Robin Simon

Meeting point

I prepared for this exhibition in Düsseldorf by taking the short train journey down the Rhine to Cologne, which would hate to be thought of as a twin city. Its gigantic cathedral is as I first saw it some 40 years ago, still black with soot (but where would you start to clean it?), and the streets still remind me of Swansea, but without the sense of space. The same low-rise blocks of anonymous postwar buildings are on every side, with the same seemingly temporary shops and takeaways, only with Würstel as well as burgers.

Where Swansea has the fine Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Cologne has the Wallraf-Richartz, now in a handsome new building adorned in the old-fashioned manner with the carved names of artists whose works are held within. Here is Van Dyck, Murillo, Courbet; here is Renoir, and here is …Stokes. Yes, Marianne Stokes, technically flawless purveyor of goblins and fey adventurers, making a useful point for anyone about to look at lots of academic paintings. So much 19th-century art remains condemned by the proleptic history that considers artists irrelevant if their work failed to fit with the onward march to ‘modernism’.

I recommend fortification with a few Würstel, though, before entering the recently reopened Art Deco Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf. There are some 420 paintings on view, spread over three floors. The first thing you see, in a huge space showing history and religious scenes, is none other than ‘The Two Princes in the Tower’ (correctly, ‘The Children of Edward’), exhibited by Paul Delaroche at the Paris Salon of 1831. He is much misunderstood. We are not meant to think of what is before us as ‘reality’ but as a tableau vivant, a scene performed upon a stage, reality at one remove.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in