Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck at the National Gallery
Painters Paintings at the National Gallery encompasses half a millennia of art history – from the mid-15th century to the early 2000s – From Freud to Van Dyck, as its subheading succinctly puts it. In an intriguing turn, it is not solely the individual work of its eight featured painters and sculptors that are showcased, but rather their private collections; these creative caches providing a revealing insight into their artistic inspiration.
The exhibition is divided into an area per artist. These are not always separate rooms, however, with the collections occasionally blending into one another with no distinct dividing line, which can make differentiating between separate artists a challenge, due to the frequently recurring presence of the more prolific painters, such as Cézanne.
However, with every passing step the issues presented by this intermittent lack of clarity in content begins not to matter. Instead, it seems to reinforce the overarching concept of each painter’s eclectic creative DNA. There are parallels between an artist and their collection, not only in similarity of style and technique, but also in content. Watts’ 1901 work Autumn, a striking depiction of a leafless tree, full of sharp earth tones set against a fading, blue horizon, is positioned next to the hazily flecked visions of an abundant and vibrant forestland seen in Corot’s quartet of paintings The Four Times of Day.
Corot features throughout. His 1870 portrait Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve is in part the exhibition’s inspiration and one of the key works in Freud’s private collection. It’s enigmatic subject, clad in softly shaded garments of inviting primary colours is juxtaposed with Freud’s After Breakfast, a top down view of a naked women lying curled up on a crumpled sheet. The flaking paint and stark obtrusiveness of the piece presents one of the exhibition’s most striking dichotomies of tone and style, charting the progression between the two artists on a visceral level.
Painters Paintings depicts the interlinking of creativity through the ages. It is an exploration of the innate competitiveness of history’s greatest artists as well as their passionate admiration for their contemporaries and past icons alike. It makes for an endlessly intriguing exhibition.
Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck is on at the National Gallery from 23rd June until 4th September 2016, for further information visit here.