quiffs and cravats and it comes as little surprise Byrne is also a playwright and writer of a Bafta-winning TV series.

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Opening night at the Fine Art Society

Upstairs and on the ground floor the Society is showing decorative works by architect-designers from Pugin to Voysey. The furniture, ceramics, glass, textiles, lighting and metalworks mainly dates from the mid-to late 19th century, when British architects worked on all aspects of a building and its fittings. A.W.N Pugin who led the way in establishing the most important principles of the Arts & Crafts Movement is represented by forty-eight pieces including wall panels from the Palace of Westminster, door knobs and a simple oak prie dieu oak from 1854. There are also a pair of armchairs by William Morris amongst the 150 objects. Highlights include five fin-de-siecle glass vases by George Walton and a tile panel of eagles and snakes by William de Morgan.

Both shows are open until 25th June 2015

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