CHESS Magazine: The Art of Chess

by CHESS Magazine
5/6/2013 – Nette Robinson is an artist and jazz singer who fell in love with chess three years ago. "Since then it has become an obsession and huge source of pleasure," she says. "As an artist, I find it entirely natural to express that joy and enthusiasm for chess through creating art." Nette will have an exhibition in The Muse Gallery, London, in May. CHESS article.

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Chess in Art

By Nette Robinson

Over the centuries, chess has been the subject of and the inspiration for art, and continues to be so today. In fact, chess is regarded by some as an art form in itself and its great practitioners as artists; the notorious 20th Century French artist Marcel Duchamp, a chess player himself, claimed that “all chess players are artists”. Throughout the history of chess there have always been certain rules to observe, as well as patterns, principles and conventions of play to draw upon. However, a creative chess player, by including his own ideas and innovations, can produce something that is regarded as great, or as Duchamp and others would claim, great art. The same is true ofall art forms; there are always certain techniques, principles and past artistic legacies to look to, but the great works go beyond these things.

Chess lends itself to artistic interpretation in many ways including the striking visual quality of the dark and light squares, the perfect geometry of the chessboard and the iconic look of the classic Staunton pieces. There are also more conceptual ideas that artists can take inspiration from, such as the tension and struggle for control, the power of the pieces and the players’ psychological battle. There is a very interesting piece by the artist Yoko Ono called ‘Play it By Trust’ (1966), which is a chess set that is entirely white. Ono was making a statement about the need for communication and to recognize the similarities between people. With an entirely white board, there is no real ground for conflict; we can only engage in battle when we can distinguish our opponent from ourselves.

Emanuel Lasker

For my own part, I didn’t learn chess as a child. Instead I started playing and fell in love with the game just under three years ago. Since then it has become an obsession and huge source of pleasure. As an artist, I find it entirely natural to express that joy and enthusiasm for chess through creating art. For the past year or so, I have been painting and drawing on the subject of chess and discovering other chess-themed art work.

One such discovery is of a beautiful book entitled the Libro de los juegos (‘The Book of Games’). It was commissioned by Alfonso X, King of Castile in the 13th Century, and is housed in a monastery about 50 miles from Madrid. It contains, amongst other things, a number of pictures of chess games. Each painting incorporates a position on a chess board which is flanked by various figures, apparently engaged in the game, and surrounded by scenery. These include armoured knights, people in a pharmacy and royalty in a palace. The paintings have a double purpose: they can be enjoyed in themselves as aesthetically pleasing images, but also intellectually as chess problems.

Another artist who worked with the theme of chess is the Macedonian Ilija Penusliski who created a work titled ‘Homage to Lasker’ (above) . Penusliski painted this directly on to a chessboard and was aspiring to illustrate the things every chess player sees and is absorbed by: strong and weak squares, the relationships between the pieces, advantages and threats, equilibrium and imbalance. The whole painting is nothing but the chessboard and thus the chessboard is the whole world.

Spielmann 0-1 Nimzowitsch

Some of the first images I have created are of positions from grandmaster games that I have studied and enjoyed immensely. Although the point at which I have frozen each game may not be at a defining moment (I acknowledge without hesitation that my experience and understanding of chess is not vast), for me they are celebrations of the beauty that can be found in the game. Individuals viewing my paintings can make similar reactions to the chess paintings in the Libro de los juegos: some may enjoy the shapes and patterns, while others may take an interest in the position of the game depicted.

Tal vs. Benko

Contrary to Ilija Penusliski, my homage to Grandmasters, including Emanuel Lasker, takes the form of literal portraits. For most of these I have used a limited palette of black, grey and the white of the paper. This I am certain needs no further comment. My aim for each painting was to capture something of the player in that moment; whether a look of deep concentration, grim determination or confidence.

These include portraits of past legends such as Bobby Fischer, Capablanca and Mikhail Tal, as well as the specially created portraits for Garry Kasparov which I exhibited at the London Chess Classic 2012:

Aside from painting portraits of players and game positions, I am presently working on abstract paintings that aim to convey something of the power and relationship of the pieces in a game and the chessboard itself. These will be on show for the first time at my forthcoming exhibition in London.

Read or download the above CHESS article here. The PDF file contains a bonus section with 24 tactical puzzles and their solutions – warm-up puzzles plus intermediate and harder puzzles for the club player. Worth printing out and taking on your first Spring outings.

About Nette Robinson

Nette Robinson studied Fine Art & Music at University College Chichester where she continued to explore and develop her love of architecture, jazz, portraiture, and Modernism. Her semi-abstract work owes a lot to the inspiration and influence of graphic designer and painter Aaron Douglas, Dutch De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian, Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism and jazz musicians Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.

Over the years Nette has exhibited sold work including at her solo exhibition at the Barbican Centre. She has been commissioned on numerous occasions from both private and commercial clients, including vinyl record label Gearbox, to paint the cover for Michael Garrick's album "Silhouette" which was released at Ronnie Scott's.

Nette the Jazz singer at the Brunswick (by Brian O'Conner)

Nette Robinson and The Little Big Band on YouTube

Nette has taught art at her local Adult Learning Centre and offers private and group teaching at her home in Sunbury. She currently teaches an accredited art course at Virginia Lodge Centre for Mental Health. She is also available to give demonstrations and workshops. Please use the contact page to get in touch and for more details.

You can see Nette Robinson’s Chess exhibition at The Muse Gallery, 269 Portobello Road, London, W11 1LR from Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th May. The gallery is open 12 noon-6pm and entrance is free. For more about the Muse Gallery please visit: For further information about Nette Robinson visit: – chess pictures may be purchased here, and some remarkable jazz pictures here.

Moreover, we are delighted to announce an exclusive offer for CHESS readers: Readers and subscribers of CHESS are invited to attend the Private View of Nette Robinson’s exhibition of chess-themed art on Wednesday 15th May, 7pm. Such guests will be the first to see Nette’s new work and can enjoy live music, a buffet and wine all for free. There will also be the opportunity to purchase art work (both original paintings and limited edition prints) on the night. If you would like to be included on the guest list for the Private View of Nette Robinson’s Chess exhibition, it is essential that you express your wish by contacting:


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CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.


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