Lucy Davies | Daily Telegraph

posted by Michael on 01 February 2010

Our Critic's Choice reviewer for the month of February is Lucy Davies.

Lucy edits Telephoto, the Telegraph's new online art and documentary photography space. She is a photography critic for the Telegraph, picture editor of the Sunday Telegraph Seven magazine and when not working, Lucy manages to paint portraits.

Reynolds after Raphael by photographic artist Victoria HallShe writes: "I've chosen these three photographs by Victoria Hall, in which she casts herself as the lead in re-enactments of familiar paintings.

Unabashedly contrived in their staging, they embrace, even exalt theatricality. The ensuing slippage between what is real and what is represented makes them provocative on several levels.

Firstly, they grasp photography's aptness for and history of toying with the fictitious. Think Julia Margaret Cameron's housemaids playing scenes from the Elgin Marbles; Marcel Duchamp posing for Man Ray as Rrose Sélavy. Cindy Sherman's actresses, Yinka Shonibare's Diary of a Victorian Dandy.

Secondly, the paintings she has chosen to emulate are interesting in themselves. When he painted Caroline Duchess of Marlborough, Reynolds was imitating and intending his audience to make the connection with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Madonna of the Sedia. Hockney drew on both The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck and A Rake's Progress by William Hogarth in the symbolism and composition of his painting - there's a version of the Hogarth on the wall in Hockney's version, if you look closely.

After Hockney by photographer Victoria HallI'm reminded too, that Rembrandt painted himself in antique costume; that Durer and Botticelli, Mantegna and Piero della Francesca painted themselves into narrative scenes; that Courbet said he intended his painting to be a stage, with he the central character. The ways in which photography has dovetailed with theatre, film and Old Master paintings is fascinating, and Victoria's work calls to mind and makes a stimulating exchange with her antecedents.

Furnished with a wealth of meticulously matched props - an imported raffia chair, a period telephone, the exact vista from the correct window at Blenheim Palace, Victoria's versions also move or reverse some objects - the Hockney is missing its husband and cat - and adds modern touches - the Burdett Coutts gains a spy novel - but they retain the alabaster grace and redolent colour of the originals.

After Ross by photographer Victoria HallLastly, they reach beyond their artifice to address contemporary concerns - the relationship between audience and artist in today's consumer culture; the influence the heritage industry has on our visual language and how Englishness is concerned almost entirely with the past. As she says, period dramas, stately homes and national history have become an important part of how we identify ourselves.

I think they work partly as a novelty, but they are also deeply moving: a fine thread of familiar beauty reaching across the centuries, toying with history, all the time analysing the value of artistic vision."

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