One Day Something Happens, Paintings of People. Leeds Art Gallery. 18-04-15

One Day Something Happens, Paintings of People, at Leeds Art Gallery is a small, but diverse exhibition. It is unlikely that anyone wandering around it would find that everything appeals to them but the payback for that is the certainty that something will. Here are a few quick thoughts about the three paintings which made me stop and think longest. Lucian Freud’s Girl in a Green Dress, a small, early work painted in 1954 is an intense, searching portrait. He has really looked hard at the girl’s face and that gives it a presence, a dignity that belies its size. Every brush stroke counts and we are shown the texture of skin, hair and the corduroy of her jacket. It is both intimate and unforgiving. This is an artist who paints exactly what he sees. She is calm and composed but we want to know what she is thinking. There is something going on behind those eyes. IMG_0035 Walter Sickert’s painting, Juliet and the Nurse, painted in 1935 is just the opposite. It is a blur of emotion. Great distress is being received with tenderness and compassion- a portrait of a relationship rather than two people. It is sketchy, almost slapdash as though Sickert was standing there in front of a real moment trying to capture it as quickly as he could before it was lost. Wisdom and refuge is being given by someone who is old enough to have been there and known suffering. IMG_0033 I did not know of George Sauter at all before I saw this painting and I have only managed to find one other image by him on the web. He painted The Dispute in 1912 and I liked it very much. It is a very satisfying painting to look at, the colours, the fall of the light and the gleaming surfaces are beautifully rendered. What really interested me though was the contrast between this calm, composed composition and the action that it shows. It picks out a precise moment in an argument. The woman on the right has just spoken and her face is now set in defiance as she waits for a reaction. The woman on the left is about to speak, holding up her hand as she rejects what has been said. It is a moment of silence in the midst of anger and confusion and it reminded me of Vermeer’s gift for pinpointing a moment of drama in exactly the same way. IMG_0041 Each of these paintings fulfills the title of the exhibition in their own way. Something happens when an artist stands in front of a subject and it is still happening now when we open our mind and look at what took place- no matter how many years later.

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