The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Henry Thomson

As part of my research to complete the coursework on Narrative Paintings I visited Tate Britain where I came across this painting by Henry Thomson – an artist I had not come across before.

My notes on the painting can be found here Thomson Jairus

What I found interesting about this particular exercise was researching the versions other painters have produced of the same story. It is probably not that popular a subject, compared to other biblical stories, but I did find a variety of approaches. The William Blake version was totally different to this one by Thomson. It seems much sparser with fewer characters and little detail in the background. The pose and gestures of the characters are, however, full of passion, you can almost feel the healing power passing from Jesus to Jairus’ daughter. You can see Blake’s version here Christ Raising Jairus’ Daughter

That is what I am finding fascinating about the course, choosing a paimnting to write about, but finding out so much about other works of art as part of the research.

Jeff Koons

Artists Rooms exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery


My first encounter with Jeff Koons’ work was at the Frieze Art Fair a couple of years ago where the stand of the Gagosian Gallery exhibiting his work stood out from all the others. Not just from the ‘celebration’ character sculptures on the floor or suspended from the ceiling – but also from the number of security guards employed to stop people touching the exhibits.

While I had seen his work in books and read about it, I had only seen his celebration characters at the Frieze. So I was pleased to be able to see a wider range of his work at the Artists’ Rooms exhibition.

There was an interesting video playing at the start of the exhibition ‘Philosophy of Perfection’ in which Koons talks about his influences and his work. The film can be seen here Jeff Koons’ Philosophy of Perfection

There were obvious Duchamp influences in his use of ‘ready mades’ although Koons did not give them a different use (as Duchamp did with his urinal/fountain). Instead he displayed perfect, unused examples of everyday objects to form a finished piece e.g. his vacuum cleaners or basketballs. The whole point is that they were unused and Koons was attempting to transform them from objects of practical desire to ones of aesthetic desire.

There was one example of his celebration series, which was a caterpillar supported by red chains from the ceiling. It looked just like a plastic inflatable animal – in fact it was made from polished and painted metal – designed to look like an inflatable. Again this seemed to me to be another attempt by Koons to demonstrate a transformation – everything is not as it first appears.

Winter Bears was another exhibit, one where Koons sought out expert wood carvers in Germany to produce this large, painted wooden sculpture. This looked like a huge version of a character from a children’s story. Displaying it as a serious art exhibit again shows Koons transformational approach.

These were the exhibits that appealed to me as having some artistic merit in the approach taken and what I thought were the messages the artist was trying to convey. But I was disappointed with other works in the exhibition. There were a number of large coloured glass mirrors cut to the shape of cartoon animals. I found it difficult to discover any redeeming feature or artistic merit in them.

Even worse was the marble bust Jeff and Ilona. A week earlier I had been to the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. One of the exhibits there was Rodin’s sculpture Eternal Spring. I found that sculpture beautiful, moving and a great demonstration of the nature of love. By contrast I found Koons’ Jeff and Ilona tacky and lacking any artistic merit. While immaculately carved from marble it contained none of the sensuous approach of Rodin nor any conveyance of the nature of love.

In conclusion an exhibition that I learned from. I learned more about the full range of Koons’ work, his philosophy and approach. I saw some work that appealed to me and I saw some work that I disliked. But I think I am now becoming better able to articulate the reasons I like or dislike works of art.


I think the Art review in The Scotsman probably best summed up my feelings towards the exhibition “Look at Koons and essentially you are looking at yourself looking at Koons.”
The full Scotsman Review is here Art review: Artist Rooms, Jeff Koons

Project 3 – Critical Review

Analysing the three strands of criticism; description, interpretation and judgement, sounds simple but I actually found it quite challenging. For example, at just what point does interpretation turn into judgement? There are the three strands, but the edges between them can be blurred.

Doing this exercise made me read the passage in a different way to how I would normally read the book. I had to read the Section several times and then went through the text and highlighted those parts that I thought fell into one of the three sections. I considered the Section as a whole and added comments of how I thought it all fitted together. Obviously this took a lot longer than would be the case with a normal reading.

It was a challenging and worthwhile exercise making me read the passage in a very different way to normal.

My review can be found here: Project 3 Critical Review


Following comments from my tutor I have amended this exercise slightly. The amended version can be seen here:

Project 3 Critical reading of a text

Feedback on Assignment 1

I was quite pleased overall with the feedback I received for my first assignment. Obviously there were comments on areas where I could improve, but that is the whole purpose of taking a course like this – how to learn and improve, I was a little worried when I first submitted the assignment as I wasn’t sure how good it was. It had been some time since I last did a History of Art module so I was a little nervous waiting for the comments from my tutor. When those comments came, however, they were very constructive and encouraging. I now feel that I have the base from which to develop as the course progresses.

The main areas for development are:
• I need to develop a formal academic style of writing with more substantial written sections to my work
• my annotations show solid visual skills but are a little too cursory, I need to say more about the images and their background
• I should incorporate sections of reflection upon the learning experience in my Learning l\og
• I have to refine the details of my research project.

Reading the feedback left me feeling pleased with the general comments and keen to improve on those areas highlighted.

Wayang Shadow Puppet

I was interested to visit the British Museum exhibition of South East Asian Shadow puppets as, many years ago, I had lived in Indonesia and had seen them there. Seeing them displayed as an exhibit perhaps changed the way in which I viewed them when in Java. I think I probably concentrated more on the skill of production and artistic nature of the painting and gilding when seeing them in a museum, whereas in Java I perhaps concentrated more on their function as a puppet. It also has to be said that the museum exhibits were particularly fine examples whereas many of the puppets I saw in Java were more produced for the tourist trade.

My notes can be found here: Wayang Shadow Puppet

Project 2 Description of a Sculpture

For this project I chose a wooden sculpture from the Japanese Gallery at the British Museum. It is a copy of a sculpture called the Kudara Kannon.

I chose this because I was quite taken by the delicacy with which it had been carved, the figure is holding  a water vase in her left hand – it is held so delicately you think it might fall at any moment.

The lighting in the gallery is quite low so my photographs aren’t the best I’ve ever taken, but I do think they capture the essence of the sculpture.

Project 2 Kudara Kannon


Following comments from my tutor I have made some amendments to this exercise, the amended version can be seen here: Project 2 Kudara Kannon

Annotation Guanyin

I found this an interesting work to research. There were several versions of the Guanyin in different Museums, some with their left arm resting on the ground, others where the left arm is held in apose in front of the body. Personally I found the version where the left arm is resting on the ground to be that bit more balanced.

In researching this work I found that the pose held in this sculpture is known as lalitasana (the pose of royal ease) – I think this might be why I prefer the sculpture resting the left arm on the ground – it looks more at ease. I do think that the ‘pose of royal ease’ is a wonderful term though!

Annotation Guanyin of the Southern Sea

Project 1

This is my letter describing the Woman from Willendorf to a friend.

As I said in earlier posts it is preferable to be able to see particular works before being able to comment on them. Obviously that is not possble to do that in this case. However I was able to find a few different photos taken from various angles so that helped a lot.

Letter describing Woman from Willendorf

The Woman from Willendorf

This was the first annotation I have done for some time as it is well over a year since my last Understanding Art course. I think I may have got a little rusty in the meantime and need to get back into the mindset needed for it.

I found it quite difficult to do this annotation – perhaps it was the nature of the work of art being considered (I found lots to talk about in a Titian painting!) I guess I need to work a bit more on this aspect.

What I did find interesting about this piece was the different approaches taken by two different commentators. The figure in Honour and Fleming and in the OCA course book is called ‘The Woman from Willendorf’ but other commentators have called it the’Venus of Willendorf’. This gives different connotations to the piece depending on which title is used, In the annotation I quote one person who thinks it should be ‘Venus’ because of its beauty; and another commentator who thinks that labelling it ‘venus’ rather than ‘Woman’ says rather more about the Art Historian doing the labelling than about the piece itself.

Annotation The Woman from Willendorf


Back in the 1980’s I worked for three years in Indonesia and had the great fortune to visit Borobudur while I was there. It was therefore of particular interest to me to look at Indonesian works of art, particularly from the Buddhist and Hindu periods.

When in the British Museum I looked at the exhibit of the Buddhist goddess Mamaki I was going to comment on it as part of this exercis (and may well still do so) but in researching it I came across the carving of Prajnaparamita. I thought this was a wonderful sculpture with so much grace and beauty that I wanted to add it to this collection, despite not being able to see the real thing and only being able to comment on photographs.

What I found particularly interesting is how it is thought that this is a representation of a Javanese Queen in the figure of a Buddhist goddess.

My comments on Prajnaparamita

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