Contemporary Art Market: Nostalgia masters display contrasting perspectives

NOSTALGIA paintings are proving as popular in the late twentieth century as history paintings were in the nineteenth. Two major nostalgia masters are currently showing in the West End - Stephen Conroy at Marlborough Fine Art (6 Albemarle St, W1) and Jonathan Warrender at Deborah Gage (38 Old Bond St, W1). Both exhibitions are sold out, bar a couple of small studies.

Stephen Conroy made an instant hit with his first one-man exhibition at the Marlborough in 1989, which was also shown at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. It is very rare for an exhibition from a commercial gallery to tour museums, but that was the way with Conroy's arrival on the scene at the age of 25. Now 28, his prices have risen to pounds 5,000 for a small study and pounds 40,000 for a large figure subject.

In 1989, his nostalgia was for the Edwardian era; he painted dark groups of figures suggestive of this period. This time he has gone back to Rembrandt and Caravaggio, borrowing their tricks with light, their grouping of figures and Rembrandt's dark, scumbling brushwork. The figures in his pictures are still young men in Edwardian suits. There is a twentieth-century twist in the tail of these works. They look as if they are illustrations of great human dramas or myths - but no one has yet made up the stories.

Jonathan Warrender, 38, specialises in the rural idyll of a country house with its surrounding estates. For the last 10 years he has been painting bird's eye views of these houses and their grounds on commission for their owners. Many of his large commissioned paintings are on view at Deborah Gage's Gallery, including Cawdor Castle, Chequers (painted for Baroness Thatcher) and Chateau Latour. He charges between pounds 30,000 and pounds 40,000 for each of these undertakings.

His method is to stay at the house for around six weeks, working up detailed sketches of different views. When he knows the shapes well enough he makes the imaginative leap into the sky and designs his painting from the height of a bird or helicopter. Only the sketches have been on sale at this show. They ranged from pounds 125 for a very slight one to pounds 1,600 for a finished vista.

(Photograph omitted)

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