Ditch-crawler ‘seethes’ at inept Tate curator descriptions…

Last Friday my Mate and I trundled up to London Town to visit the Tate and take in a play (Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Adelphi – good!). We enjoyed a bit of the illuminated art too.

The Tate has, currently, an exhibition about ‘The Impressionists in London’ detailing some of the varied works of art these artists painted whilst exiled from France during and after the Franco-Prussian wars. It should be noted that some of the artists were conscripted and witnessed the horrors of the insurrection that followed France’s defeat. Some paintings from that period were also on display…

Tate Britain on Millbank, London.

The exhibition has a time to run yet.

See: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/ey-exhibition-impressionists-london

Impressionists in London guide – Courtesy of Tate Britain.

There were two bits that caused me to bridle. Both revolve around incorrect terminology within the maritime environment and pure ignorance, which is unnecessary at this level: the art world curators must have the ability to ask a question of say, the maritime Museum…

One of the impressionists featured was Monet (Surprise, surprise!). Some of his series of the Houses of Parliament in various levels of mist, fog and smog were in one section. These are lovely pictures. Within the mistiness of the art work, the level of detail is awesome. But when reading the information plates, I was staggered: the exhibition curators managed to be so very wrong about the river craft depicted.

The Houses of Parliament in Fog by Monet – one of a series. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Now, for anyone who knows what they’re looking at it is easy, yet, surely, other members of the general public viewing these pictures have a right to be given correct information so that they too know… The curators for this exhibition described the two vessels as ‘yawls’.

Drawing from Edgar J. March’s book, ‘Spritsail Barges of the Thames and Medway’, clearly showing what a bridge sail looked like.

The vessels are clearly spritsail barges with gear down and river sails set. The lowered mast, almost to deck, can be seen and were clearly seen by Monet otherwise he wouldn’t have painted them: impressionists painted what they saw, not what they thought they could see, or knew was there… Even the more distant spritsail barge has a discernible lowered mast.

A barge with bridge sails approaching Cannon Street Bridge – 1884 – from Frank Carr’s book, ‘Sailing Barges’.

These two pictures from readily available material or from the national Maritime Museum clearly show what a barge bridge sail looked like. The ‘March’ sketch, in particular, could have been a model for the artist’s work.

Now, I have NEVER heard of a Thames sailing barge being described as a ‘yawl’. She could, in perfection terms, be described as a ‘ketch,. Yawl, never!

The last section of the exhibition looked at the movement’s works as the time flipped into the early years of the 1900s. One of the younger members was Andre Derain. His work has a modernistic bent, with bold colour with scant fine detail which some could describe as ‘child-like’. These were evocative, all the same.

As I stood in front of a painting – Barges on Thames, Cannon Street Bridge, 1906 – I seethed. I was bemused with the description given in the info plate. A man on a what is a Thames lighter, one of two beside a spritsail barge, was stated to be ‘a man on a boat…’

Now, in the maritime world, a boat is a particular vessel. A car ferry is a ferry, a oil tanker is a tanker, a spritsail barge is a barge, and a Thames lighter is a lighter …

I walked out, feeling disgusted by such inadequate knowledge in what is supposedly a knowledgeable and educated sphere…

Obtaining a copy seems to be ‘difficult’, so the actual painting can be seen here:


Apart from my ‘little’ gripes, we both thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition … moving on to take in some of the delights within the gallery itself: we’d not visited for quite some time…


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