Portrait of a Lady: the life and passions of Lady Barber, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

3.00

 

This is one of those good/bad exhibitions – good in so far as it tells us an interesting story about the foundation of an important institute of fine arts in Birmingham eighty years ago within the precincts of the university; bad in so far as a fair number of the works on display here – notably the paintings of Lady Barber herself - are of an indifferent quality. Not the lace and the tapestries though.

These are well worth a careful look. No, the exhibition itself is humbled a little by the excessive vanity of the institute's patron, who insisted on being painted again and again and again - as if she never looked quite brilliant looking enough for her own liking.

The title of the show evokes the fine verbal discriminations of Henry James. Lady Barber herself may have been a little more brusque and straightforward. Born with the pleasingly pungent name of Martha Onions in 1869, Dame Constance Hattie Barber married a wealthy property developer called Henry, and the two of them soon retired to Culham Court near Henley-on-Thames.

Various portraits on a grand scale of Lady Barber greet us as we enter the single gallery devoted to the exhibition. She is tricked out like a lady of high fashion, complete with ostrich feathers, voluminous gowns and picture hats.

Her looks - those gleaming, equine teeth – have just a touch of the Joyce Grenfell. Like Peggy Guggenheim, she stove painfully hard to compensate for her lack of beauty. All these portraits – there are slightly in excess of twenty of them, though, mercifully, only a selection can be seen here – were painted by a little known Belgian called Nestor Cambier.

You see why: they are rigid and crudely flamboyant. Much more worthy of prolonged consideration are her achievements as a philanthropist. In 1932, she endowed Birmingham University with the wherewithal to build a fine art deco building that should house an art collection to rival in importance those of the Wallace Collection and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

She herself did not own the art that we see on these walls today. The masterpieces gathered here - and yes, there are a number, notably the finest Murillo on display outside Spain – were purchased by those who came after her. Visit this place. It is a jewel. Give the wilful and overbearing lady herself just a cursory glance, but thank her from the bottom of your heart all the same.

Until 24 February 2013

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate