Claude Monet said: “Light is the most important person in the picture.” A clever turn of phrase, but one that neatly sums up the enduring appeal of impressionism among both art lovers and painters too. We all love a beautiful landscape, but what gives a landscape vibrancy is light.
Across the history of art, the impressionists understood this simple truth best. They were the first to break from the classical tradition to develop a more intuitive form of painting. In their hands, the precise perspectives of the renaissance masters gave way to something more fluid, something that comes closer to how we actually see the world.
Their spirit endures nearly 150 years on. And in the UK, there is no finer practitioner than Bruce Yardley. This devotee of Degas, Sickert and - of course - Monet is one of the Catto’s most popular and enduring artists. In this new exhibition, he shows why. There is so much to love in the show. But let’s take the two glorious ‘portraits’ of Bath Abbey. These wide angle landscapes - painted from Bruce’s own studio, located nearby - are like a masterclass in how to paint light. The first shows the abbey bathed in morning sun. The second as dusk approaches. The former is all watery blues and creamy stone; the latter inky purples and autumnal gold. Light is certainly the most important person here.
Bruce’s remarkable skill reflects his lifelong dedication to the craft of oil painting. He was born in 1962, the son of a painter. His father, John Yardley, was a noted watercolourist who encouraged his son to join him on his painting trips into the Surrey countryside.
Inevitably, Bruce began painting too. But it took a while for him to turn his pastime into a career. He studied history at Bristol and Oxford and then worked in the wine trade before committing to painting in 1996. Success came fast: he was very quickly taken up by leading galleries and elected an associate member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters’.
Throughout his career, Bruce has focused his eye on some of the world’s most beautiful cities: London, Bath, Venice, Rome, Paris. Who can blame him? All those rivers, bridges, churches and piazzas offer endless opportunities for a painter of light. In the new show he seizes these opportunities. It’s invidious to pick out examples, but From Rialto Bridge - Dusk stands out with its shimmering pink palette. And let’s not overlook Bruce’s elegant still lives. Works like Chrysanthemums on the Coffee Table bring Bruce’s love of light indoors and create small jewels of delicate symmetry.
Monet also said: “Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat, and that's the end. They are finished. I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat - the beauty of the air in which these objects are located, and that is nothing short of impossible.”
If he’s right and it is impossible, there’s so much to be gained from striving after what’s deemed to be unachievable. And that’s Bruce Yardley. Impossibly good.
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