June 22, 2024

Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck

Italian Woman, Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot about 1870, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London.

23rd June – 4th September 2016

The National Gallery

Ever wondered which art work artists have hanging on their walls?  The National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing hosts Painters’ Paintings From Freud to Van Dyck with the aim to explore, ‘great paintings from a unique perspective: from the point of view of the artists who owned them.’  The artists/collectors include: Freud, Matisse, Degas, Leighton, Watts, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Van Dyck.

Italian Woman, Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot about 1870, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London.
Italian Woman, Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot about 1870, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London.

Corot’s Italian Woman (about 1870) was left to the nation by Lucian Freud (1922-2011) following his death and is the source of inspiration for this exhibition.  Confronted by the leading piece right at the outset, it hangs in pride of place in the gallery much like how Freud hung it in his home.  Situated above his fireplace it allowed for daily observation.  His fascination with this piece is evident in his own work; with his honesty in presenting the human figure and connection to their deeper consciousness, as well as the technical aspects of painting from textured, loose brushwork and use of light.  Tucked away in the corner of this room is also a small expressive bronze head Portrait of a Woman: Head Resting on One Hand (after 1918), Degas echoing Freud’s focus on emotional intensity and materiality.

Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834–1917) were both obsessive collectors.  Spending money they didn’t really have they swapped, traded and received gifts to acquire works.  Matisse gathered pieces from the likes of Cézanne and Picasso.  In Matisse’s art you can see his admiration of Cézanne’s primitive treatment of colour.   Degas has a mixed collection from traditional works to ones by his contemporaries.  You can see in his early works he his absorbing knowledge and skill.  His Study of a Sky (1869) is above Eugene Delacroix’s Study of a Sky at Sunset (1798-1803) where a direct comparison can be made.  Both are seascapes, are blue and pink toned pastel works and have a sky sweeping in from the left.  These works appear as semi-abstract pieces.

We forget when viewing renowned artists that they actively studied by copying.  Often copying can be seen as lacking creativity or skill.  Through this exhibition we are shown it is an essential part of learning.  When we view work side by side comparisons can be made and we begin to get a more rounded understanding of the artists presented.  Looking at a larger collection of works we can see how they were inspired on a daily basis and how they progressed.

Renowned painter of the Victorian era, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–1896) collected impressive pieces and friend, neighbour, George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) regularly visited.  One of Leighton most impressive pieces, also shown in this exhibition, was Corot’s Four Times of Day (about 1858) which comprised of four panels.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), an obsessive collector, was the leading portraitist of the early 19th century due to is skill at capturing the sitter.  He was able to acquire Raphael’s An Allegory (about 1504).  Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641), began by working in Rubens’ studio, who was a collector himself.  Van Dyck’s love for Titian clearly informs his own work the use of colour and light and how Dyck mirrors Titian’s poses, gestures and gaze.  Clear comparisons can be made in this room.

King of the collectors is Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) who owned works by Rembrandt, Poussin and Bellini.  As the National galley explains he was, ‘the inaugural President of the Royal Academy, Reynolds was one of the most significant figures of the British art world in the 18th century’.  His collections not only served to assist his own artistic practice but he ‘raised the status of art and artists in Britain.’  For me the most striking piece in his room is Leda and the Swan, after Michelangelo (after 1530).

Having access to works which allow us to view direct comparisons and see how they were an obvious source of inspiration to some of the most exceptional artists is invaluable.  But what is interesting is the admiration, passion and dedication these artists placed on collecting other artists’ work.  It shows a true passion for their craft and career as well as a huge amount of respect for other artists and art work in general.  Being allowed an insight into how artists thought and the processes they undertook is why this exhibition will be successful.  The works presented are outstanding but it’s the inner workings of the artist which draws us in.  Like Freud, it’s the deeper elements of the human character which is interesting and what we seek to capture.

Don’t miss the video outside of the exhibition, it adds a little extra either before or after your visit.

For further information on purchasing tickets or general exhibition details please visit www.nationalgallery.org.uk

By Helen Shewry

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