Posts Tagged ‘El Greco

18
May
19

Exhibition: ‘The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods’ at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

Exhibition dates: 3rd February – 26th May 2019

Curator: Dr Raphaël Bouvier

 

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Yo Picasso' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Yo Picasso (I Picasso)
1901
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 60 cm Private collection
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Room 1

The young artist gazes defiantly over his shoulder at the viewer. His white shirt, painted with bold brushstrokes, glows against the dark background; in his right hand he holds a palette with traces of paint which, together with the lively orange and yellow in his cravat and face, create marked contrasts. The aspiring artist produced this self-portrait for his first exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris. Picasso painted himself here in a style reminiscent of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Vincent van Gogh. The palette alone identifies the subject as an artist. The expressively applied colours, their brushstrokes clearly visible, carry significance: here the painter is not portrayed working, but through his work itself. The painting is a bold statement by the artist newly arrived in Paris – something that Picasso underscores with the inscription ‘Yo’ (Engl.: I) besides his signature in the upper left corner of the canvas. From this point on, he would sign his works simply ‘Picasso’ – his mother’s surname.

 

 

And now for something completely different…

My favourite periods of Picasso, probably because her tries to depict the feelings of the people he is portraying.

I love the paintings disrupted humanism, the monumental, twisted, isolated figures placed against a colourful, pictorially flattened, sometimes contextless ground. The spirit these paintings call forth – the intense gaze in the 1901 self-portrait; the sad introspection, depression of the Melancholy Women (1901); the existential themes of death, suffering and love in La Vie (Life) (1903) – show a 21 year old artist mature beyond his years, wizened in wisdom and understanding through the death of his sister and his friend Casagemas: “poverty, dejection, creative anguish, and grief for those lost.”

“In the most emotional, emotionally expressive pictures of this phase, the artist looks into the depths of human misery and relies on expressive topics such as life, love, sexuality and death.” The circus and acrobat paintings continue the theme of melancholy, disenchanted figures of the commedia dell’arte intertwined in the transformation of bodies in space (Henri Lefebvre).

Call me an old romantic, but the attitude and the touch of the emaciated blind man’s hand as he reaches for his flagon of wine totally does it for me in a way that the more brutish, primitivist paintings of his later raw style never can.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Fondation Beyeler for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version of the art.

 

 

“I was a painter and became Picasso.”

 

“The Blue Period was not a question of light and colour. It was an inner necessity to paint like that.

.
Pablo Picasso

 

 

At the age of just twenty, the aspiring genius Picasso (1881-1973) was already engaged in a restless search for new themes and forms of expression, which he immediately brought to perfection. One artistic revolution followed another, in a rapid succession of changing styles and visual worlds. The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler places the focus on the Blue and Rose periods (1901-1906), and thus on a central phase in Picasso’s work. It also sheds fresh light on the emergence, from 1907 onward, of Cubism, as an epochal new movement that was nevertheless rooted in the art of the preceding period.

In these poignant and magical works, realised in Spain and France, Picasso – the artist of the century – creates images that have a universal evocative power. Matters of existential significance, such as life, love, sexuality, fate, and death, find their embodiment in the delicate beauty of young women and men, but also in depictions of children and old people who carry within them happiness and joy, accompanied by sadness.

Text from the Fondation Beyeler website [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Unknown photographer. 'Pablo Picasso, Pere Mañach and Antonio Torres Fuster, Boulevard de Clichy 130, Paris' 1901

 

Unknown photographer
Pablo Picasso, Pere Mañach and Antonio Torres Fuster, Boulevard de Clichy 130, Paris
1901
Photo: © NMR-Grand Palace (Picasso-Paris National Museum) / Daniel Arnaudet

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Buveuse d'absinthe' (The Absinthe Drinker) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Buveuse d’absinthe (The Absinthe Drinker)
1901
Oil on canvas
73 x 54 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

 

Room 2

In his early years, Picasso reused his canvases multiple times, mostly due to a lack of money. He often overpainted his own pictures or – as in Femme dans la loge and Buveuse d’absinthe – used both the front and back sides. Femme dans la loge was done at the time of Picasso’s first exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. While the figure of the ageing dancer or courtesan, along with the setting, showcase a colouristic firework, the woman’s face is carefully modelled, revealing individualised features. The work Buveuse d’absinthe, today known as the front side, was created only shortly thereafter, and marks the transition from Picasso’s early pictures to those of the Blue Period. Here, flat, opaquely applied colours extend over large areas, with individual fields of colour clearly delineated from one another by dark contours. The absinthe drinker sits away from the small table, alone, her gaze blank, self-absorbed. The scene emanates an atmosphere of melancholy and other-worldliness that would later come to typify the works of the Blue Period.

“… the images created by the young artist are sharply dramatic. For example, in this painting, the most striking detail is a giant right hand of a woman, who is absorbed in her thoughts and tries to embrace and protect herself with this hand.”

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin assis' (Harlequin sitting) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin assis (Harlequin sitting)
1901
Oil on canvas
83.2 x 61.3 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase Mr. and Mrs. John L. Loeb, Gift 1960
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence

 

 

Room 2

Arlequin assis is one of the earliest Harlequin depictions in Picasso’s oeuvre. In an unnaturally twisted pose, the Harlequin sits at a table and turns his head in the opposite direction to the rest of his body. The table jutting diagonally into the picture space offers him a support on which to rest his elbow. As in Picasso’s female portraits of 1901, here, too, the hands attract the viewer’s attention due to their large size and elongated shape. Surprisingly, the Harlequin with his melancholy posture in fact bears the facial features of Pierrot. Although Picasso was perfectly familiar with the differences between Harlequin and Pierrot, he often mixed up their distinguishing features. At that time, the two commedia dell’arte figures were part of popular culture, be it in magazine illustrations, the circus or in the opera.

 

 

Introduction of the exhibition

Pablo Picasso’s pioneering works of the Blue and Rose Periods, which characterise his oeuvre from 1901 to 1906, ushered in the art of the twentieth-century and at the same time constitute one of its outstanding achievements. In fact, Picasso’s pictures from these years include some of the subtlest examples of modern painting and are now among the most valuable and sought-after art treasures of all.

Extensive presentations of these works are accordingly rare. The exhibition “The Young Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods” at the Fondation Beyeler thus represents a milestone in the history of the museum. The show traces the unparalleled artistic development that began with the works of the early months of 1901, when Picasso was not yet twenty, and continued until 1907. In the course of these six years, the young Pablo Ruiz Picasso developed his own personal style and became “Picasso,” as he began to sign his works in 1901. The compelling images of the Blue and Rose Periods, characterised by a unique emotional power and depth, show the artist from an exceptionally sensitive side and thus offer a nuanced picture of his work and personality.

The exhibition begins with works from the early months of 1901, created initially in Madrid and then above all during Picasso’s second stay in Paris. These exuberantly colourful paintings, which clearly exhibit the influence of Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, reveal Picasso’s personal view of Paris and the elegant world of the Belle Époque. From the late summer of 1901 onward, following the tragic suicide of his artist-friend Carles Casagemas, who had accompanied him during his first visit to Paris, in 1900, Picasso began work on a series of pictures in which the colour blue became the dominant expressive element, announcing the start of the so-called Blue Period. He created these works, pervaded by an atmosphere of melancholy and spirituality, in the following years, up to 1904, as he moved back and forth between Paris and Barcelona. They owe at least part of their inspiration to Symbolism and the singular Mannerist style of El Greco and show Picasso engaging with existential questions of life, love, sexuality, fate, and death, movingly embodied by fragile, introverted figures of all ages. The pictures of the Blue Period are mainly concerned with marginalised victims of society, in situations of extreme vulnerability – beggars, people with disabilities, prostitutes, and prisoners, living in poverty and misery, whose despair is mitigated, however, by an aura of dignity and grace. This also reflects Picasso’s own precarious circumstances before his breakthrough as an artist.

His final relocation to Paris, in 1904, when he set up his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, marked the beginning of a new phase in his life and work. It is at this point that Picasso met Fernande Olivier, his first longer-term companion and muse. The pictures gradually break free from the limited palette dominated by blue, which gives way to warmer rose and ochre tones, although the underlying mood of melancholy still persists. Picasso’s works are increasingly populated by jugglers, performers, and acrobats, in group or family configurations, personifying the anti-bourgeois, bohemian life of the circus and the art world. In 1906 the artist achieved his first major commercial success, when the dealer Ambroise Vollard bought nearly the entire stock of new pictures in his studio. This enabled Picasso, with Olivier, to leave Paris and spend several weeks in the Catalonian mountain village of Gósol. Under the impression of the rugged landscape and the villagers’ simple way of life, Picasso painted mainly pictures of human figures in idyllic, primordial settings, combining classical and archaic elements.

In the fall of 1906, after his return to Paris, he spent some time absorbing the impressions from his recent encounters with ancient Iberian sculpture and the visual world of Paul Gauguin, and began, in his quest for a new artistic authenticity, to formulate a Primitivist pictorial language. This found expression in an innovative reduction and simplification of the human figure. In sharp contrast to the fine-limbed creatures of the circus world, Picasso’s figures from this phase are bulky and heavy, with impressive female nudes whose bodies take on almost geometric form. This new conception of the figure took a further, radical turn in 1907, in the works that would lead – also under the growing influence of African and Oceanic art – to Picasso’s revolutionary painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, proclaiming the advent of Cubism.

The development of the Blue and Rose Periods makes it clear that the young Picasso managed, within just six years, to achieve a preternaturally early aesthetic perfection, incorporating artistic mannerisms and archaisms into the articulation of new principles for the depiction of the human body through deformation and deconstruction. In a process that only appears contradictory, Picasso’s striving for new aesthetic possibilities advanced through several forms of refinement, and in a gradual emancipation from classical ideals of beauty, to the realisation of a groundbreaking form of artistic authenticity and autonomy. Cubism, in this light, no longer appears as a radical hiatus in Picasso’s oeuvre, but rather as the logical extension of the artistic ideas of the Blue and Rose Periods.

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, which has been organised in collaboration with the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, differs from the first presentation in Paris in one important respect: its prospective extension of the view of Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods by the inclusion of the artist’s first proto-Cubist pictures from 1907, created in the context of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. One of the preliminary studies for the latter work, titled Femme (époque des “Demoiselles d’Avignon”), forms the spectacular starting point of the Fondation Beyeler’s extensive Picasso collection, and at the same time marks the finale of this exhibition. Whereas the presentation in Paris supplemented the finished works with numerous preliminary studies and copious archive material, the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler places the focus firmly on Picasso’s painting and sculpture in the period concerned. With some seventy-five masterpieces from renowned museums and outstanding private collections across the globe, the show presents the quintessence of Picasso’s oeuvre from 1901 to 1907, illuminating a chief phase of transition in the multifaceted work of the young artist. Many central works from this period now count among the major attractions in the collections of leading international museums. Yet, several key works are still in private hands – a number of which are on public display in Riehen for the first time in many decades.

Text from the Fondation Beyeler [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin et sa compagne' (Harlequin and his companion) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin et sa compagne (Harlequin and his companion)
1901
Oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Casagemas dans cercueil' (Casagemas in His Coffin) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Casagemas dans cercueil (Casagemas in His Coffin)
1901
Oil on cardboard
72.5 x 57.8 cm
Private collection

 

 

Room 3

This impressive work was one of a series of paintings with which Picasso dealt with the tragic loss of his artist-friend Carles Casagemas, who committed suicide on 17 February 1901. In the vertical-format picture only part of the lifeless figure is depicted. The body, diagonally fixed into the composition, is cropped by the coffin and the picture edge. Rendered in profile, the face with its yellow-green colouration and prominent facial contours stands out against the blue-white shroud. The image represents a variation of the painting La Mort de Casagemas (below) from the same period, which is also on view in the present exhibition. In it, the subject’s head has been moved close to the viewer and a huge candle emits multicoloured light. By contrast, most of the other works in the Casagemas cycle are rendered in a range of mainly blue tones. Picasso retrospectively remarked: ‘The thought that Casagemas was dead led to me painting in blue’.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Mort de Casagemas' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Mort de Casagemas (The Death of Casagemas)
1901
Oil on wood
27 x 35 cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Mort (la mise au tombeau)' (Death (The Burial)) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Mort (la mise au tombeau) (Death (The Burial))
1901
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Courtesan with necklace of gems' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Courtesan with necklace of gems (Courtesan avec collier de pierres précieuses)
1901
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme en bleu' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme en bleu (Woman in blue)
1901
Oil on canvas
133 x 100 cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reine Sofía
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Autoportrait' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Autoportrait (Self-portrait)
1901
Oil on canvas
81 x 60 cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

 

Room 3

Picasso painted this self-portrait at the end of his second stay in Paris. Compared with the work Yo Picasso, exhibited at the Galerie Vollard in the summer of 1901, a clear shift has taken place the following winter. The artist portrays himself bearded and pale-faced, with hollow cheeks, aged and wrapped in a heavy overcoat, making his body appear like a dense mass. The imposing, self-assured pose of the first portrait has given way to a posture conveying uncertainty. Yet here, too, Picasso’s intense gaze casts its spell on the viewer. The self-portrait is one of Picasso’s first works that emphasise the rich variety of his range of blue tones. As a means to express melancholy, blue pervades the entire composition, which is divided into blue-green and midnight blue fields of colour. Picasso kept the painting throughout his life.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme assise au fichu' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme assise au fichu (Melancholy Woman)
1901
Oil on canvas
100 x 69.2 cm
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Bridgeman Images

 

 

Room 3

Femme assise au fichu presents a seated woman in profile, introspectively withdrawn, her arms folded and legs crossed. Her brightly illuminated face lends her an appearance both profound and monumental. She is situated in a bare room, probably a cell in the Saint-Lazare women’s prison in Paris, which Picasso visited several times in the autumn and winter of 1901-02 to make drawings for his portraits of women. The prison also housed numerous prostitutes, many of whom suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. In paintings such as this one, Picasso found a universal means of representing the social themes of poverty, misery and isolation.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Buveuse assoupie' (The Drinker dozing) 1902

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Buveuse assoupie (The Drinker dozing)
1902
Oil on canvas
Kunstmuseum Bern, Stiftung Othmar Huber, Berne
© Succession Picasso/ 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

View of the installation of the painting 'La Vie' (1903) for the exhibition 'The young Picasso - Blue and Rose Periods' at Fondation Beyeler

 

View of the installation of the painting La Vie (1903) for the exhibition The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Vie' 1903

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Vie (Life)
1903
Oil on canvas
197 x 127.3 cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Donation Hanna Fund
© Succession Picasso / ProLitteris, Zurich 2018
Photo: © The Cleveland Museum of Art

 

 

Room 3

In La Vie, the allegorical masterpiece of the Blue Period, Picasso brings together existential themes such as death, suffering and love in a complexity suffused with melancholy. When the then twenty-one-year-old artist began with the preparatory drawings for this monumental painting in Barcelona in May 1903, he had already been painting primarily blue pictures for over two years. Although Picasso had originally planned the work as a self-portrait, his deceased friend Carles Casagemas appears here once again (and for the final time). Accompanied by a naked woman who nestles against his body, he stands in the left half of the picture, wearing only a white loincloth. He points his index finger at a clad woman, who carries an infant swaddled in a cloth. Appearing in the background as pictures within a picture are further figures, cowering. They lend the work an additional symbolic and enigmatic dimension.

In Picasso’s most celebrated painting from the Blue Period, however, he returns to the plight of the artist. La Vie (Life) (1903) brings us into an artist’s studio. While earlier versions of the painting, locked beneath the final work and revealed by X-rays, show Picasso as the central figure, in the end he depicted Casagemas as his subject. He is naked except for a loincloth as a nude woman clutches him, and the two look over at a mother and child. Behind them sit two canvases covered with crouching bodies.

Every element of the scene conveys vulnerability. The artist brings different facets of his troubles into a single canvas: poverty, dejection, creative anguish, and grief for those lost, like Casagemas. Interestingly, those X-rays have also revealed that the painting was executed on top of an earlier work called Last Moments, inspired by his sister’s death.

Perhaps, in bringing these various instances of heartbreak together, Picasso was also in the final stages of processing his grief. Indeed, soon after the artist finished La Vie, he moved to Paris and emerged from his Blue Period – into a palette of soft, joyful pinks. “Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” Picasso later explained.

Extract from Alexxa Gotthardt. “The Emotional Turmoil behind Picasso’s Blue Period,” on the Artsy website Dec 13, 2017 [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Repas de l'aveugle' (The Blind Man's Meal) 1903

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Repas de l’aveugle (The Blind Man’s Meal)
1903
Oil on canvas
95.3 x 94.6 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase Mr. and Mrs. Ira Haupt, Gift 1950
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence

 

 

Room 3

Painted in Barcelona in 1903, the picture Le Repas de l’aveugle depicts an emaciated blind man sitting before a frugal meal. The man’s whole suffering is conveyed by the exaggeration of his body with his bony shoulders, hollow-cheeked face and thin fingers. He is one of those miserable and solitary figures that appear like modern martyrs in Picasso’s pictures. The depicted provisions – the bread and wine – could be interpreted as Christian symbols. The starkly reduced range of colours and the dramatic effect of the scene created by the light lend the image a mystical quality. Here we feel the influence of El Greco’s paintings and Spanish religious art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

 

 

This exhibition, the most ambitious ever staged by the Fondation Beyeler, is devoted to the paintings and sculptures of the young Pablo Picasso from the so-called Blue and Rose periods, between 1901 and 1906. For the first time in Europe, the masterpieces of these crucial years, most of them a milestone on Picasso’s path to preeminence as the twentieth century’s most famous artist, are presented together, in a concentration and quality that are unparalleled. Picasso’s pictures from this phase of creative ferment are some of the finest and most emotionally compelling examples of modern painting, and are counted among the most valuable and sought-after works in the entire history of art. It is unlikely that they will be seen again in such a selection in a single place.

At the age of just twenty, the rising genius Picasso (1881-1973) embarked on a quest for new themes and forms of expression, which he immediately refined to a pitch of perfection. One artistic revolution followed another, in a rapid succession of changing styles and visual worlds. The focus of the exhibition is on the Blue and Rose periods, and thus on the six years in the life of the young Picasso that can be considered central to his entire oeuvre, paving the way for the epochal emergence of Cubism, which developed from Picasso’s previous work, in 1907. Here, the exhibition converges with the Fondation Beyeler’s permanent collection, whose earliest picture by Picasso is a study, dating from this pivotal year, for the Demoiselles d’Avignon.

In the chronologically structured exhibition, Picasso’s early painting career is explored through examples of his treatment of human subjects. Journeying back and forth between Paris and Barcelona, he addressed the human figure in a series of different approaches. In the phase dominated by the colour blue, from 1901, he observed the material deprivation and the psychological suffering of people on the margins of society, before turning – in 1905, when he had settled in Paris – to the themes of the Rose period, conferring the dignity of art on the hopes and yearnings of circus performers: jugglers, acrobats and harlequins. In his search for a new artistic authenticity, Picasso stayed for several weeks in mid-1906 in the village of Gósol, in the Spanish Pyrenees, and created a profusion of paintings and sculptures uniting classical and archaic ideals of the body. Finally, the increasing deformation and fragmentation of the figure, apparent in the “primitivist” pictures, especially of the female nude, which were painted subsequently in Paris, heralds the emergence of the new pictorial language of Cubism.

Press release from Fondation Beyeler Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme en chemise (Madeleine)' 1904-1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme en chemise (Madeleine) (Young Woman in a Chemise (Madeleine))
1904-1905
Oil on canvas
72.7 x 60 cm
London, Tate, Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Tate, London 2018

 

 

Room 4

A young woman, depicted in profile, stands isolated in an empty, dark-blue space. Her slender body is draped in a white blouse. Her left breast, its curve emphasised, is simultaneously concealed and revealed by the flimsily thin cloth. The woman’s pale skin and distinct facial features, as well as the delicately defined contours of her body, set her apart from the background. The colour scheme, suffused with light and depth, hints at Picasso’s gradual turn to warm pink and brown tones. The identity of the model long remained unclear because Picasso had overpainted the figure of a boy here with the slender silhouette of his first muse and lover, Madeleine. The artist first met Madeleine in 1904, after moving into his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir in Paris. She posed repeatedly for Picasso’s paintings in the transitional phase from the Blue to the Rose Period, until the spring of 1905.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Fillette nue au panier de fleurs' (Le panier fleuri) (Girl with a Basket of Flowers) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Fillette nue au panier de fleurs (Le panier fleuri) (Girl with a Basket of Flowers)
1905
Oil on canvas
155 x 66 cm
Private collection, New York

 

 

The painting Fillette au panier de fleurs is surprising in many respects. First of all, because of the extended vertical format, which also makes the girl appear elongated. The adolescent stands quite naked before us, with her body turned to the side and a serious expression on her face. A slight counter-movement is suggested in the transition from her feet to her torso. The girl’s face is turned towards the viewer and carefully modelled in the manner of a portrait. The body, by contrast, appears somewhat withdrawn, almost unreal. The radiant red flowers in the woven basket create a strong accent against the pale skin, black hair and light blue background. The art dealer Clovis Sagot purchased the picture from Picasso for the modest sum of seventy-five francs. It was one of the first works that the American writer and art collector Gertrude Stein acquired together with her brother Leo, as early as 1905. The Stein siblings subsequently built up a significant Picasso collection

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Marchand de gui' (The Mistletoe Seller) 1902-03

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Marchand de gui (The Mistletoe Seller)
1902-03
Oil on Canvas
55 x 38cm
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018

 

 

Room 5

With an empathetic eye, Picasso concentrates here on the representation of two poverty-stricken people who together go about their hard, daily work – the selling of mistletoe. The wrinkled yet gentle face of the bearded old man contrasts with the smooth, fresh, yet serious visage of the boy, for whom the companion is at once antithesis and role model. While the two figures do not look at one another, their physical closeness and the old man’s affectionate gesture nevertheless suggest the greatest tenderness. With the subtle play of colours, Picasso succeeds in generating a mystical atmosphere. In his dignified appearance, the mistletoe vendor with the child comes here to symbolise a life of poverty endured without resignation and at the same time the hope of happiness.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Tête d'un arlequin' (Head of a harlequin) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Tête d’un arlequin (Head of a harlequin)
1905
Oil on canvas
40.7 x 31.8 cm
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Bridgeman Images

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme de l'Île de Majorque' (Woman from Mallorca) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme de l’Île de Majorque (Woman from Mallorca)
1905
Gouache and watercolour on cardboard
67 x 51 cm
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme à l'éventail' (Woman with a fan) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme à l’éventail (Woman with a fan)
1905
Oil on canvas
100.3 x 81 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Hariman
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Famille de saltimbanques avec un singe' (Family of acrobats with a monkey) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Famille de saltimbanques avec un singe (Family of acrobats with a monkey)
1905
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso/2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Göteborg Konstmuseum

 

 

Une vie pas tout à fait en rose: A life not quite in pink

Regarding the pink period, Apollinaire preferred to call it the “period of acrobats”, which would be more accurate as the works are not only pink. In 1905, without actually adopting this color, Picasso moved away from cold nocturnal tonalities for a semblance of serenity, as if the colors corresponded indeed to a state of mind. The tones are earthy, pastels. The unit is more likely to come from the circus theme and in particular from the Circus Medrano, not far from the Bateau-Lavoir, which Picasso frequents as many painters and poets of his time. It’s less about the circus, like Seurat’s, than about his backstage, like a family of acrobats with a monkey. The characters of the commedia dell’arte are intertwined, the figure of the buffoon and the figure of the madman who will be the subject of a sculpture. This one, exposed to the Foundation, was the portrait of the poet Max Jacob, to whom Picasso then added the cap which completed the analogy between the madman and the artist. Picasso liked to be assimilated to this strange, wandering, unattached, somewhat marginalised person who, like the artist, can afford a critical look at the world. There is still a lot of blue and melancholy. The same misery permeates the scene of the couple watching an empty plate, the clumsy and lonely pink acrobat or the sickly Harlequin. No acrobatic scenes under the applause of the public. Here we find the same disenchantment. Apollinaire always speaks of “pulmonary” rose. The blue / pink partition therefore remains relative.

Extract from Geneviève Nevejan. “Picasso jeune et mélancolique,” on the Choisir website 31 January 2019 [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Acrobate et jeune arlequin' 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Acrobate et jeune arlequin (Acrobat and Young Harlequin)
1905
Gouache on cardboard
105 x 76 cm
Private collection
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Room 5

Acrobate et jeune arlequin is among Picasso’s most impressive pictures from the world of the circus. Two performers of delicate appearance sit in front of a tattered looking blue backdrop. On the left is an androgynous boy in Harlequin costume with a chalk-white face, gazing to the right, towards the young man in acrobat’s clothing. The latter is depicted with arms clasped and eyes closed. At the transition point between the worlds of blue and pink, both the space and the figures seem to be in a state of transformation. Can the diamond pattern of the Harlequin’s costume and the geometric shape of the acrobat’s arms be seen as anticipating a ‘Cubification’ of the body? As the first-ever museum purchase of a work by Picasso, Acrobate et jeune arlequin was acquired for the municipal museum in Elberfeld near Wuppertal in 1911; today it is privately owned.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin assis sur fond rouge' 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin assis sur fond rouge (Seated Harlequin on Red Background)
1905
Watercolour and ink on cardboard
57.5 x 41.2 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018
Photo: bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB, Museum Berggruen / Jens Ziehe

 

 

Room 6

Picasso never presents his Harlequins as tricksters or buffoons entertaining the audience with wild leaps, but rather as passive, melancholy figures. In Arlequin assis au fond rouge the Harlequin sits, motionless, his mouth closed. His naked, slightly splayed legs dangle from a wall. He appears bare, exposed, even though he wears a thin, washed-out costume and a hat. Despite his conspicuously frontal pose, his gaze is not directed exactly at the viewer. Picasso aims at capturing the essence of the figure, his great solitude, which is further accentuated by the vibrant, pulsating red background. The Harlequin figure may also embody the creative, sensitive artist, who must stand his ground in modern society

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The young Picasso - Blue and Rose Periods' at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

 

Installation view of the exhibition The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland showing at left, La toilette (1906) and at right, Les Deux Frères (The Two Brothers) (1906)

 

 

Room 7

In Deux Frères a boy carries his younger brother on his back; the two appear to merge together. The elder boy’s facial features are finely modelled, whereas those of the younger one are somewhat blurred and reduced to a few shapes. Both figures are naked, and place and time are uncertain. Only the edge of the floor and dark shadows indicate the room in which they are located. The artist makes it seem here that the figures are made of the same material as the space surrounding them. The painting was produced in Gósol, a Catalan mountain village in the eastern Pyrenees, where Picasso retreated for several weeks in the early summer of 1906. Far from urban life, he began developing a new pictorial language characterised by simplicity and earthiness. Here, Picasso drew inspiration notably from the naked body, initially from the male and then the female one.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La toilette' 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La toilette
1906
Oil on canvas
59 1/2 x 39 inches (151.13 x 99.06 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Fellows for Life Fund, 1926
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018

 

 

Room 7

In the summer of 1904 Picasso met Fernande Olivier, who would become his most important model and was also his companion until 1912. She shared with him a desperately poor life at the run-down Bateau-Lavoir studio building, in Montmartre, Paris. In 1906 she accompanied him to the Pyrenean village of Gósol in Spain. Olivier posed for Picasso, and to an extent her figure became a field for artistic experimentation. In La Toilette, Picasso’s search for a new archaic formal language still manifests itself in predominantly classical figures. In a bare interior, a naked young woman stands to the left, turned towards the viewer, arranging her hair in a mirror held by a black-haired woman dressed in blue and seen in profile. It is possible that the depictions of both women are portraits of Olivier, highlighting different, contrasting facets of the same person.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Autoportrait' (Self-portrait) 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Autoportrait (Self-portrait)
1906
Oil on canvas
65 x 54 cm Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

 

Room 8

In his early years Picasso frequently portrayed himself. Although not identified by obvious attributes, this image is also a self-portrait of the artist in which he illustrates his most recent achievements as a painter. The stocky man’s solid torso, his greyish skin tone and mask-like face exemplify the Primitivist pictorial language that Picasso developed in 1906. The artist was seeking new means of expression, painting almost exclusively nudes and in the process moving noticeably away from his earlier work. He was no longer interested in depicting feelings, wanting rather to experiment with new forms and render his subjects with new pictorial means. Picasso’s facial features in this painting appear formulaic, stereotypical – and he has moved quite some distance from the aesthetic of the Blue and Rose Periods.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme nue assise, les jambes croisées' (Seated Female Nude with Crossed Legs) 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme nue assise, les jambes croisées (Seated Female Nude with Crossed Legs)
1906
Oil on canvas

 

 

Room 8

Picasso’s discovery of centuries-old Iberian sculpture flowed, in the autumn of 1906, into numerous female nudes in which a new, raw style emerged. Among them is this imposing representation of a seated woman in which the artist limited himself to brown and grey tones. The schematically rendered robust body composed of geometric volumes and the ossified, mask-like face with its empty eyes are typical of Picasso’s Primitivism in this period. Thus, the artist introduced here, within a classical picture theme, a new image of the body, aimed at reduction. This was to prove seminal for his artistic development in subsequent years culminating in the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Nu sur fond rouge (Jeune femme nue à la chevelure)' 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Nu sur fond rouge (Jeune femme nue à la chevelure) (Nude on red background (Young nude woman with hair)
1906
Oil on canvas
81 x 54 cm
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Collection Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de l’Orangerie) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme' (Epoque des "Demoiselles d’Avignon") 1907

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme (Epoque des “Demoiselles d’Avignon”) (Woman (‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ Period))
1907
Oil on canvas
119 x 93.5 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

 

 

Room 9

Femme, from 1907, also originated in the context of Picasso’s seminal picture Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and is the earliest work in the extensive Picasso collection assembled by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. The sketch-like painting shows a naked female figure with raised arms, depicted in a pose that remains ambivalent. Wearing the cap of a sailor or ship’s captain (perhaps her hair is also set in a chignon), she is presented next to a yellow curtain drawn to the side and in front of a blue and green background. The face, whose features recall those of African masks, clearly reveals the great influence that non-European sculpture had on Picasso in this phase of his career. Whereas the figure’s face, arms and breasts are fully painted and bordered with clear contours, the lower body is sketched with just a few lines. In Femme Picasso seems to be deliberately playing with an aesthetic of incompletion – yet in light of its expressive power and manner of composition, the work is unquestionably finished.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Pablo Picasso on Place Ravignan, Montmartre, Paris' 1904

 

Anonymous photographer
Pablo Picasso on Place Ravignan, Montmartre, Paris
1904
Silver gelatin print on paper
12 x 8.9 cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris

 

 

Fondation Beyeler
Beyeler Museum AG
Baselstrasse 77, CH-4125
Riehen, Switzerland

Opening hours:
10 am – 6 pm daily, Wednesdays until 8 pm

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20
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

I was lucky enough to be up in Sydney to review the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales… and the media preview for The Greats was on. What an unexpected bonus!

This is part 1 of a monster 2 part posting on the exhibition which, in all honesty, is a bit of a hotchpotch of a blockbuster. But my god, what a hotchpotch it is.

Highlights in part 1 of the posting include:

  • The vibrancy and folds of the pink dress of the Virgin as it flows down and under the Christ child in Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child, c. 1485
  • The stillness and intensity, colouration of the figures in Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, c. 1654-55
  • The glorious “atmosphere”, light and colour in Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31, one of the unexpected highlights of the exhibition
  • The intensity of the painting, the precision and care in Diego Velazquez’s An old woman cooking eggs 1618. Now that is really looking at the world
  • And the glorious frames of all these works. I do like a good frame!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Installation photographs of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576) Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene) c. 1520-25
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576)
Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)
c. 1520-25
Oil on canvas
74 x 56.2 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Titian was the most celebrated Venetian painter of his time. His wealthy and learned patrons spanned across Europe. Well-versed in classical art and literature, including the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, they fuelled a strong demand for paintings like Venus rising from the sea c. 1520-25. According to legend, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was born fully grown from the sea. She was then carried to land upon a scallop shell, blown by the zephyr winds.

In Venus rising from the sea, Titian has painted the goddess as a beautiful and voluptuous woman, emerging from the sea and wringing out her wet hair, with a miniature version of her scallop shell floating nearby. Her long auburn locks, milky skin and blushing cheeks are sensuous and tactile, suggesting her seductive powers as the goddess of love. Venus’s gracious, twisting pose recalls classical statues of the goddess. Titian rarely made preparatory drawings for his paintings, preferring to work straight onto the canvas, applying subtle gradations of colour in soft, feathery brushstrokes. He also used live models to pose for his figures, which was uncommon in the early 1500s. This lends the painting its great liveliness and sensuality – qualities that have made Titian justly famous.

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’) (detail)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Painted by one of the most outstanding artists of the Italian Renaissance, The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child c. 1485 is the earliest work in the exhibition. It has not left the United Kingdom since 1846 and The Greats presents the first time in almost three decades that any painting by Botticelli has been exhibited in Sydney. In this devotional painting, the Virgin Mary kneels silently and prays before her son, the infant Jesus Christ, in a rose-filled garden. Her gown and cloak spill onto the ground to provide a pillow for the child, who is nestled among the flowers, asleep. Its simple composition, focusing on just the two figures, invites quiet contemplation.

Like many Renaissance paintings, the picture is rich in symbolism. The enclosed garden is a reference to the purity of the Virgin, who was often called ‘a rose without thorns’. Some symbols are more ominous. The sleeping child with his pallid complexion is presumably a reference to Christ’s eventual death. The red strawberry plant in the lower right corner symbolises the blood he will shed on the cross. Technically the painting is unusual for the Florentine artist: it is quite small and has been painted on canvas rather than wooden panel. This suggests it was intended for a private home or convent, rather than a public space like a church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at left, Domenichino’s The adoration of the shepherds c. 1606-08
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641) 'The adoration of the shepherds' c. 1606-08

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641)
The adoration of the shepherds
c. 1606-08
Oil on canvas
143 x 115 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1971
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom c. 1620-21
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Anthony van Dyck, the most successful pupil of Peter Paul Rubens, is regarded as one of the masters of the Flemish baroque. Painted just before Van Dyck left Flanders for Italy in 1621, this dramatic composition features Saint Sebastian, a Roman officer who converted secretly to Christianity. When Sebastian’s faith was discovered, he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Usually shown at the moment of his martyrdom, with the arrows piercing his body, here Sebastian has been portrayed prior to his execution. His twisting body and his upward-turned face seem to anticipate the punishment that is to come.

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom (details)
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia and is presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2015-2016. Spanning a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism, The Greats includes works by the most outstanding names in Western art, including Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne.

This richly presented exhibition brings together over 70 of the greatest paintings and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland, based in the beautiful capital city of Edinburgh. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85). Botticelli’s Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (c. 1485) has not been exhibited outside of the United Kingdom in 169 years.

Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand, said it is a tremendous privilege to host such a fine collection of masterpieces in Sydney and that the Art Gallery of NSW is extremely grateful to the National Galleries of Scotland for their generosity and collegiality. “The Greats is a statement of unequivocal artistic excellence – each piece in this exhibition is of extraordinary quality. We are excited to provide Australian audiences the rare opportunity to come face to face with such unique and masterful artworks,” Brand said.

“Approaching the entrance to the Art Gallery of NSW, we are reminded of Sydney’s historic aspirations for viewing the creations of European old masters, with names such as Titian, Rembrandt and Botticelli adorning the Gallery’s sandstone facade. It is with great pleasure that we now welcome incredible works by these artists to our interior walls, into a sublime exhibition space that promises a moving and absorbing experience for all visitors,” Brand added.

Director of the Scottish National Gallery, Michael Clarke, said, “We are delighted to present some of the finest masterworks from the National Galleries of Scotland at the distinguished Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery provides a marvellous venue for our exhibition, which includes a selection of paintings that have recently toured to art institutions in America, including the de Young in San Francisco and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.”

Visitors to The Greats will experience the Scottish National Gallery’s famous interior with part of the exhibition space inspired by the Edinburgh gallery’s octagonal rooms with fabric walls of a sumptuous red – the traditional colour on which to hang old master paintings. This installation will serve to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks. A variety of associated public and education programs are on offer to visitors of all ages. Serving to engage the widest possible audience, the Gallery will host daily guided tours, lecture series, late night programs and a suite of other events designed to facilitate meaningful interactions with the artworks featured in The Greats.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with Frans Hals’ Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck c. 1627 (left) and Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary c. 1654-55 (centre)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

With his loose and seemingly spontaneous brushwork, combined with an exceptional ability to capture a sitter’s likeness and expression, Hals inspired generations of artists, from Jean-Honoré Fragonard to Édouard Manet. This portrait probably shows Pieter Verdonck, a Haarlem Mennonite, who was said to be aggressive and argumentative. In a contemporary engraving after the painting, an inscription reads: ‘This is Verdonck, that outspoken fellow, / whose jawbone attacks everyone.’ The jawbone that he holds is the same weapon used by the biblical hero Samson to kill the Philistines; here, it may refer to Verdonck’s ability to wound his enemies with his cutting words.

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627 (detail)

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75) 'Christ in the house of Martha and Mary' c. 1654-55

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75)
Christ in the house of Martha and Mary
c. 1654-55
Oil on canvas
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by the Sons of WA Coats in memory of their father, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The fame of Vermeer, now one of the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age, rests on just 36 paintings known to survive today. This canvas is music larger than his usual compositions and is the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. In spite of its uniqueness, the painting is replete with the quiet human interactions for which the artist is known. The scene depicts the story from Luke 10:38-42, in which Martha objected to her sister Mary listening to Jesus while she herself was busy serving. Given the substantial size of the canvas, it is likely that the painting was a specific commission, possibly intended for a Catholic church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Rembrandt van Rijn’s A woman in bed 164(7?) and at right, Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The model for this painting is still unidentified. She might be any one of the three main women in Rembrandt’s life: his wife, Saskia; his son’s nursemaid, Geertje Dircx; or his family’s servant girl, Hendrickje Stoffels. Though intimate in its appearance, the painting is probably not a portrait, as a bed would have been an inappropriate setting for a respectable female model. The figure most likely represents the biblical character Sarah from the Old Testament Book of Tobit. Rembrandt shows her watching anxiously as her bridegroom Tobias chases away the devil that had murdered each of her previous seven husbands on their wedding nights.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' (detail) 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed (detail)
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' (detail) c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow (detail)
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn were two young artists working in Leiden in the years around 1630. They worked separately, though they engaged in artistic competition and exchange, as this painting suggests. The dramatically lit depiction of a young man posing as a commander with his gorget and baton is not a true portrait, but a tronie – a Dutch term for a painting that features an exaggerated facial expression or a figure in an almost theatrical costume. Both Lievens and Rembrandt experimented with tronies early in their careers, often introducing members of their families or their own likenesses.

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88)
Venus, Cupid and Mars
1580s
Oil on canvas
165.2 x 126.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1859; transferred, 1868
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Veronese was famous in his lifetime as a master of rich colour. His paintings often show exotic figures, sumptuous fabrics and such seemingly incidental details as the spaniel pictured at lower right. The depiction of a dog, a symbol of marital fidelity, was intended as a clever and ironic commentary on the adulterous relationship between Venus, the goddess of love and wife of Vulcan, and Mars, the god of war. This canvas was presented as a diplomatic gift on behalf of the Spanish Crown to King Charles 1 of Britain during his trip to Spain in 1623.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This enigmatic composition has been described as an allegory to fable (fábula), though its specific meaning has long been debated. One possibility is that it is a recreation of a lost painting of a boy blowing a fire, made by the ancient artist Antiphilus of Alexandria and known from a text written in the 1st century by Pliny the Elder. The presence of the monkey evokes the classical notion of art as the ape of nature, while the man, whose toothy grin and red and yellow attire identify him as a jester, may allude to the ultimate folly of the painter’s aim of reproducing the visible world – or, perhaps, of imitating the ancients.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' (detail) c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula) (detail)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660) 'An old woman cooking eggs' 1618

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660)
An old woman cooking eggs
1618
Oil on canvas
100.5 x 119.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and a special Treasury Grant, 1955
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

This simple scene of everyday life in seventeenth-century Spain displays the technical sophistication of painter Diego Velázquez. No Velázquez of comparable importance has been seen before in Australia. And indeed, the painting marks the Scottish National Gallery’s most expensive purchase to date. Painted in 1618 when the artist was just eighteen or nineteen years old, the work depicts an old woman cooking eggs in a red-glazed pot, while a young boy holds a flask of wine and a melon. The subjects were real people, perhaps family members or neighbours, and both reappear in other paintings by the artist. It is likely that Velázquez painted the objects and figures directly from life.

The scene is painted with utmost care and detail. His depiction of light and the textures of objects is meticulous – from the soft folds of the woman’s headscarf, to the thick glaze on a ceramic pot, to the warm sheen of light hitting brass or copper. Unlike other portrayals of everyday people and humble genre scenes, this portrait presents its subjects with dignity, without mockery or censure. The extraordinary skill of Velázquez was considered to be unprecedented in Spain at the time. Establishing himself as much-respected painter in his native Seville, the artist moved to the royal courts of Madrid in 1623 and was soon appointed painter to King Philip IV.

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75) 'An interior with a young viola player' 1637

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75)
An interior with a young viola player
1637
Oil on oak panel
31.1 x 23.7 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Dou was the father of the so-called fijnschilders (fine painters), the Lieden school celebrated for its commitment to detailed illusionism and refined technique. This painting is rendered so precisely that it is possible to identify the open book, shown at centre, as De Friesche Lust-Hof (The Frisian pleasure garden), a popular Dutch songbook first published in 1621. The pages are turned to a comic number about the joys and sorrows of love, accompanied by an image of two lovers under a tree in a landscape. For the informed viewer, this depiction adds unexpected irony to the tranquil, melancholic portrayal of the young musician.

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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