The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics at the Walker Art Gallery.

History  On numerous occasions over the many (many) years, I'd have a good moan on here about how little of London's non-contemporary art takes a trip up North.  Here's a version of the rant and although much has changed in the intervening years, through Tate Liverpool having a slightly more relaxed policy to including pre-1900 as a feature of their exhibitions and a few paintings from private collectors being included at National Museums Liverpool shows, I eventually decided to take myself to the art and spent the best part of four or five years visiting the various galleries in London on a monthly basis including spending whole afternoons just visiting a couple of rooms at the National Gallery.

That obviously stopped when the pandemic began but I just managed to visit the National Portrait Gallery at the beginning of 2020 to see the Tudor galleries at the end of a day spent following a Shakespeare walk around London, the chronology of the British monarchy laid out in a series of faces humanising these historical figures, albeit in the propogandist painting style of the period mainly by unknown artists copying earlier paintings by other unknown artists of Hans Holbein.  These works were often created as part of diplomatic missions, often with a dating aspect like a mid-1500s Twitter in which swiping left led to war.

So you can imagine how deep my eye roll was when I read that ironically what potentially could be the contents of the Tudor gallery at the NPG was going to be visiting the Walker.  Finally, a selection of the nation's treasures on tour ... which I just happened to have seen for free relatively recently and in an exhibition I'd now have to pay for.  But having complained for years about these national treasures not going on tour it seemed churlish to not pay to see them again and add to the all important visitor numbers which my be impressive enough to lead to more of this sort of thing find its way here.

And this really is most of the Tudor gallery at the NPG in a different venue, as though a portal has been opening up into the space in London.  The rare opportunity for the paintings to go on tour has been facilitated by the temporary closure of the gallery for refurbishment and an imperative to keep them accessible to the public in some form.  Before the Walker, The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics was at The Holborne Museum in Bath (or Barth) and perhaps the most impressive element is just how much of the exhibition is sourced from there.  This isn't an occasion when a few key works are padded out with elements from NML's own collection.

The lions share of the exhibition is themed around Henry VIII and Elizabeth I with Edward, Jane and Mary slotted in between.  At one end of the main room portraits of Henry's six wives are gathered and at the other end Elizabeth's "favourites" (fuckboys) so if you're interested in scandal, they're all here before so many of them lost their head before literally losing their head.  Although the exhibition includes the Walker's own world famous portraits of both, the Holbein copy and the Hilliard, there are multiple images of both monarchs from various, usually anonymous, hands.  But all of the key figures are represented.

If I had to make a recalibration in my expectations, it's that this isn't an art exhibition, its a history exhibition illustrated through painting.  Almost all of the portraits are accompanied by biographical information but very little that places them within an art historical context.  Obviously this is mostly to be expected.  Most these are works by unnamed artists and its the person who they depict which is of most interest.  But I would have preferred to see more of the kinds of information seen on the NPG's website about technique and attribution (although I could perhaps have simply had the website to hand via an ipad).

Plus this is my first proper exhibition in over two years (or indeed visit to an art gallery at all really) so I'm also a bit out of practice in navigating artworks and labels and other visitors.  Gallery fatigue set in quicker than usual which meant that when I reached the last of the three rooms, which looked at how the Tudors reflected out into the world, through exploration, slavery and culture its possible I could have spent more time absorbing the display.  But it's also true that once you've seen half a dozen roughly similar men in tights and ruffs and well appointed beards, they begin to blur into each other.

Unsurprisingly the advertised Shakespeare portrait isn't the Chandos - the painting with an accession number NPG 1 doesn't travel much - and I have it on my wall at home anyway (or a jigsaw at least).  The playwright is represented instead by the Martin Droeshout's engraving created for the First Folio (although this is apparently from one of the second or third editions).  But given how much of the collection is here, I'm very interested to know what the economics of the show were in terms of insurance and cost of travel.  The impressively massive Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I is here which looks too big to fit through the doors.

So was The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics worth the advanced price of £13.  Yes, I suppose, kinda?  I know that if I hadn't seen the paintings in London already on a couple of occasions and the Henry VIII show at the British Library in 2009 (with which this also shares a few items) I'd probably have been a bit less blasé about everything, indeed I know I wouldn't.  But it was nice to be in a space with these important treasures and to have them within walking distance of home (just about) (took me about fifty minutes) rather then three hour train journey (including the tube).  More please, and soon.