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Grimly ponderous … Untitled by Craig Horsfield and After the Bath (Woman Drying Herself) by Degas. Photograph: National Gallery, London/Craig Horsfield

A photograph of the British countryside has been placed among the oil paintings in the National Gallery – causing people idling past to do double-takes. You can see them wondering: “Is that a painting? It’s so smooth, so shiny, so flat.” The picture shows bright fields and skies, seen through a dark thicket: the sensation of looking out from a hidden nook makes it an introspective, hesitant work. Perhaps that’s why it hangs so well alongside a great landscape painting by the quiet and contemplative master of the genre, John Constable.

Richard Billingham’s shot has invaded the holy sanctum of high art that is the National’s permanent collection as part of Seduced By Art, an exhibition of past and present photography. The gallery is a temple to oil on canvas. What happens when you allow photographs among the daubs?

Billingham strikes up a sombre, sensitive conversation with Constable’s The Cornfield: the result is a comparison of the English countryside in the early 1800s and early 2000s, proving, as the show claims, that photography can have a meaningful relationship with great painting. That’s just as well, because the two other pairings in the main galleries are disastrous. Seeing Richard Learoyd’s photograph Jasmijn in Mary Quant next to Ingres’s 19th-century beauty Madame Moitessier does nothing for either. As for a Craigie Horsfield photographic nude, shown between two sensual paintings by Degas, it’s an elephant among elegance.

Yet Degas, as it happens, was fascinated by photography. The great 19th-century painter of modern life took photographs and brooded on the relationship between the brush and the camera. Elsewhere in the National hangs his portrait of Princess Pauline de Metternich. Based on a photograph, the work gives the princess the slightly cadaverous look of some Victorian snaps, almost as if he’d copied a 19th-century deathbed photo. It’s a shame the show did not place some of Degas’s own photographs among his paintings, instead of Horsfield’s grimly ponderous black-and-white nude; this life-size work was surely inspired by After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself, the Degas work it partners (and thus, in turn, inspired by Degas’s own source, a drawing by Michelangelo). But arty quotation does not make art more powerful.

Is photography art? Clearly, some photography is, along with millions of camera-made images – from passport pictures to surveillance stills to my own snapshots – that are not. The trouble with Seduced By Art is that it has selected photographs that clearly aspire to be Art with a capital A. But why not put a passport photograph next to Giovanni Bellini’s Renaissance portrait of Doge Lorenzo Loredan? It is, after all, an exact depiction of someone’s facial features. Or what about a holiday snap next to something by the great 17th-century landscapist Claude Lorrain? That might say more, suggest more, matter more.

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Jonathan Jones
Guardian


“Loddie,” by Michael Williams, 2007

Few modern myths about art have been as persistent or as annoying as the so-called death of painting. Unless, of course, it is the belief that abstract and representational painting are oil and water, never to meet as one.

The two notions are related. The Modernist insistence on the separation of representation and abstraction robbed painting of essential vitality. Both notions have their well-known advocates. And both, in my mind seem, well, very 20th century.

Pictorial communication — signs, symbols, images and colors on a flat surface — is one of the oldest and richest of human inventions, like writing or music. It started on rocks and the surfaces of clay pots and in the woven threads of textiles, then moved to walls, wood panels, copper and canvas. It now includes plasma screens, Photoshop and graphic novels. Even so, paint on a portable surface remains one of the most efficient and intimate means of self-expression.

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Roberta Smith
New York Times


Richard Wright, winner of the Turner Prize. The highly intricate gold-leaf painting across one wall of the gallery is the artist’s most complex work to date. (Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

A graffiti artist has taken this year’s Turner Prize. It’s the sort of announcement that would normally be expected to unleash a torrent of “call that art!” rants. But surely not this time?

Richard Wright’s shimmering wall painting, a luminous expanse of intricately patterned gold-leaf that seems, as you enter the exhibition’s second gallery, almost to float upon its far wall, is the type of artwork that even a traditionalist can admire.

Wright, who at 49 is nudging the upper age limit for entrants, pays homage to the cartooning techniques of the great Renaissance artists who, tracing their pictures on to paper, then pricked holes in the surface and puffed chalk dust through them, thereby transferring their images on to the wall.

His delicately applied patterns are fundamentally abstract, but they play with figurative possibilities. You might see leaping figures, discover mathematical geometries, find peering faces or apocalyptic landscapes. But even as the mind seeks out and fixes upon a single image, it evaporates away into the background turbulence. And perhaps, more than anyone, one is reminded of the work of Turner himself — of his huge atmospheric late canvases and the depthless maelstroms of his diaphanous fogs.

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Rachel Campbell-Johnston
Times Online

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