Paul McCartney obviously needs no introduction as a former member of The Beatles and a solo artist. However, his talents were not confined to singing and songwriting, as a recent exhibition of his photographs at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) reveals. The show includes 250 prints that were taken between December 1963 to February 1964.
The Week reports that the photographs were taken during the dizzying and intense period when the Beatles suddenly shot to worldwide fame, and the majority of them are being displayed in public for the first time. The prints are mainly in black and white, and capture the realities of touring and also feature portraits of the other Beatles members and hangers-on.
Particularly revealing are the portraits of John Lennon, which the Observer journalist Laura Cummings remarks are fascinating for the way they capture the ‘psychological nuances’ of this complex man. She points out that some of the quality of the photographs has been lost in the enlargement process, but overall the exhibition is well worth seeing.
McCartney’s photographs are not as technically proficient as you would expect from a professional photographer, but for the unique insight into the group’s first tour of America and the ensuing madness, they are unbeatable. The show can be seen at the NPG until 1 October 2023.
The NPG has recently reopened after a three-year £41m redevelopment programme and an overhaul of the collection on display.
The Art Newspaper explains that the gallery was established in the very different era of 1856 by Earl Stanhope with the motion in the House of Lords: “men honourably distinguished in war, in statesmanship, in art or science” that “would afford, not only great pleasure, but much instruction to the industrious classes”.
This has naturally led to a significant gender imbalance both in the sitters and the artists, with little acknowledgement of the contribution that women and minority groups have made to British society. Now the collection has been comprehensively reviewed and refreshed to be more inclusive and challenge gender stereotypes.
Another new focus is the inclusion of modern celebrities from the world of popular culture and film, with portraits of stars such as Jarvis Cocker, Judi Dench, and Kate Moss. There is a more egalitarian ‘salon hang’ in the main contemporary collection, with the late Queen Elizabeth II displayed alongside pop stars and politicians.
There is far more work by female artists, including Khadija Saye, Helen Chadwick, Ithell Colquhoun, Sarah Lucas, and Issy Wood. There is also far more photography than previously, with a jump from 4% to 29% across all of the galleries.
There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes to research some of the more ignored sitters and artists from history, and to provide valuable context around the more Empirical works.
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