Ipswich has had its share of bad publicity in recent years. The national media featured the London Road murders. County lines stabbings have only made the local media, but that is bad enough. It is almost a relief to celebrate something not just good but outstanding that has also been featured in the national press, with a ‘don’t miss’ comment in The Guardian.
‘Kiss and Tell’ had only a distant connection with scandal, and that was to do with its central exhibit, Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’. Once it had to be draped to prevent the troops getting overexcited. There was also controversy when it first came to the UK. Now we almost fail to notice as we walk through the Tate Gallery – or we did until it came to Christchurch Mansion on loan.
The mansion, now an Ipswich town museum, has an enviable record of presenting works of art in rooms that were once domestic. Not long ago there was the loan of some huge Constable paintings; now ‘The Kiss’ is at the centre of a display of sculpture and drawing that includes a cast of Michelangelo’s Royal Academy tondo, a Picasso from his ‘Minotaur’ series and a portrait bust by Maggi Hambling of her sculpture teacher Bernard Reynolds, who also has works on display, as has Ellen Mary Rope, the most local of the sculptors featured. Africa, a great influence on twentieth century artists, is represented in a number of works. No sculptor, John Constable appears in a selection of the life drawings made in his student days as well as in small paintings of his father’s garden.
Rodin has portrait sculptures too: a Japanese woman, Honore Balzac, and a marble of an English woman. There is also a maquette of one his Burghers of Calais and a drawing of Dante and Virgil approached by the shades, in reference to ‘The Kiss’, which represents Paolo and Francesca.
The exhibition is obviously popular but the number of visitors is nothing like as great as at big London galleries: there is plenty of space and ‘time to stand and stare.’ Elsewhere in the mansion the permanent collection features other works related to ‘Kiss and Tell’.
Anyone who can visit Ipswich before 29 April is certain of a treat, and it is free – very necessary for those who are watching their bank balances after Christmas. It is very easy to find Christchurch Mansion and, if weather permits, enjoy the splendid park that was once its private grounds and garden. In spring there will be daffodils and the trees will be magnificent in leaf. If there is time after visiting the mansion there are more medieval churches than most towns have shops.