Coronavirus: A global pandemic told through through art – BBC Newsnight

published on July 28, 2020

So your first choice James is the sort of collection of surgeons in the hospital it's a Barbara Hepworth piece owned actually by the Royal College of Surgeons will you talk us through it yes my first choice is Barbara Hepworth

She's typically known as a stalker but she made some very great drawings and this one was inspired by her own encounter with our healthcare system in the mid 1940s a young daughter a very tragically became quite ill and was

Hospitalized in Exeter but Hepworth was so inspired by the medical staff there but in the late 1940s just as the NHS was being formed in fact she made a series of exquisite drawings about the doctors and surgeons and nurses at work

And mrs are one of them and you can see they have ample personal protective equipment but I think what's so wonderful about this drawing is the way she represents the surgeons and the nurses working with almost sacred grace

You know the hands of heroic there's a light behind that that emanates like a a halo and I think this resonates with how many of us are thinking about the NHS staff today it's amazing isn't it there's sort of almost ecclesiastical

Gestures and the way all the eyes are focused on that one central point it's like a religious painting what about the second one that you've picked out it's called the wind from the sea Andrew Wyeth this was done in 1947 and and we

Are inside the room looking out yes I picked this paintings I think that people have never needed their windows more than they do now there are many great windows in the history of art of course but this is probably my favorite

As you say it's by an American artist called Andrew Wyeth and it was inspired by a moment when he went up to an attic which was very hot and airless and so he opened the the ratty old window and as he died as he did this huge gust of

Vitalizing sea air came into the window and brought the net curtain to life and it's a really great description of the way that the outside is brought inside and I think it reminds us of all of our talk of ventilators

That windows are our own domestic ventilators they bring light they bring air into our homes and they play a crucial role in our mental and physical health especially at times like this so it's about both the wind and and

Breathing essentially as well yes exactly and windows of the way that homes breathe and we need them deeply and what's wonderful as you can see both the inside and the outside in this there's the interior frame of the BB

Delmas derelict old house but in the background you can see that wonderful sweeping landscape and the third one where have you look at is called hope by George Frederick Watts a Victorian artist it looks I mean I have to say it

First comes it looks like despair rather than hope but it was incredibly powerful many people mistook it for despair and thought it should have been called despair because at first sight it is a quite depressing image it shows the

Embodiment of Hope a woman in a blindfold because hope like faith is blind and she's sitting on this globe that seems extinguished of life and she's trying to play this instrument but all the strings are broken except for

One and yet nevertheless she continues to play that instrument and as she does so her a small star you might not be able to see it but a small star begins to glimmer above that and I think the painting is trying to say that when the

Situation seems entirely hopeless there is still hope if we believe in it and it had a huge social impact of timeless painting sermons were preached on it people's lives were changed by it there's one story that a woman was

Walking down the banks of the Thames about to commit suicide when she saw a reproduction of this painting in a shop window turned round went home and then started a new life in Australia and so I think

It's proved like so many of these pictures that art can give a sauce can give us hope you really think that there is the power then in the image too to take you off the wrong track and put you onto the right track in something that

Fundamental I think I've been all forms of car have immense power to to bring us happiness to bring a solace to bring us comfort when we need those things we can't of course go to galleries right

Now do you feel that you can get as much from art in a different way through your screen I think we obviously live in a time where we can't visit museums and galleries but we are also lucky that we live in a time when so many artworks

Including the ones I've discussed are available in high-resolution online and I would never claim that it's the same as seeing the thing in the flesh but there is still so much beauty it really can be a solace in these difficult times

And it's a wonderful thing to be able to bring these artworks and enjoy these artworks in one's own home James Fox thank you very much

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