This magnificently produced volume has introduced me to the work of an artist with whom I’ll admit I was not previously familiar.
Robert’s style, in both oils and sketches, is generally impressionistic, but his control of detail is interesting. Some works are almost abstract and convey more of an atmosphere than a scene. Others have just enough information to make the location recognisable, while blurring specifics so that, for instance, it is not always clear whether those are street bollards or pedestrians hurrying to get out of the wind and the rain. In the same work, St Martin-in-the Fields, traffic is present, yet the details of individual vehicles obscured. In the wrong hands, this could be mannered and annoying (obscurantism always is) but here the grey light of an autumn afternoon – there are just enough leaves on the foreground tree to suggest the season – is perfectly captured.
Robert isn’t just a painter of townscapes – although his former career as an architectural illustrator does feed into these. There are also portraits, figures and rural scenes. It is in these, perhaps ironically, that his abstract tendencies most show themselves and where the sense of atmosphere versus record is most noticeable. Except in the sketches, which are sensitively done, his people have little facial detail and stand almost as placeholders. There is one particular work, Walking to the Shops, where a mother and two children are almost level with the artist and, although they dominate the scene, the view behind them is as important as the foreground, to which it is both a foil and a balance to the image. The colours are also reminiscent of Victorian painting, Walter Sickert in particular.
Robert is an intriguing painter whose work could be frustrating in the lack of information it presents, but who manages to turn this to intrigue instead.
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