Saturday, 1 December 2012


 Medici Gallery Cork St until December 3rd

Michael Bennallack Hart's landscapes are said to follow in the tradition of Romantic 19C painters. '(He) has a particular feeling for the solidity of landscape: the white mass of a chalk cliff, the solid shapes of clipped hedges, heavy dark blocks of foliage. It lends an impressive and individual quality of weight and calm to his work, and an elegiac serenity."(Jane Ross) As you walk into the Medici Gallery you sense the meditative quality in his paintings, shown, for example, in Seafront, the image at the end of the text.

But then you come to Burning Boat, Lake Maggiore. It's a shock. The Lake is one of the most beautiful places I have seen: a large sinous stretch of  water, colours changing, on the south side of the Alps, where tropical plants flourish. The villages and villas seem to have tiptoed round the edge to find a  space flat enough to build upon. It's a place of steep rocks and tiered gardens which run hot and cold with azaleas, eucalyptus, orchids, cypress, neoclassical temples, balconies and fountains. Inside, the villas boast frescos, sculptures, curly staircases, clocks, and breath-taking views.

But in Burning Boat all that colour and scent and beauty is blacked out. Azure sky is whitewashed by wood-burning  smoke from the lively flames which leap to the sky, freed from a cradle of smouldering  beams.

Why is the boat burning? We do not know the back story and no one is at the scene to hint at what has just happened. But the flames are enough to remind us that the lake, its villas and chapels and islands, has a long and violent history. Tales of treachery and hidden tunnels, smuggling and savagery, feuds and fury are packed into the local guide books and seeing this painting we believe every word.


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