Graham Sutherland and John Piper

I caught the quite extensive show of Sutherland at Oxford. There was a deliberate concentration on landscapes, especially of Welsh scenes. The issue was that the extensive output of fairly small pictures of this type did not necessarily represent the finished product. It can be hard to decide whether Sutherland is working through ideas or leaving such works fully formed. Insofar as they are in the former category they are to that extent unsatisfactory. An undifferentiated mixture of finished and half-finished works is difficult for any but the non-specialists to enjoy. There were no major large-scale works to contemplate, perhaps because the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford doesn’t have quite the exhibition budget of its namesake in New York. A better format would have been a few big pictures and their preliminary sketches, so that one could trace their development.

The exhibition of Michael Gyselynck’s Piper collection at the River and Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames is, by contrast, a sweet little affair. The collector had set out to own a wide variety of good quality works by Piper and the attraction of a nice manageable group of excellent works from a domestic collection was obvious. It was notably easier to relate to than the more normal battery of pictures seen in a big public gallery setting. I would recommend this to anyone looking to begin to grasp the astonishing range of Piper’s wide talents. Be warned about what you think is going to be the catalogue for the show, though. I happily bought it and took it away to read later, only to find that it was left over from a totally different Piper show at the same venue over 10 years earlier!