sea and sieve

british folk art exhibition at the tate britain

Last weekend we visited the British Folk Art exhibition at the Tate Britain in London. Your first question may well be ‘what is folk art?’ – please don’t ask me, as I’m still not sure. As far as I can tell, it is objects which have their roots in tradition rather than gallery walls, and their expression in mostly self-taught amateur skill. It takes in hobbyists and artisans and amateurs and craftspeople, and ends up in a beautiful and slightly wonky muddle of wooden fish, enormous figureheads and tiny stitching.

Whatever ‘folk art’ is and however snooty some reviewers had been, I was pretty sure it was up my street.

me outside the Tate Britain

(Photography is not allowed in the exhibition, so I can only show you a few things where pictures are available.)

Shop signs - British Folk Art exhibition (Press Shot 3 © Ana Escobar)

Shop signs – British Folk Art exhibition (photo © Ana Escobar)

Each wall or section of the exhibition is painted in a different bright pastel. The buttercup yellow behind this collection of old shop signs helps to re-create them as the works of art that they are. Did you know that the three golden balls of the pawnbroker are related to the Medici family crest (six balls)? And that the melancholic bear would have sat outside a barber’s shop, because barbers used to use bear grease?

Sunbeam by Gunner Baldie, 1875-1880 (photo © BBC)

Gunner Baldie’s Sunbeam, 1875-1880 – © BBC

There were a few embroidered ships, mostly done by retired sailors who had perfect working knowledge of the cat’s cradle of ropes in the rigging.

Patchwork bedcover, James Williams 1818 – 1895

Patchwork bedcover by James Williams 1818 – 1895

James Williams was a tailor who used 5,300 scraps of material and ten years to make this striking bedcover – even its subjects are a patchwork of elephants, biblical scenes, trains, bridges and geometric patterns.

Nine Angry Bulls c.1870 - John Funnel © Compton Verney

Nine Angry Bulls c.1870 by John Funnel ( photo © Compton Verney)

I find this painting completely charming, I would hang it on my wall in a flash. The eponymous angry bulls, the hare which has caused all the fuss, the gentleman who has tumbled into the stream and that soft glowing sky.

Bone cockerel by unknown artist (possibly French Prisoner of War)

Bone cockerel by ?French Prisoner of War(photo © Tate)

And the star of the show, a chicken made from discarded pieces of bone. Its detail is entrancing, its expression is defiant. I hope that it stared down those skeptical reviewers who felt these pieces to be beneath the Tate Britain. How could they not think it beautiful.

More details and images at the Tate Britain website.

This entry was published on 23 July 2014 at 11:53 pm. It’s filed under museum and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “british folk art exhibition at the tate britain

  1. I’m really enjoying reading through your whole blog like a massive stalker by the way! I love all of your little adventures!

    • Ha I have totally done the same on yours! I’m not clever like you, doing proper interesting posts, so mine just have to be ‘we went here and it was nice’.


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