Posts Tagged ‘National Galleries of Scotland

28
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 2

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

 

The second part of this monster two-part posting.

Highlights include the delicacy and strength of the William Blake, the stunning beauty of the John Singer Sargent portrait Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892), the perceived movement and presence of The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn (c. 1795). Watteau’s Fêtes vénitiennes (1718-19) confirmed my pleasure when looking at his paintings, the stillness, romanticism and intensity of vision while the muscularity and intensity of the painting in Constable’s The Vale of Dedham c. 1827-28 was a revelation.

Gainsborough’s pastoral River landscape with a view of a distant village (c. 1748-50) was a surprise while the impressionists did not disappoint. Favourite among the last room, though, was the joyous spaces and overlaid patches of light and colour in Paul Cézanne’s The big trees (c. 1904). One of the great treasures of the exhibition.

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.

 

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne's 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne’s The big trees c. 1904
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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 with at left, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave 1780-81 and at right, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892
© Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

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, in the corner, William Blake’s God writing upon the tables of the Covenant c. 1805 and at right, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave 1780-81
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827) 'God writing upon the tables of the Covenant' c. 1805

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827)
God writing upon the tables of the Covenant
c. 1805
Ink and watercolour over pencil and some sketching with a stylus on paper
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
William Findlay Watson Bequest, 1881
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This superb watercolour comes from a group of over 80 illustrations to the Bible executed from Blake’s most significant and loyal patron, Thomas Butts. Artist and patron probably first met in 1799, when Butts commissioned Blake to produce 50 small tempera paintings of biblical subjects. This initial commission seems to have developed into an open-ended series of watercolours, painted over a period of nine years, for which Butts paid Blake a regular stipend. The original mount belonging to this work, now lost, was inscribed with a reference to the relevant biblical text, which in this case is Deuteronomy 9:10.

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92) 'The Ladies Waldegrave' 1780-81

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92)
The Ladies Waldegrave
1780-81
Oil on canvas
143 x 168.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1952
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The first president of the Royal Academy, Reynolds worked to raise the status of portraiture in Britain by painting people in the ‘grand manner’ more commonly associated with history painting. This informal portrait, a ‘conversation piece’, features the three sisters Lady Charlotte Maria, Lady Elizabeth Laura and Lady Anna Horatia Waldegrave. Depicting interlocking figures, Reynolds subtly alludes to trios of goddesses or graces of antiquity – a reference that would have been understood by classically educated viewers of the late 18th century. Reynolds’s triple portrait was commissioned by the sitters’ great-uncle, the celebrated antiquarian, connoisseur and critic Horace Walpole.

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925)
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
1892
Oil on canvas
125.7 x 100.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

One of the best-loved pictures of the National Galleries of Scotland, this portrait of 27-year old Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is the first Sargent to be exhibited in Sydney in 35 years. As one of Sargent’s most glamourous and beguiling characterisations, it was pivotal in establishing the renown of both artist and sitter. The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1893 to wide public acclaim and cemented Sargent’s position as a sought-after, fashionable portraitist of high society. For Lady Agnew, it launched her as a society beauty who later established her own private salon in London. Ironically, the costs of sustaining such fine style led Lady Agnew to sell her own portrait to the Scottish National Gallery in 1925.

In an ornate plush chair and surrounded by swathes of Chinese fabric, Lady Agnew gazes out at the viewer, confidently but enigmatically. Her pose is gracious, but relaxed. The chair and fabric were Sargent’s own props, and along with the generous, gauzy swathes of the sitter’s dress they give the painting a sense of comfort and luxury. Sargent’s brushstrokes are wide and fluid, and in some areas the canvas shows through the thin, sketchy layers of paint. But it is also very carefully composed to present Lady Agnew as an assured and elegant society woman.

 

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 with at left, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892 and at right, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch c. 1795
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Raeburn was the leading Scottish portrait painter of his time. This striking portrait of Robert Walker (1755-1808), minister of Edinburgh’s Canongate Church and a leading member of the city’s exclusive skating society, has come to be regarded as one of Raeburn’s greatest works. It is the most famous painting in the Scottish National Gallery, often described as the quintessential Scottish painting, and is listed in a recent publication as one of the 1000 paintings you must see before you die.

Its simple composition bestows the painting with an extraordinary visual impact. Walker is shown gliding across the icy surface of one of the small lochs near Edinburgh, his arms folded nonchalantly across his chest and his right leg lifted balletically behind him. Raeburn has cleverly created the effect of ice scored by the skater’s blades by scratching back into the paint surface. Unlike most of his artistic peers, Raeburn received no formal artistic education, instead pursuing other academic studies before being apprenticed to a local goldsmith at the age of sixteen.

Raeburn’s approach to painting reflected this unusual path into his profession. He avoided the meticulous production of preparatory drawings and sketches, instead preferring to work straight onto the canvas with minimal formal planning. While this approach invariably meant having to deal with compositional changes in the process of painting, it also enabled Raeburn to produce portraits that were unrivalled in their directness and spontaneity.

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795 (detail)

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (detail)
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Botticelli. Cézanne. Gauguin. Leonardo. Monet. Raphael. Titian. Turner. Velázquez. Vermeer.

One of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia is now open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australians to contemplate the extraordinary quality of over 70 masterful paintings and drawings from across four centuries. 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).

Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant, said with works by some of the world’s most well-known artists, The Greats alongside the Art Gallery of NSW’s own impressive collection is bound to draw big crowds this summer. “An exhibition of this calibre is a real coup for the State and builds on our standing as the cultural capital of Australia,” Minister Grant said. “These incredible works from Scotland may never be on Australian soil again, so art-lovers and novices alike should visit the Art Gallery of NSW and see this historic exhibition while they can.”

Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW said The Greats is a rich and intimate show of remarkable quality. “Each masterpiece – whether it be Titian’s luminous Venus rising from the sea (c. 1520-25) or Gauguin’s striking Three Tahitians (1899) – tells its own unique story. Through robust and engaging public programs, the Gallery looks forward to sharing these stories with visitors of all ages.”

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland unfolds in rooms devoted to the art of the Italian Renaissance, the Baroque in Southern and Northern Europe, the French and British Enlightenment, nineteenth century Scotland, and Impressionism. The exhibition has been carefully designed and installed to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks.”

Text from the AGNSW

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Scottish Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, whose hereditary seat is Inverary Castle, commissioned Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most celebrated English portraitists of the 18th century, to paint his likeness. The artist’s talents were sought by the wealthy elite both in London and in the fashionable resort town of Bath, where he established a studio in 1759. Gainsborough applied dense and feathery brushwork to convey Argyll’s ducal robes, his collar of the Order of  Thistle, and the baton of his hereditary office of Master of the King’s Household.

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' (detail) 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll (detail)
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3 cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93)
The Piazza San Marco, Venice
c. 1770-75
Oil on canvas
55.2 x 85.4 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Scottish National Gallery, 1978
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Like his fellow painter Canaletto, Guardi capitalised on the market of tourists eager for topographical views – vedute – of the spectacular urban spaces of Venice. This composition features the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon would later call ‘the most splendid drawing room in Europe’. On either side, the receding arcades of official buildings, the Procurator Vecchio and Procurator Nuove, lead the eye towards the Basilica of San Marco, its mosaics shimmering in the sunlight. Behind the bellower is a glimpse of the Doge’s Palace. The scene is enlivened by traders, uniformed government officials, and fashionably dressed tourists – all portrayed through only a few deft strokes of the brush.

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' (detail) 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures) (detail)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

At the beginning of the 18th century, Watteau pioneered the fêtes gallant, a type of painting depicting a group of men and women enjoying flirtatious love, music and conversation, generally in a park or a garden setting. His paintings inspired a generation of artists who sought to capture the light-hearted elegance of the period. This painting is one of his few compositions that portray real people: the figure on the left can be identified as Watteau’s friend and fellow artist Nichola Vleugxhels, and the lovelorn bagpipe player on the right is considered a self-portrait of Watteau himself.

 

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

 

François Boucher (France, 1703-70)
The pleasing pastoral: l’aimable pastorale
1762
Oil on canvas
231.5 x 91 cm

The offering of the village girl: l’offrande à la villageoise

1761
Oil on canvas
229 x 89 cm

The sleeping gardener: la jardinière endormie
Oil on canvas
232 x 91 cm
1762

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by private treaty from the estate of HMV Showering, 1986
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Boucher, considered the pre-eminent painter of the French rococo, effectively invented this genre of elegiac, erotic pastoral which found a parallel in the pantomimes devised by his friend Charles-Simon Favart. In these three pastoral scenes set in a luxuriant and entirely unthreatening nature, shepherds engage in a perpetual drama of frustrated courtship, reflecting the polished etiquette and suppressed passions of aristocratic society in pre-revolutionary France.

 

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, John Constable’s The Vale of Dedham c. 1827-28 and at right, Thomas Gainsborough’s River landscape with a view of a distant village c. 1748-50
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Constable was born in Suffolk, and he dedicated most of his career to painting the surrounding English countryside with a marked romantic idealism. He was influenced by the grand tradition of European landscape painting, which he learned from artists and dealers he met in London early in his career. This composition, for instance, is indebted broadly to that of Claude Lorrain’s work Hagar and the angel 1646 (National Gallery, London). Constable referred to his own mature masterpiece in al better of June 1828: ‘I have painted a large upright landscape, perhaps my best.’

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham (details)
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village (details)
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Although best known for his portraits, Gainsborough consistently painted landscape throughout his long career. Rich in detail and carefully composed, this painting reveals his firsthand knowledge of 17th-century Dutch landscapes. During the 1740s, collectors in London admired and sought out works by such artists of Holland’s Golden Age as Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. The especially horizontal format of this work suggests that it may have been part of a decorative cycle for a domestic interior, perhaps hanging above a fireplace.

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' (detail) c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood (detail)
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Corot, whose career spanned more than 50 years, emerged from the classicism of the 1820s to found the ‘school of nature’ that would find its culmination after his death in the art of the impressionists. This bucolic early work was painted at Ville-d’Avray, a small town west of Paris, where Corot’s parents owned a modest country house with grounds. The painting was retouched around 1850, at least in part by Corot’s friend and fellow artist Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña, who added the red cap of the seated woman as a bold implement to the otherwise cool palette.

 

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 Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry c. 1812
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry c. 1812 and at centre, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini 1837
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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 with at centre, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, 1st Baronet mid to late 1790s
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini 1837 and at right, Sir Edwin Landseer’s Rent-day in the wilderness 1868
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness (details)
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Lands became famous for his paintings of the Scottish Highlands. This unusual history painting is based on the heroic exploits of Colonel Donald Murchison, as recounted in Robert Chamber’s Domestic annals of Scotland (1858-60). Murchison, a lawyer turned guerrilla fighter, supported the rebellion to reinstate the Stuart dynasty to the throne of Great Britain. he brazenly defied the government by collecting rents illegally from Scottish tenants to finance local armed resistance. In this painting – commissioned by Murchison’s great-grandson – Landseer conflates several distinct episodes, including the colonel’s daring and notorious ambush of government-appointed agents, escorted by British redcoats, in 1721.

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900) 'Niagara Falls, from the American side' 1867

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900)
Niagara Falls, from the American side
1867
Oil on canvas
260 x 231 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by John Stewart Kennedy, 1887
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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, Camille Pissarro’s The Marne at Chennevières c. 1864-65 and at right, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte 1891
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte 1891 and at right, Paul Cézanne’s The big trees c. 1904
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' (detail) c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières (detail)
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Pisarro, the oldest and perhaps the most paternal of the impressionists, was the only artist to show at all eight of the group exhibitions. He painted this large riverscape early in his career, while renting a house at La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire, a village to the southeast of Paris, situated on the river Marne. The diagonal composition and the use of a palette knife to create this bucolic scene reflect the painter’s admiration for such diverse artists as Charles François Daubigny and Gustave Courbet.

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

In the 1880s, Monet gradually developed a more schematic and decorative approach to landscape, which led to his ‘series’ paintings of the 1890s, beginning with the Haystacks in 1891 and culminating in his water lily paintings. This painting belongs to a series of twenty-three canvases that Monet, the founder of French impressionism and one of the most celebrated artists in Western art history, completed in the late spring and autumn of 1891.

For the series, Monet painted poplar trees on the river Epte, close to where it joins the river Seine, just more than a mile from his home at Giverny. The clear blue sky and sunlit clouds express a fresh atmosphere. Monet painted the scene on the river from his boat, which served as a floating studio. This explains the low vantage point, with the trees towering above, the river bank at eye level, and the vast expanse of water dominating the lower half of the painting. Unlike most of the series paintings which are vertical, the Edinburgh picture’s format is square, emphasising the gentle curve of the bank and the verticality of the slender trees trunks and their reflection in the water.

Monet had already started to create these works when municipal authorities decided to cut down the trees for lumber and sell them at auction. In order to preserve his motifs, Monet partnered with a timber merchant, and successfully saved the poplars, allowing him to complete his series for exhibition in 1892. The painting was the first impressionist picture to enter the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection. It was sold to the Gallery in 1924 by the important Scottish art dealer Alex Reid, who was responsible for introducing impressionism to many British collectors. Degas’ Portrait of Diego Martelli 1879 also passed through his hands (see below).

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte (details)
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917)
Diego Martelli
1879
Oil on canvas
110.4 x 99.8 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1932
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This portrait of the Florentine art critic Diego Martelli, a close friend of Degas and an important champion of impressionism, was painted in Martelli’s Paris apartment. The high viewpoint flattens the composition, throwing the sitter’s legs into sharp perspective. The work’s asymmetry and the cropping of such elements as the discarded slippers reflect Degas’s interest in Japanese prints. The curved picture behind the sofa is a map of Paris: the river Seine is visible, running through coloured segments denoting the city’s new souther neighbourhoods.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This painting dates from the last years of Cézanne’s career. It is one of a series of works executed in the forest around the Bibémus quarry and the Château Noir, areas in which he often painted in his native Aix-en-Provence. The twisting limbs of the tree at left and the dramatic diagonal of the tree at right inject a sense of dynamism into the composition. Cézanne often left his pertaining in seemingly unfinished states, with areas of the primed white canvas showing through; here, they function not only as markers of the painter’s practice but also as patches of reflected sunlight.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees (details)
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

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 Paul Gauguin’s Three Tahitians 1899 and at right, Georges Seurat’s La luzerne, Saint-Denis 1884-85
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903)
Three Tahitians
1899
Oil on canvas
73 x 94 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Three Tahitians epitomises the decorative intensity of Gauguin’s late Polynesian works. Painted in the artist’s final years, during his second period in Tahiti, the work is said to depict a silent conversation in which the man appears to be undecided about the choice offered by the two attractive women – the choice between sensuality and piety. Although ambiguous, it has been suggested these two women are respectively symbolic of vice and virtue.

The bare-chested woman, holding a small posy of flowers and wearing a wedding ring, would seem to represent goodness, her gaze directed to the man. While the woman who turns to face the viewer, her sensuous lips in an enigmatic smile, and holds a mango, may be a reference to the biblical figure Eve who tempted Adam with an apple. These two women recur in several other compositions by Gauguin around this time. In the 1880s, the French post-impressionist fled urban civilisation in search of a tropical Garden of Eden, in which he felt his art could flourish. His final two years of life were spent on the remote island of Hivaoa in the tiny village of Atuona.

 

 

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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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