London Begins at 40 arts columnist Irene Caswell takes a look at the London art openings in September.

The cooler temperatures and shortening days signify a move into autumn which means exciting new exhibitions at London’s galleries and museums. I am already anticipating the thrill of experiencing unique works by celebrated Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai, which survived against all the odds; rediscovering well-known works by French artist, Nicolas Poussin; and ‘reclaiming the magic’ of the British coastline.

Here are a few of my top picks for September, as well as a sneak preview of a major exhibition at The National Gallery opening in October.

Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty, Dulwich Picture Gallery

15 September – 17 April 2022
Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly, 2000. One-hundred-two color woodcut. © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. DACS Tyler Graphic Ltd Mount Kisco, NY

I’m not very familiar with American abstract art so a UK-first show of works by Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) seems an excellent place to begin. Frankenthaler was one of the most important American abstract artists of the 20th century and experimented with multiple mediums throughout a long career. Ten years after her death the exhibition will showcase 30 works, from groundbreaking woodcuts and trailblazing printmaking, none of which have been shown in the UK previously and including Madame Butterfly (2000), a stunning triptych measuring over two metres in length. Tickets £15 adult.

The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries

30 September to 10 October 2021

Walks on the beach or along the spectacular British coastline have been a lifesaver for many during the past 18 months. This annual exhibition offers a celebration of the sea, exploring coastal scenes, boats and ships, marine wildlife and harbours, in a wide variety of styles and mediums by some of the leading marine artists, some specialising in historical paintings and other capturing unpredictable weather and tides. There are also some sculptural artists in the show. For those still shielding, or not yet able to travel, there will also be a Virtual Tour. Tickets £5 adult.

Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything at the British Museum
30 September – 30 January 2022
Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox
Fumei Chōja and the nine-tailed spirit fox, The Great Picture Book of Everything, Katsushika Hokusai, © The Trustees of
the British Museum 

This exhibition features 103 newly rediscovered drawings by iconic Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), created as illustrations for an unpublished book The Great Picture Book of Everything. Having been held previously in private collections the drawings only came to light in Paris in 2019 and they will be seen in print for the first time since their creation. Works will include Hokusai’s most celebrated print Under the Wave off Kanagawa (1831) popularly called The Great Wave. The picture postcard sized drawings (hanshita-e) are neat and line-perfect, or ‘block-ready’. If the book had been published the print preparation process by a professional block-cutter would have destroyed the drawings. Instead, with the project abandoned, they were carefully mounted on cards and kept in a purpose-made wooden storage box and therefore preserved. The drawings will be reproduced in print, as originally intended, for an accompanying book Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything by Timothy Clark, published by the British Museum. Tickets £9 adult.

Woman with a Book, 1932
Woman with a Book, 1932, ablo-Picasso 1932 © Succession PicassoDACS 2021, photo The Norton Simon Foundation

The Royal Academy of Art’s 253rd Annual Summer Exhibition

 22 September – 2 January 2021

The theme of the world’s largest open submission contemporary art this year is ‘Reclaiming Magic’ to celebrate the joy of creating art. Amongst many others will be work by self-taught American artist Bill Taylor (1853 – 1949) who was born into slavery and began drawing his recollections and observations in 1939. New works on show will feature Phyllida Barow, Conrad Shawcross and Rose Wylie. Tickets £20 – £22 adult.

Last Chance to See

Picasso Ingres: Face to Face at The National Gallery

This is a unique chance to view Pablo Picasso’s (Woman with a Book, 1932) from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, in juxtaposition with the painting which inspired it, Madame Moitessier (1856) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. If you haven’t yet seen it get yourself down to The National Gallery, pronto. Ends 9 October. Admission free.

Autumn Sneak Preview
Poussin and the Dance at The National Gallery
15 February – 8 May 2022
The Adoration of the Golden Calf Nicolas Poussin 1633-4 The National Gallery London
The Adoration of the Golden Calf Nicolas Poussin 1633-4 The National Gallery London

We’re promised ‘wild, raucous and surprisingly joyous scenes’, depicting ‘whirling, cavorting figures’ in a new exhibition of over twenty paintings and drawings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) from international public and private collections. Featured in the show will be Dance to the Music of Time (about 1634–6), a representation of the perpetual cycle of the human condition: Poverty, Labour, Wealth and Pleasure. The sobering concept being that too much indulgence in the latter circles back to poverty.

The exhibition promises the rediscovery of Poussin in a fresh light. A series of drawings generously lent by Her Majesty the Queen will be shown for the first time alongside some of the celebrated Classical antiquities that inspired them. Poussin and the Dance (9 October – 2 January 2022). Tickets £12 adult. After London, the exhibition will travel to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.


Main image: ‘A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term’, Nicolas Poussin 1632-3 The National Gallery London.