Benalla U3A’s Art Appreciation group held our monthly appreciation meeting in the Gallery and were privileged to listen to a short lecture by Catherine Bennetts-Cash discussing some of the portraits. Catherine’s lecture concentrated on a small number of the portraits with which she had some familiarity and was able to provide a greater understanding of both the artists and the portraits. Her favorite was The Hat Maker--Rosie Boylan by Evert Ploeg. Catherine explained the concept behind the winning portrait and handed out Photostat copies of the 16th Century painting under whose influence it had been painted.
The 2016 winner by Warren Crosset is entitled Self Portrait after St Jerome Flanders. Warren Crosset is a Commercial Artist who won the prize with his first ever entry. It is fair to say it is one of the small number of standout portraits amongst the 30 finalists. It has elements of both Caravaggio and Da Vinci in it and it depicts the artist pointedly resting his left forefinger on an envelope with him looking pensively off to the right. He is dressed in modern dress but his surroundings except for the envelope are from the Reformation. The original painting on which it is based is attributed to as being in the Style of Joos Van Cleve who painted in the 16th Century and this painting is in the NGV. It is not often that modern painters can successfully include past references in their paintings but in this case Warren Crosset has it spot on. The envelope representing the skull has a modern stamp with a skull instead of the Queen and a fly is resting on the envelope. There is Cyrillic writing on the envelope which I presume makes mention of a skull. Instead of placing himself in his own house he has placed himself in St Peters in Rome or somewhere similar and he has a mediaeval bible on his desk. The value of this painting is that these influences are not readily apparent on first viewing and when they are obvious they do not look out of place. The central point of the painting on which the viewer’s eye is drawn to is the artist’s hand which is both resting and pointing to the envelope. Hands are often featured in portraits and this painting captures the hand completely.
The other 29 finalists are all of a certain standard with three or four standouts. One or two of these are exceptionally well painted and only the classical references in the winning portrait set it apart.
The following rate a special mention – Sacrifice of the Model, David Bichard of Carpathian, On the Verge of a Sudden Realisation and The Artist’s Mother. If you visit the Gallery I would advise close viewing of all these paintings.
Benalla has been fortunate to get this exhibition and a special effort to visit the Gallery is recommended.
We thank Catherine for her interest in U3A and look forward to her next lecture on Monday 1st August.