Robert McEune, Henry Tuke, David Robertson - Sunshine and Shadow: Watercolours and Pastels from the Laing Art Gallery Collection

Bruce Turnbull 21/02/2007

Rating: 3/5

Developed upon from a tradition begun by French impressionists, many artists in the late 19th and 20th centuries bestowed upon themselves the challenge of capturing the wonder of light, and the marvel of shifting weather. Through the medium of watercolour and pastel, “Sunshine and Shadow” collates the grandest interpretations of this ambiguous theme, whilst exploring some of the subterranean experimentalists our last two centuries provided.

Largely consisting of landscapes and ocean scenes, there are many great representations of light and shade to be enjoyed here. Henry Tuke's “Sundown” from 1915 is astonishingly detailed; depicting a wallowing sunset shrouding a flotilla of two-masted fishing ships. The docile colouring and deep expression is heart-warming and this, along with the white highlights and dark shading, is a sound demonstration of what this exhibit is showcasing. In complete contrast, local artist Robert McEune's “Figures in a Garden” is a sparkling vista of scenic opulence, with unintelligible characters dancing in joviality amongst shrubs of blossoming greenery. Again, painted with a sea of vibrant colours perfectly laid on a canvas of fawn, McEune's illustration is so vivid in atmosphere you can almost smell the flowers.

Strictly speaking, this is largely a local affair, with most of the paintings depicting Tyne and Wear and beyond, but there are however, interpretations of reaches that spread as wide as Italy and France, whilst keeping the blurred malaise of the watercolour theme well and truly trapped within. Focusing heavily on the nature of the sunset, this collection is rather one dimensional in that the same themes and textures are duplicated by each competing artist. The exception to this dearth of innovation, is David Robertson's fabulous panorama “Winter”, where not only do we have the most fascinating picture in the gallery, we are practically enveloped in its unique structure and threatened by its overt despondency. It takes our hearts and fills the void with a bleeding anguish as cold as the frost resting above the frame.
Truly inspirational.

A little too much sunshine, and not nearly enough shadow, this is doubtlessly an admirable effort from the Laing, which is rewarding in its consistency, if not in originality.