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Fighting History at Tate Britain

August 18, 2015

ArtsPaintingUncategorizedvideo | by Harry Seymour


Tate Britain’s Fighting History Exhibition aims to examine the course of British History Painting, especially when examining issues surrounding war. I think. It’s not entirely clear from the outset.

Tate seems to have a knack for ignoring chronology and curating shows by disjointedly jumbling he artworks around the walls in an effort to make the viewer engage and explore and delve and weave. But it doesn’t always work. The themes of the rooms in this show are not clear or apparent – you’re primarily greeted by Jeremy Deller’s works which are described as “radical” in their approach. I sense an underlying tone of Tate being pro-left, as they capitalise on his recreating of the miners strike as an f*** you to any Tory voters.

The show continues from this by a horribly lit room containing what could be an entirely different exhibition all together – several paintings by some of the best and worst of Britain’s History painters. Throughout the show there are several stand out works by eminent painters of the 1700’s, 1800’s and 1900’s, such as John Singleton Copley’s stunning The Death of Major Pierson and John Minton’s moving Death of Nelson. However there is no need to place an inferior Copley on the wall next to his dramatic masterpiece, which captures the anguish of Pierson in brilliant light.

The Death of Major Peirson by John Singleton Copley, (1781-3), Tate Britain
The Death of Major Peirson by John Singleton Copley, (1781-3), Tate Britain

Even despite their amazing collection of Turners, the one selected for this show lacks any of the power and presence of some of his other works. In fact it doesn’t even depict a moment from history – defeating its point and causing the artist a dis-service.

The show is worth the £12 entry if you want to see some less often shown glorious paintings by some of the 18th, 19th and 20th century’s best British artists, but expect little else.

By Harry Seymour

Fighting History at Tate Britain – 9 June til 13 September 2015