Posts Tagged ‘NGV International

24
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Bill Henson’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography, NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 27th August 2017

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5 (detail)
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Masterclass

There is nothing that I need to add about the themes, re-sources and beauty of the photographs in this exhibition, than has not been commented on in Christopher Allen’s erudite piece of writing “Bill Henson images reflect the dark past at NGV” posted on The Australian website. It is all there for the reader:

“Figurative works like these, which invite an intense engagement because of our imaginative and affective response to beauty, are punctuated with landscapes that offer intervals of another kind of contemplation, a distant rather than close focus, an impersonal rather than a personal response, a meditation on time and space. …

Henson’s pictorial world is an intensely, almost hypnotically imaginative one, whose secret lies in a unique combination of closeness and distance. He draws on the deep affective power of physical beauty, and particularly the sexually ambiguous, often almost androgynous beauty of the young body, filled with a kind of potential energy, but not yet fully actualised. Yet these bodies are distanced and abstracted by their sculptural, nearly monochrome treatment, and transformed by a kind of alchemical synthesis with the ideal, poetic bodies of art. …

The figures are bewitching but withdraw like mirages, disembodied at the sensual level, only to be merged with the images of memory, the echoes of great works of the past, and to be reborn from the imagination as if some ancient sculpture were arising from darkness into the light of a new life.”

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What I can add are some further observations. Henson is not so serious as to miss sharing a joke with his audience, as when the elbow of the classical statue in Untitled 2008/09 is mimicked in the background by the elbow of a figure. Henson is also a masterful storyteller, something that is rarely mentioned in comment upon his work. When you physically see this exhibition – the flow of the images, the juxtaposition of landscape and figurative works, the lighting of the work as the photographs emerge out of the darkness – all this produces such a sensation in the viewer that you are taken upon a journey into your soul. I was intensely moved by this work, by the bruised and battered bodies so much in love, that they almost took my breath away.

Another point of interest is the relationship between the philanthropist, the artist and the gallery. Due to the extraordinary generosity of Bill Bowness, whose gift of twenty-one photographs by Henson makes the NGV’s collection of his work the most significant of any public institution, the gallery was able to stage this exhibition. This is how art philanthropy should work: a private collector passionate about an artist’s work donating to an important institution to benefit both the artist, the institution and the art viewing public.

But then all this good work is undone in the promotion of the exhibition. I was supplied with the media images: five landscape images supplemented by five installation images of the same photographs. Despite requests for images of the figurative works they were not forthcoming. So I took my own.

We all know of the sensitivity around the work of Henson after his brush with the law in 2008, but if you are going to welcome 21 photographs into your collection, and stage a major exhibition of the donated work… then please have the courage of your convictions and provide media images of the ALL the work for people to see. For fear of offending the prurient right, the obsequiousness of the gallery belittles the whole enterprise.

If this artist was living in New York, London or Paris he would be having major retrospectives of his work, for I believe that Bill Henson is one of the greatest living photographers of his generation.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the images in the posting and supplying the media images (the images after the press release). All other images are © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #35 2009/2010 and at right, Untitled #8 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #35' 2009/2010

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #35
2009/2010
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #8' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #8
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #1' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #1
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled 2010/2011 and at right, Untitled #9 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #9' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #9
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #2 2010/2011 and at right, Untitled #10 2011/2012
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #2' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #2
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #10' 2011/2012 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #10 (detail)
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #3' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #3
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #16 2009/10 and at right, Untitled #10 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #10' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #10
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #15' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #15
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled (detail)
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled (detail)
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #2' 2009/2010 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #2 (detail)
2009/2010
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan in front of Bill Henson's 'Untitled' 2009/10

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan in front of Bill Henson’s Untitled 2009/10 which features Rembrandt’s The return of the prodigal son c. 1662 which is in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Photo: Jeff Whitehead

 

 

The solo exhibition, Bill Henson, will showcase recent works by the Australian photographer, who is celebrated for his powerful images that sensitively explore the complexities of the human condition.

The exhibition brings together twenty-three photographs selected by the artist, traversing the key themes in the artist’s oeuvre, including sublime landscapes, portraiture, as well as classical sculpture captured in museum settings.

Inviting contemplation, Henson’s works present open-ended narratives and capture an intriguing sense of the transitory. Henson’s portraits show his subjects as introspective, focused on internal thoughts and dreams; his landscapes are photographed during the transitional moment of twilight; and the images shot on location inside museums juxtapose graceful marble statues against the transfixed visitors observing them.

Henson’s work is renowned for creating a powerful sense of mystery and ambiguity through the use of velvet-like blackness in the shadows. This is achieved through the striking use of chiaroscuro, an effect of contrasting light and shadow, which is used to selectively obscure and reveal the form of the human body, sculptures and the landscape itself.

“Henson’s photographs have a palpable sense of the cinematic and together they form a powerful and enigmatic visual statement,” said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV. “The NGV mounted Bill Henson’s first solo exhibition in 1975 when Henson was only 19. Over forty years later, audiences to the NGV will be captivated by the beauty of Henson’s images once more,” said Ellwood.

On display at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the inaugural NGV Festival of Photography, the exhibition has been made possible by the extraordinary generosity of Bill Bowness, whose gift of twenty-one photographs by Henson makes the NGV’s collection of his work the most significant of any public institution.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography Photo by Sean Fennessy

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Sean Fennessy

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untiled 2009/10'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2012
© Bill Henson

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untiled 2009/10'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2011
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography Photo by Wayne Taylor

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2011
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Sean Fennessy

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm, closed Tuesdays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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16
Sep
16

Review: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

This is a magnificent exhibition, well paced and beautifully hung in the gallery spaces. It is gratifying to see a “blockbuster” at the National Gallery of Victoria that does not rely on papered walls or patterned floors, that just allows the work to speak for itself. There is an excellent chronological trajectory to the work, showcasing the holistic development of the artist in one interweaving arc: from the early history paintings, where Degas is educating himself not only in the history of art but also in the practicalities of the history of painting (how actually to paint) … through to the late, bravura pastels.

Pastel is Degas’s strongest medium and it was incredible to observe close up how he could make pastel look like oil paint and vice versa. My favourite was Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (c. 1894, below) were the flattened perspectival image disintegrates before your eyes: “As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.” Abstraction eat your heart out.

His “impressions” of reality rely on a keen eye, a wonderful understanding of space and the refractions of light, and the use of depth of field. The paintings I like best were not of the ballet, but rather the everyday “observational” paintings of the theatre box, a conversation and, particularly, The laundress ironing (c. 1882-86, below) with its simplified planar colour fields that run in different directions. These “punctures” of reality, or punctum to use a photographic term, elevate mundane everyday occurrences into a revelatory state – as though these encounters were taken from the flow of space and time, one frame out of a non-linear narrative.

The paintings of women at the toilettes are not voyeuristic but show a love and passion for an intimacy with women which he perhaps never achieved in real life, brought forth in observations of the female form “that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models”. Melbourne arts blogger Natalie Thomas observes that, “”Women and girls are everywhere in this show, but strangely absent too,” writes Thomas. Despite the fact the majority of Degas’ work explores femininity and the female body, the show, she says, fails to provide a female perspective.” (Natalie Thomas quoted in Shad D’Souza, “Gender and the NGV: ‘More white male artists than you can shake a stick at’,” on The Guardian website 15 September 2016 Cited 16/09/2016).

While I agree with Natalie Thomas that these paintings fail to provide a contemporary female perspective, that is not all that these paintings are about. Of course, they are a privileged white male gaze looking upon the body of a female and we must accept and acknowledge that is what they are. But that is just one element of their narrative. It’s all very well critiquing the work from the present day and saying there is no female perspective, but in the era in which these “sensational” paintings emerged – it was an epoch where the privileged, powerful male gaze could look upon the female body. Yes, please look at the paintings from a contemporary perspective while understanding the conditions under which they were created, and then try to say something more interesting about them: the perspective, the colours, the form, the position of the painter, the framing of the scene, the possible disappearance of the artist to the sitter, as though the camera (his eyes) had disappeared: where someone is so used to the other being there, that they are natural (do not act or perform), unselfconscious in front of them. Then, and only then, do the paintings perhaps become something else – about women, their lives and habits/habitats. A different perspective from trotting out the usual “we are objectified/ subjugated/ defiled” trope.

The sculptures are the revelation of the exhibition. Again, the male gaze pushing and prodding at the female form… except, these sculptures seem to erupt from within – like bubbling hot mud that seems to emanate from deep within the artist, erupting into the glorious form of the female body. Dark and mysterious, I would have loved to have seen one of the wax models, just one, to see the colour and feel the fragility of that form, over the robustness of the bronze.

And finally to the last room, the late works. There is an essentialness to the late work, the form stripped bare, heavily applied pastel in layers, dark heavy outlines with the frame filled with an “orgy of colours” – he “developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.” But he could still feel what he was doing and we can feel it too: the working of the medium, the working of the theme to its final resolution.

While I didn’t know much about the work of Degas other than the ballet pictures before this exhibition after three visits, perhaps I know just a little more.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Cafés-concerts: 1870s

The time that Degas spent overseas in New Orleans made him surprisingly nostalgic for everything he had left behind in Paris. The simple reason he gave was that ‘One loves and gives art only to the things to which one is accustomed’. Although delighted by the new sights and sensations he experienced in New Orleans, he felt that ‘ new things capture your face and bore you by turns’. With these words, Degas expressed what would become his credo for the rest of his career.

After this time, Degas refused invitations to travel to exotic locales and put aside the search for new subjects, focusing instead on the same themes: dancers, rockets, women in the bath. The novelty of what he had discovered in America also led him soon afterwards to retreat into himself. seeing inspiration in introspection. For Degas the exotic could be found perfectly well at home, especially in the new evening venues of 1870s Paris, the café-concerts. He delighted in exploring the tension and psychological preparation that lay behind the surface glamour of stage performances conducted within an artificial other-reality.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)]' (installation view) 1879

 

Edgar Degas
Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)] (installation view)
1879
Gouache, pastel and oil paint on silk
Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State
Gift of Mr and Mrs W. Hilding Lindberg

 

 

[Dancers (Fan, design) belongs to a group of fans made in the late 1870s that reflect Degas’s fascination at this time with Japanese art. Highly aestheticised, these fans show how Degas took advantage of this unusual format to explore new compositional possibilities. Here, for example, the balletic action taking place on stage competes for the viewer’s attention with the theatre’s screening machinery, as well as with the group of black-clad abonnés (subscribers with back stage passes) gathered in the wings in the middle distance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Theatre box (1885) and at right, Theatre box (1880)

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1885

 

Edgar Degas
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1885
Pastel
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The Armand Hammer Collection

 

 

In contrast with his numerous ballet works, Degas produced relatively few studies of the spectators at the Opera and other theatrical venues. Theatre box is one of his most captivating studies of the magical effects created by artificial stage lighting. Its contrast between the shadowy reality of the viewer in her dimmer theatre box and the vividly illuminated fantasy being performed before her onstage is as compelling as it is radical.

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1880

 

Edgar Degas
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
The Lewis Collection, Houston

 

 

When exhibited at the fifth ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in Paris in 1880, this pastel attracted the attention of the critic Charles Ephrussi, who wrote glowingly of how it shoed ‘a profound knowledge of the relations between tones, producing the most unexpected and curious effects: the wine-coloured draperies of the spectator’s box and the yellowish glow of the footlights are projected onto the face of a diminutive theatre-goer, who thus finds herself illuminated by violet and brilliant yellow; the impression is strange, but captured with perfect reality’.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Theatre box' 1880

 

Edgar Degas
Theatre box
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
66.0 x 53.0 cm
The Lewis Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'In a café (The Absinthe drinker)' c. 1875-76

 

Edgar Degas
In a café (The Absinthe drinker)
c. 1875-76
Oil on canvas
92 x 68.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1984)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Martine Beck-Coppola

 

 

Edgar Degas biography

Edgar Degas was born in 1834 into a wealthy banking family. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his family were supportive of his artistic talent and desire to become an artist.

Degas resisted being labelled an ‘Impressionist’ yet was at the core of the movement’s most important manifestations. Classically trained, Degas initially aspired to be a painter of historical narratives. As he matured, however, he made the depiction of daily life the central focus of his art. He was drawn primarily to the human figure engaged in movement and work, sketching on the spot then working up his finished compositions indoors in his studio. Degas’ obsession with the theatre and ballet in particular enabled him to explore his fascination with artificial light, which set him apart from the other Impressionists who preferred to work out-of-doors capturing the transient effects of natural daylight.

Degas absorbed many diverse influences, from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism, and reinterpreted them in innovative ways. Degas obsessively revisited and experimented with his favourite themes which saw him fashion varied and unusual vantage points and asymmetrical framing. His depictions of ballet dancers alone number in the hundreds. Such endeavours helped him to achieve the innovative and distinctive style which is explored in Degas: A New Vision.

Degas served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and began to experience eyesight deterioration by the late 1880s. He increasingly took up sculpture as his eyesight weakened. In his later years, he was preoccupied with the subject of women bathing unselfconsciously and developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.

Degas continued working to as late as 1912. He died five years later in 1917, at the age of eighty-three.

 

 

All that gesture in theatre summon,
or that the agile and mendacious tongue
of ballet speaks to those who comprehend
the silent eloquence of limbs in motion.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier' 1872

 

Edgar Degas
Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier
1872
Oil on canvas
32.7 x 46.3 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance rehearsal' c. 1870–72

 

Edgar Degas
The dance rehearsal
c. 1870-72
Oil on canvas
40.6 x 54.6 cm
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
Gift of anonymous donor, initiated 2001, completed 2006

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The rehearsal (c. 1874), and at right The dance class (c. 1873)

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874

 

Edgar Degas
The rehearsal
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

While the friendships he established in the 1860s with musicians such as Désiré Dihau, a bassoon player with the Paris Opéra, brought Degas into the orbit of ballet performances in the French capital, the full extent of his access to this world prior to the mid-1880s remains unknown. This may explain why his many depictions of dancers practising backstage in rehearsal rooms in the 1870s were his own studio inventions rather than accurate depictions of the Opéra’s foyers de la danse.

Degas’ favourite theatrical venues – the Opéra in the rue le Peletier that was destroyed by fire in October 1873 and its replacement, the Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875 – were both located in the 9th arrondissement, close to his studio. Degas exhibited ballet compositions at the ‘impressionist’ group exhibitions from 1874 onwards, all the while resisting the label, arguing that his own art was Realist and meticulously crafted in the studio instead of spontaneously created before nature. When the Galeries Durand-Ruel began acquiring Degas’ paintings in 1872, the artist’s first sales at this time were of ballet subjects. Unlike the romantic perspective through which these scenes are viewed today, Degas’ contemporaries recognised in them a rejection of the surface glamour of ballet’s front of house in favour of a serious study of the gritty reality of life backstage. There, junior impoverished dancers jostled for attention from their trainers, all too frequently prostituting themselves on the side so they could afford to stay in competition for coveted stardom.

While The rehearsal and other similar depictions such as The dance class, c. 1873, are ostensibly based on direct observations of dance rehearsals at the Paris Opéra in the rue Le Peletier, their different treatments of architecture hint at the degree to which Degas constructed their compositions from memory. This painting shows a radical cropping of the spiral staircase at left connecting the stage level to the rehearsal room, down which the disembodied limbs of young ballerinas descend. In the background to the right the celebrated dance instructor Jules Perrot can be seen.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873

 

Edgar Degas
The dance class
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2 cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The dance class (installation view)
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2 cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage (installation views)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997
Image © Lyon MBA – Photo RMN / Ojeda, Le Mage

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' (detail) c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers on the stage (detail)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997

 

 

Dancers on the stage looks back to the experiments with pictorial space and repoussoir compositional staging that had so characterised Degas’s ballet works of the 1870s and early 1880s. Repoussoir was a favourite technique for Degas, a technique in which an object place prominently in the foreground of a work serves to emphasise the recession of physical space in the rest of the composition. In an unusual choice for the artist, Degas shows here a dress rehearsal on stage. The attention of the dancers is focused upon the diminutive figure of the dave master in the far left background whose presence ignites a diagonal magnetism that animates the whole painting.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Finishing the arabesque' 1877

 

Edgar Degas
Finishing the arabesque
1877
Oil and essence, pastel on canvas
67.4 x 38 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 4040)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

Curator Dr Ted Gott talking to the media

 

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Victoria talking to the media, standing in front of Degas’s Dancer with bouquets c. 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view detail)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer with bouquets (installation view and detail)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4 cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer with bouquets
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4 cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler

 

 

Sculptures

Although Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, The little fourteen-year old dancer, he worked in this medium in privacy in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. His primary subjects were thoroughbred racehorses, female dances and women at the toilette, and he modelled his sculptures in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly. As Degas’s eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly side that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’s death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze of seventy-four of the most intact of Degas’s sculptures. While many of Degas’s original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing the sculpture cases

 

Edgar Degas. 'The tub' 1888-89

 

Edgar Degas
The tub
1888-89, cast 1919-32
Bronze
22.5 x 45.0 x 42.0 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 26 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'The masseuse' c. 1896–1911

 

Edgar Degas
The masseuse
c. 1896-1911, cast 1919-32
Bronze
43.0 x 38.0 x 30.0 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 55 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Seated woman wiping her left side' c. 1901–11

 

Edgar Degas
Seated woman wiping her left side
c. 1901-11, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.0 x 30.5 x 30.4 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 46 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice' 1882–95

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice
1882-95, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.2 x 15.9 x 11.8 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 64 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot' (Second study) c. 1900-10

 

Edgar Degas
Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot (Second study)
c. 1900-10, cast 1919-37 or later
Bronze
47.3 x 24.3 x 20.8 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 59 (cast T)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Leigh Clifford AO and Sue Clifford, 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The laundress ironing (installation view)
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7 cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86

 

Edgar Degas
The laundress ironing
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7 cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
The Conversation (installation view)
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0 cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895

 

Edgar Degas
The Conversation
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0 cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

Walter Sickert recalled Degas speaking of his obsession with observing women at their most private moments. He wanted to look at their private activities through keyholes, according to Sickert: ‘He said that painters too much made of women formal portraits, whereas their hundred and one gestures, their chatteries, &c., should inspire an infinite variety of design’. The Conversation reflects the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints and their frequently intimate subject matter. The specifics of setting are only alluded to in this exquisite pastel, the emphasis being placed instead upon the close relationship between these two elegant Parisiennes.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rose Caron' c. 1892 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Rose Caron (installation view)
c. 1892
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

 

 

Women at their toilettes: 1880s and 1890s

In 1875 pastel became one of Degas’s favourite techniques. Gustave Moreau had introduced him to this medium during their time together in Italy during the late 1850s, and the increasing interest in pastel in artistic circles during the 1870s influenced Degas’s choice to explore its potential. At the eighth and last ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in 1886 Degas exhibited a suite of pastel studies of women bathing that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models. George Moore wrote tellingly of these nudes: ‘The effect is prodigious. Degas has done what Baudelaire did – he has invented un frisson nouveau (a new sensation)’.

Because intimate access to female ablutions was rarely experience by husbands in bourgeois married life at the time, it was assumed by critics and audiences that Degas’s female nudes were performing their toilettes in a brothel setting. The close observation of undressed women engaged in private acts of washing and drying themselves led Degas’s ongoing status as a bachelor to become a topic of speculation in both the art world and wider social circles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, from left to right, Nude woman lying down (c. 1901), Dancer in a leotard (c. 1896) and Toilette after the bath (c. 1890)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, The Bather (La Baigneuse), c. 1895

 

Edgar Degar. 'La Baigneuse [The bather]' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas
The Bather (La Baigneuse) (installation view)
c. 1895
Pastel and charcoal on paper
Bequest, Henry K. Dick Estate

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at he toilette] c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at he toilette] (installation view)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (installation view)
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099 mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894

 

Edgar Degas
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette]
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099 mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The repetitive work involved in a woman’s daily maintenance of her hair appealed greatly to Degas. As early as 187 he asked whether he could observe Geneviève Halévy, a cousin of his old school friend Ludovic, performing this private tasks. Woman at her toilette is a fascinating study of a woman’s labour-intensive morning routine, drawn with a sense of pathos and human frailty. As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.

 

Edgar Degar. 'Woman in a Tub' 1883

 

Edgar Degas
Woman in a Tub
c. 1883
Pastel on paper
70.0 x 70.0 cm
Tate, London
Bequeathed by Mrs A.F. Kessler 1983
© Tate, London 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Woman at her bath
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Woman at her bath (installation view)
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9 cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck (installation view)
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95

 

Edgar Degas
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] c. 1884-86

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself]' c. 1884-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] (installation view)
c. 1884-86
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

 

Horse racing

 

Broken staccato heralds its approach,
strong, steaming breath, as early as the dawn,
kept to its straining pace by stable lad,
the fine colt gallops throwing up the dew.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Out of the paddock (Racehorses)' c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78

 

Edgar Degas
Out of the paddock (Racehorses)
c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78
Oil on wood panel
32.5 x 40.5 cm
Private collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Chevaux de courses [Racehorses] (installation view)
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchase 1950

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99

 

Edgar Degas
Racehorses
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1950
Photo © NGC

 

Edgar Degas. 'Before the race' c. 1883-90

 

Edgar Degas
Before the race
c. 1883-90
Pastel
49.0 x 62.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection

 

 

Photography

“By the time he began making photographs in 1895, Degas was 61 years old and the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition was a decade behind him. Daniel Halévy, son of his old friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, introduced Degas to photography, prompting the artist to acquire a camera that required glass plates and a tripod. In a burst of creative energy that lasted less than five years, he made a body of photographs of which fewer than 50 survive…

Exactly why Degas took up photography remains unknown. Clearly, photography provided a new pair of eyes during the period when his eyesight was failing. The illness and death of his sister, Marguerite, in 1895 and his brother Achille in 1893 may also have played a role. Photographs were for Degas a powerful tool of memory to recall his loved ones, and the activity of photographing bound him closely to an extended family-the Halévys-that embraced him in his time of grief…

Degas often illuminated his subjects with a single bright light source. The figures seem to emerge from darkness. In a series of individual portraits he made of Daniel and Louise Halévy in the autumn of 1895, each sitter is pictured in the same armchair in their home, under this Rembrandtesque light. They are seen in original contact prints (about 3 x 4 inches) and in enlargements. Altogether, these images show the artist’s picture-making process and reveal Degas’ manipulations of space, scale, focus, and emotional effect. In Louise Halévy Reading to Degas (J. Paul Getty Museum), another enlargement from a contact print done about the same time, Degas conveys unusual intimacy. It shows a vulnerable man’s dependence upon a friend in reading the newspaper at a time when his eyesight was failing.”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

“These days, Degas abandons himself entirely to his new passion for photography,” wrote an artist friend in autumn 1895, the moment of the great Impressionist painter’s most intense exploration of photography. Degas’s major surviving photographs little known even among devotees of the artist’s paintings and pastels, are insightfully analyzed and richly reproduced for the first time in this volume, which accompanies an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Bibliothéque Nationale de France.

Degas’s photographic figure studies, portraits of friends and family, and self-portraits – especially those in which lamp-lit figures emerge from darkness – are imbued with a Symbolist spirit evocative of realms more psychological than physical. Most were made in the evenings, when Degas transformed dinner parties into photographic soirees, requisitioning the living rooms of his friends, arranging oil lamps, and directing the poses of dinner guests enlisted as models. “He went back and forth … running from one end of the room to the other with an expression of infinite happiness,” wrote Daniel Halévy, the son of Degas’s close friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, describing one such evening. “At half-past eleven everybody left; Degas, surrounded by three laughing girls, carried his camera as proudly as a child carrying a rifle.”

Text from The Met website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé (16 December 1895)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Bartholome's Weeping girl' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Self-portrait with Bartholomé’s Weeping girl (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

 

Edgar Degas. 'Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Genevieve Mallarme' 16 December 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé
16 December 1895
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Edgar Degas. 'Daniel Halévy' 14 October 1895

 

Edgar Degas
Daniel Halévy
14 October 1895
Gelatin silver print
40.0 x 29.4 cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 5b
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Gift of the children of Mme Halévy-Joxe (PHO 1994-1 2)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

Late works

Edgar Degas. 'Three dancers' 1896-1905

 

Edgar Degas
Les Trois Danseuses [Three dancers]
1896-1905
Pastel
51.0 x 47.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees (35.249)
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Pastel entitled Les Trois Danseuses, depicting three ballet dancers, apparently making an entry, wearing yellow ballet skirts.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges] (installation view)
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges]
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

Pastel entitled Les Jupes Rouges, depicting three ballet dancers in red skirts – in posing practice.

Throughout his career Degas produced more than 700 works in pastel. In the 1870s he often worked ‘wet’, employing pastel à l’eau (crushing pastel sticks to powder which, mixed with water, could be applied with a brush) to create smooth, seamless textures. By the mid 1890s he worked increasingly with layers of pastel cement together over applications of fixative. This created shimmering optical effects that celebrated the crumbly texture of the pastel medium.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at the barre' 1900

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers at the barre
1900
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
111.2 x 95.6 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1921
Photo © NGC

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dancers at the barre (1900)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, The Russian dancer (1895)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at a rehearsal' c. 1895-98 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas
Dancers at a rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1895-98
Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal

 

 

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06
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

A magnificent exhibition of the work of Edgar Degas at NGV International. So nice to see a blockbuster without papered walls or patterned floors, an exhibition that just allows the work to speak for itself. Review to follow in part 2 of the posting.

“Il y a quelque chose plus terrible encore que le bourgeois – c’est l’homme qui nous singe [There’s something even more awful than the bourgeois – it’s the man who apes us]”

Edgar Degas as noted down by Oscar Wilde when he met him in 1883.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Female nude

 

Edgar Degas. 'Female nude' 1905

 

Edgar Degas
Female nude
1905
Charcoal and brown pastel
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Gift of Mr Noah Torno, 2003

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1863

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1863
Oil on canvas
89.5 x 66.7 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2650)
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)

 

 

At the start of the 1860s Degas’s family still acted as his primary models for portraiture. In early 1863 he painted this engagement portrait of his sister Thérèse. He shows her as a young woman all dressed up to go out; in fact, to go abroad. Timidly she show off her engagement ring before a view of Naples, her face serene, the sky blue with future happiness. She was to move to Naples after her marriage in Paris on 11 April 1863 to her first cousin Edmondo Morbilli, the son of Rose Morbilli, the sister of Degas’s father.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, in the centre, Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar

 

Edgar Degas. 'Degas's father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar' after 1874

 

Edgar Degas
Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar
after 1874
Oil on canvas
81.6 x 65.1 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bequest of John T. Spaulding
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (two of four states) (installation view)
1857
Etching and drypoint
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (third of four states) (detail)
1857
Etching and drypoint
23.0 x 14.4 cm (plate), 34.9 x 25.7 cm (sheet),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

While studying in Rome as a young man degas became increasingly interested in printmaking and also in the portraits of Rembrandt, which he first saw in publication by the French art writer Charles Blanc. The effects of light and shadow in Rembrandt’s portraits inspired Degas to undertake a series of self-portraits including this, his only self-portrait etching, which he produced in four separate states. He experimented with altering the appearance of these etchings through leaving varying amounts of ink on the plate before printing. Degas was very pleased with this exercise, and gave away examples of these trials to his friends.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne including at left, Thérèse De Gas (c. 1855-56)

 

Traces of Ingres’s influence on the young Degas are clearly visible here in the clean, firm contours delineating the face of his hen fifteen-year-old sister Thérèse De Gas. Offsetting the crisp edge drawn along her cheek i a subtle modelling of the chin and cheeks produced with smudged pencil, recalling the sfumato (soft or blurred) effects of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1855-56

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1855-56
Black crayon and graphite on brown paper
32.0 x 28.4 cm (sheet)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Julia Knight Fox Fund
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edgar Degas. 'René De Gas' 1855

 

Edgar Degas
René De Gas (installation view)
1855
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Purchased 1935

 

 

Degas’s family members were his principal models in the early years of his career. His first art lessons were undertaken with Louis Lamothe, a loyal follower of the Neoclassical master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This portrait of his younger brother René, the family darling, betrays Degas’s resolve to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Ingres, whose work was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in September 1854. Degas visited the elderly master of Neoclassical portraiture in 1855, the year the he undertook this portrait. Preparatory drawings show that degas radically simplified his composition, eliminating a complex interior setting in favour of a dramatic dark background reminiscent of the Mannerist Old Master, Angolo Bronzino.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women]

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women] (installation view)
1857
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Purchased 1960
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

This work is both a portrait and a genre scene, but it leans towards the former in that there is little trace of narrative, local colour or exotic reference. Degas details the marks of old age, fatigue and poverty – wrinkled skin, gnarled hands, the motley garments of a pauper – along with the faded colours that he recorded in a contemporary notebook: ‘figure of an old woman / very tanned skin, white veil / cloak thrown over / shoulder faded brown / faded free dress / a little like the back wall / of my room / yellow apron’

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, Family portrait also called The Bellelli family 1867

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family (installation view)
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

 

In 1858-59, during an Italian sojourn, Degas stayed in Florence for nine months with his aunt Laure and her husband, Baron Gennaro Bellelli. There he embarked on the largest painting he would ever create – a monumental portrait of Laure, Gennaro and their daughters, Giovanna and Giulia. A study of marital discontent presented on the scale of a history painting, Family portrait, also called The Bellelli family, reflected Degas’ recent study of the dignified sitters in the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck’s early seventeenth-century portraits, which he had seen in Genoa. He worked on this painting continuously after his return to Paris, completing a final version of it for the Paris Salon of 1867. Alive to the unhappy marital dynamics between Laure and her husband, a political exile from Naples, Degas showed his morose relatives in their rented apartment, physically separated from one another by items of furniture and Giovanna (on the left) and Giulia. Although expecting her third child, Laure Bellelli (la Baronne) stands proud and aloof, in full mourning for her recently deceased father (Degas’ grandfather) Hilaire Degas, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind her. Meanwhile, her husband, conspicuously not in mourning, sits in comfort by the fire. Adults and children are compressed into a shallow plane, an airless, static vacuum. The uneasy ambience is accentuated by Giulia’s absent leg and the family dog, shown without its head, in the right foreground.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Monsieur Reulle (1861) and at right, Portrait de jeune femme [Portrait of a young woman] (1867)

 

In this portrait of Monsieur Ruelle, Degas shows his father’s former bank cashier as a man of seriousness and restrained sophistication, dressed in a dinner suit and black bow tie as if preparing to go the opera. In its combination of informality and masculine severity the portrait conforms to a convention among ninetieth-centruy Realist artists of portraying each other and their friends as modern men of leisure and the metropolis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Étude pour Jeunes Spartiates s’exerçant à la lutte [Study for The young Spartans exercising] (installation view)
c. 1860-61
Oil on paper on paper on cardboard
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Friends of the Fogg Museum

 

 

On returning to Paris from Italy in 1860 Degas began work on scenes from the Bible and ancient history, including this preparatory oil sketch for a vignette from an ancient greek subject. In the foreground two groups of adolescents are seen confronting each other on the plains of Sparta, watched over by the white-haired law-giver Lycurgus and the teenagers’ mothers. The subject has conventionally been read as the exercises traditionally undertaken by Spartans in preparation for war, but it has also been suggested that it represents Spartan courtship rites. In the Life of Lycurgus  it was noted that display of physical prowess by girls assisted young men in choosing strong mothers, who would produce strong children.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

installation-p

 

Edgar Degas
Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartan girls challenging boys] (installation views)
c. 1860
Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli' c. 1865

 

Edgar Degas
Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli
c. 1865
Oil on canvas
116.5 x 88.3 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

An exhibition of one of the world’s most beloved artists, Edgar Degas, opens to the public from tomorrow at NGV International showcasing significant works never-before-seen in Australia.

In its world premiere, Degas: A New Vision presents the largest display of Degas’ works to ever come to Australia, and forms the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre in decades. Featuring more than 200 works, Degas: A New Vision reveals Degas’ talent in a new light; not only as a great master of painting, but also as a master of drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. The works travel to Melbourne from 65 lenders in more than 40 cities across the globe.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, said, “Degas: A New Vision is a coup for the NGV and for Victoria. Local audiences will be the first in the world to experience this incredible exhibition – another example of how we are leading the way as the creative state. Part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, this exhibition continues the tradition of creating drawcard cultural events for locals and visitors and bringing must-see art to our city each year.”

Some of Degas’ most famous masterworks are presented including the bronze sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer, 1879-81, and In a café (The Absinthe drinker), c. 1875-76. World-renowned paintings, never-before-seen in Australia, are also exhibited such as the celebrated ballet paintings The rehearsal, c. 1874, and Finishing the arabesque, 1877, and Degas’ monumental portrait The Bellelli family, 1867.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “Presenting Edgar Degas’ magnificent oeuvre in a fresh and reinvigorated light showcases him as one of the defining artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated and significant artists, his influence upon modern and contemporary art is undeniable. Degas: A New Vision provides audiences with a rare experience to truly be immersed in the creativity and originality of his art, giving visitors a deeper and richer understanding of his brilliance.”

Degas: A New Vision is presented thematically, grouping together the subjects which Degas continually returned to throughout his career, including not only his famous ballet scenes but also arresting portraits, the nude, horse-racing, the social world of Parisian nightlife, and women at work and leisure. The exhibition also explores the great technical, conceptual and expressive freedoms that Degas achieved in his later years, and reveals his experiments with a range of mediums including sculpture and photography. This approach emphasises Degas’ obsessive and highly creative working methods, and allows visitors to enjoy the development of Degas’ art from its beginnings.

Degas was fascinated by aspects of modern life – voraciously painting Paris’ dance halls and cabarets, cafés, racetracks, opera and ballet stages. He also studied the simple, everyday gestures of working women: milliners, dressmakers and laundresses. He was drawn to explore movement that was precise and disciplined, such as that of racehorses and ballet dancers, and absorbed a diverse range of influences from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism.

The National Gallery of Victoria is pleased to be working with the world’s pre-eminent expert on Edgar Degas, Henri Loyrette, former Director of the Musée du Louvre (2001-13) and Musée d’Orsay (1994-2001), who is principal curator of the exhibition. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, are both staging this major retrospective, which has been developed by both institutions in association with Art Exhibitions Australia. Degas: A New Vision travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in October 2016.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre left, Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring (1867-68) and, a centre right, Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet The Spring) (1867-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas
Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring
1867-68
Oil on canvas
130.8 x 145.1 cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood, 1921

 

Edgar degas. 'Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas 
Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet ‘The Spring’] 
(installation view)
1867-68
Oil on canvas
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Portrait d’homme [Portrait of a man] (c. 1866) and a right, Victoria Dubourg (1868-69)

 

 

Among Degas’s circle of Realist painters were some outstanding practitioners of still life, a genre that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity following the revival of interest in the French eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. The identity of the man in this portrait is unknown, although he seems to be a still-life artist. He is depicted by Degas in his studio, informal seated with hands clasped, surrounded by the standard props of his trade: hunks of meat, white cloths, glassware and sketches of past still lives displayed on a wall as aides-mémoire – a masculine counterpart to the portrait of Victoria Dubourg that is also displayed here.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Victoria Dubourg' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Victoria Dubourg
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 64.8 cm
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Levis

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

 

Berthe Marie Jeantaud was the wife of Charles Jeantaud, with whom Degas served in the artillery company under the command of Henri Rouart in 1870-71, during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune. Following Berthe Marie’s marriage to Jeantaud in 1872, Degas produced this as well as a second portrait of her. Her cousin was Vicomte Ludovic Lepic, a landscape painter and etcher who taught degas methods of manipulating plate tones in his monotypes. In this remarkable candid and economical oil sketch, Degas depicts Madame Jeantaud at home with her two small dogs at 24 rue de Téhéran.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877 (detail)

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view detail)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871–72

 

Installation view of Degas’s Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas
Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène
1871-72
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 74.9 cm
Courtesy of Acquavalla Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

So cordial were Degas’s relations with Henri Rouart and his brother Alexis, who was also an art collector, that he dined with Alexis on Tuesdays and Henri on Fridays. In 1906 Degas wrote to his sister Thérèse that the Rouarts were his only remaining family in France. This portrait of Henri with his daughter Hélène was the first of many portraits. Henri is seen here as a paterfamilias, head of his household (a role that Degas esteemed) and in front of one of his landscapes, which degas also admired enough to invite Henri to exhibit with the ‘impressionists’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dead fox in the undergrowth (1864-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dead fox in the undergrowth' 1864-68

 

Edgar Degas
Renard mort, sou-bois [Dead fox in the undergrowth]
1864-68
Oil on canvas
35.0 x 58.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais

 

 

While his colleagues exhibition plein-air landscapes as ‘Impressionists’, degas adhered to his position as a ‘Realist’ during the 1860s and 70s, with at times awkward results. Dead fox in the undergrowth displays the powerful sense of physical presence that can be achieved by studying a dead fox in the studio under artificial light, and by using a brush to render the fox’s luscious pelt. Less convincing is the forest setting, which is invited and only roughly blocked out. Here Degas applied thin slashes of green and brown paint to suggest trees and forest floor, emulating, some have suggested, the Realist technique of Gustave Courbet.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The little fourteen-year-old dancer (1879-81) and at centre bottom, The song rehearsal (c. 1872-73)

 

Edgar Degas. 'The little fourteen-year-old dancer' 1879-81, cast 1922-37

 

Edgar Degas
The little fourteen-year-old dancer
1879-81, cast 1922-37
Bronze with cotton skirt and satin ribbon
99.0 x 35.2 x 24.5 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 73 (cast unlettered)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

 

At the 1881 ‘impressionist’ group exhibition Degas unveiled a large wax sculpture of an immature ballerina (of which this is a bronze version), which he provocatively clad in real clothing. Critics were scandalised, accusing him of having dredged ‘the lower depths of dance’, choosing his dancer from among the ‘most hatefully ugly’. Degas’ model, ballet student Marie Van Goethem, the daughter of a tailor and a laundress and part-time prostitute, was later to abandon her dance studies and disappear into Paris’ underworld.

Degas produced sculptures in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. He modelled them in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly, his primary subjects being thoroughbred racehorses, female dancers and women at their toilette. As Degas’ eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly said that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’ death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze, by the Adrien-A. Hébrard Foundry, Paris, and their Milanese master craftsman Albino Palazzolo, of seventy four of the most intact of Degas’ sculptures. While many of Degas’ original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The song rehearsal' c. 1872–73

 

Edgar Degas
The song rehearsal
c. 1872-73
Oil on canvas
81.0 x 64.9 cm
House Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Cotton merchants in New Orleans' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Marchands de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Cotton merchants in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gift of Herbert N. Strauss

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' (installation view) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

 

In October 1872 Degas travelled to New Orleans in the United States, where he stayed for five months with his late mother’s brother Michel Musson and the extended Musson family. The artist’s younger brothers René and Achille had already relocated there, and had opened a wine import business financed by the Parisian Degas family bank. During his stay in Louisiana, Degas painted A cotton office in New Orleans, 1873, which reflected his observations of the industry that was central to that city. This now celebrated painting, which became the first work by Degas to enter a public collection when acquired by Pau’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in 1878, depicts Michel Musson in the foreground sampling cotton fibre in the office of his cotton export business.

René and Achille De Gas appear as relaxed visitors – René reading a newspaper and Achille casually observing the other men at work – in this complex group portrait of fourteen men, which has echoes of the artist’s love of seventeenth-century Dutch guild portraits. A cotton office in New Orleans was the prototype for many of Degas’ works of the 1870s and 1880s: framing that cuts to the heart of the subject and slices through men and objects alike; a de-centred composition viewed from slightly overhead, with a steep, diagonal perspective; a depth of field that creates close-ups while miniaturising anything farther off; and contrasts provided by light sources and, more particularly, by the frequently reproduced backlighting effect.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Cour d’une maison à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch)] (installation view)
1873
Oil on canvas
Ordeupgaard, Copenhagen
Bequest of the Danish government, 1951

 

The partially finished state of Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) reflects Degas’s experiences in the city, as he struggled to fulfil social obligations with his American relatives. The view here looking out from a shaded interior also indicates that Degas was already experiencing problems with his eyesight, which was affected by the harsh Louisiana sunlight.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The pedicure' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
The pedicure
1873
Oil and essence on paper on canvas
61.5 x 46.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1986)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

The young girl being attended to by a chiropodist in this painting is believed to be Joe Balfour, daughter of Degas’s widowed cousin Estelle Musson, whose husband had been killed in 1862 during the American Civil War. Degas here uses a technique he invented, peinture à l’essence (which entailed using oil pigments with most of the oil blotted away, thinned out with turpentine). Applied like watercolour, it dried with a soft matt finish that Degas preferred to the glossy sheen of traditional oil paintings.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Edgar Degas Interior c. 1868-69 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing Interior (c. 1868-69)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Interior' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Interior
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 114.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Degas ironically referred to this painting as ‘my genre picture’, by which he understated the gravitas of this domestic scene. This drama of seeming violation perpetrated on a young working-class woman b a man displaying the clothing and posture of a young bourgeois acquired in Degas’s hands the breadth and intensity of history painting. The muted colours and dim light accentuate the unspoken violence, anguish and simmering tension between the two people. The open box on the round table at the centre of the painting is a telling symbol of lost virginity. The rosy interior of the gaping jewel-case is brutally expired by the lamp standing next to it.

 

 

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07
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31th July 2015 – 8th November 2015

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces 2015

 

 

Some beauty to cheer me up from my sickbed.

These are the official press photographs for the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great. To see my installation photographs of the exhibition go to this posting.

The paintings look as fresh today as when they were first painted, some of them in the early 1500s. To see the thumbs up gesture in Diego Velázquez’s Luncheon (c. 1617-18, below) echoing down the centuries, is worth the price of admission alone. We cannot imagine what life would have been like back then… no medication, rampant disease and malnutrition, little law enforcement with danger lurking around each turn (see Matthew Beaumont. Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015).

And yet these talented artists, supported by the elite, produced work which still touches us today.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art works.

 

 

Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace in Winter, St Petersburg Photo: Pavel Demidov

 

Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace in Winter, St Petersburg 
Photo: Pavel Demidov

 

Chinese. 'Cup' early 17th century

 

Chinese
Cup
early 17th century
Silver, enamel
4.0 x 3.0 x7.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-133, ВВс-250)
Acquired before 1789

 

Chinese. 'Teapot with lid' 17th century

 

Chinese
Teapot with lid
17th century
Silver, enamel
18.0 x 5.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-80 а, б, ВВс-219)
Acquired before 1789

 

Sevres Porcelain Factory Sèvres (manufacturer) France est. 1756 'Cameo Service' 1778–79

 

Sèvres Porcelain Factory
Sèvres (manufacturer) France est. 1756
Cameo Service
1778-79
Porcelain (soft-paste), gilt
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg Commissioned by Catherine ll as a gift for Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1777; Potemkin’s Taurida Palace, St Petersburg from 1779; transferred to the Hofmarshal’s Office of the Winter Palace after his death; 1922 transferred to the State Hermitage Museum

 

Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna (engraver) Russia 1795–1828 Russia (manufacturer) 'Catherine the Great as Minerva' cameo 1789

 

Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna (engraver) (Russia 1795-1828)
Russia (manufacturer)
Catherine the Great as Minerva
1789
Cameo
Jasper, gold
6.5 x 4.7 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. К 1077)
Acquired 1789

 

James Tassie, London (workshop of) (England 1735–99 ) 'Head of Medusa' 1780s

 

James Tassie, London (workshop of) (England 1735-99 )
Head of Medusa
1780s
Coloured glass, gilded paper
7.6 x 9.2 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. R-T, 3296 a)
Purchased from James Tassie 1783-88

 

Chinese. 'Toilet service' early 18th century

 

Chinese
Toilet service
early 18th century
Glass, mercury amalgam, paper, silver, filigree, parcel-gilt, wood, velvet, peacock and king-fisher feathers, mother-of-pearl, crystals
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-472/ 1,2, ВВс-373)

 

Chinese. 'Table decoration in the form of a pair of birds' 1740s –50s

 

Chinese
Table decoration in the form of a pair of birds
1740s-50s
Silver, enamel, silver-gilt
26.0 x 26.0 x 15.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-26, ВВс-189)

 

Chinese. 'Crab-shaped box on a leaf tray' 1740s –50s

 

Chinese
Crab-shaped box on a leaf tray
1740s-50s
Silver, enamel, silver-gilt
(a) 4.0 x 14.0 x 13.0 cm (box)
(b) 3.0 x 22.0 x 17.0 cm (stand)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-9 а,б, ВВс-186)

 

Marie-Anne Collot (French 1748–1821) 'Voltaire' 1770s

 

Marie-Anne Collot (French 1748-1821)
Voltaire
1770s
Marble
49.0 x 30.0 x 28.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. Н.ск. 3)
Acquired from the artist, 1778

 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741–1828) 'Catherine II' 1773

 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741-1828)
Catherine II
1773
Marble
90.0 x 50.0 x 32.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. Н.ск. 1676)
Transferred from the Stroganov Palace, Leningrad, 1928

 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French 1725–1805) 'Head of an old man. Study for The paralytic' 1760s

 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French 1725-1805)
Head of an old man. Study for The paralytic
1760s
Red and black chalk
49.3 x 40.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-14727)
Acquired from the artist in 1769 for the Museum of the Academy of Arts. Transferred to the Hermitage in 1924

 

François Boucher (French 1703–70) 'Study of a female nude' 1740

 

François Boucher (French 1703-70)
Study of a female nude
1740
Red, black and white chalk on brown paper
26.2 x 34.6 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-382)
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

Charles-Louis Clerisseau (French 1721–1820) 'Design for the paintings in the cell of Father Lesueur in the Monastery of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome' 1766–68

 

Charles-Louis Clérisseau (French 1721-1820)
Design for the paintings in the cell of Father Lesueur in the Monastery of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome
1766-68
Pen and black and brown ink, brown and grey wash
36.9 x 53.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-2597)
Acquired from the artist by Catherine II on 5 May 1780, Provenance: before 1797

 

Carlo Galli-Bibiena (Austrian 1728–87) 'Design for the interior decoration of a library' 1770s

 

Carlo Galli-Bibiena (Austrian 1728-87)
Design for the interior decoration of a library
1770s
Pen and ink, grey wash and watercolour over pencil
32.0 х 44.0cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-231)
Acquired before 1797

 

Giacomo Quarenghi (Italian 1744–1817) 'Façade of the Hermitage Theatre' 1780s

 

Giacomo Quarenghi (Italian 1744-1817)
Façade of the Hermitage Theatre
1780s
Pen and ink, watercolour
33.0 х 47.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-9626)
Acquired from Giulio Quarenghi in 1818

 

Konstantin Ukhtomsky (Russian 1818–81) 'The Raphael Loggia' 1860

 

Konstantin Ukhtomsky (Russian 1818-81)
The Raphael Loggia
1860
Watercolour
42.0 х 25.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-11741)
Acquired from the artist, 1860

 

 

“Over 500 works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great will travel to Australia in July. Gathered over a 34-year period, the exhibition represents the foundation of the Hermitage’s collection and includes outstanding works from artists such as Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and Titian. Exemplary works from Van Dyck, Snyders, Teniers and Hals will also travel, collectively offering some of the finest Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia. The exhibition, presented by the Hermitage Museum, National Gallery of Victoria and Art Exhibitions Australia, is exclusive to Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP said: “Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will showcase treasures from one of the largest, oldest and most visited museums in the world. Another major event for Melbourne, this exhibition will provide visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see first-hand the extraordinary personal collection of Catherine the Great, drawn from the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.”

NGV Director, Tony Ellwood said, “This exhibition celebrates the tenacity and vision of a true innovator in the arts. Catherine the Great’s inexhaustible passion for the arts, education and culture heralded a renaissance, leading to the formation of one of the world’s great museums, the Hermitage.”

“We are delighted that we have the good fortune of bringing one of the world’s most important collections to Australian audiences. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the world of Catherine the Great and her magnificent collection of art,” Tony Ellwood said.

Catherine the Great’s reign from 1762 to 1796 was known as the golden age and is remembered for her exceptional patronage of the arts, literature and education. Of German heritage, Catherine the Great was well connected in European art and literature circles. She saw herself as a reine-philosophe (Philosopher Queen), a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, such as the French philosophers Voltaire and Diderot, she sought to modernise Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from classical antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe.

A prolific acquirer of art of the period, Catherine the Great’s collection reflects the finest contemporary art of the 18th century as well as the world’s best old masters of the time, with great works by French, German, Chinese, British, Dutch and Flemish artists. Notable in this exhibition are entire groups of works acquired from renowned collections from France, Germany and England representing the best collections offered for sale at the time. The exhibition will feature four Rembrandts, including the notable Young woman with earrings, known as one of most intimate images Rembrandt ever created. The exhibition will also include 80 particularly fine drawings by artists including Poussin, Rubens, Clouet and Greuze.

Exquisite decorative arts will be brought to Australia for this exhibition, including 60 items from the Cameo Service of striking enamel-painted porcelain made by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in Paris. Commissioned by Catherine the Great for her former lover and military commander, Prince Grigory Potemkin, the dinner service features carved and painted imitation cameos, miniature works of art, based on motifs from the French Royal collection.

Director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky said, “These outstanding works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great represent the crown jewels of the Museum. It was through the collection of these works and Catherine the Great’s exceptional vision that the Hermitage was founded. Today it is one of the most visited museums in the world. We are very pleased to be able to share these precious works with Australian audiences at the 250-year anniversary of this important institution.”

Catherine the Great’s love of education, art and culture inspired a period of enlightenment and architectural renaissance that saw the construction of the Hermitage complex. This construction includes six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment as well as the spectacular Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. On view in the exhibition will be remarkable drawings by the Hermitage’s first architects Georg Velten and Giacomo Quarenghi, complemented by excellent painted views of the new Hermitage by Benjamin Patersen. These, along with Alexander Roslin’s majestic life-size portrait of Catherine, set the scene for a truly spectacular exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to immerse themselves in Catherine the Great’s world evoking a sensory experience of a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The exhibition design will have rich treatments of architectural details, interior furnishings, wallpapers and a colour palette directly inspired by the Hermitage’s gallery spaces. Enveloping multimedia elements will give visitors a sense of being inside the Hermitage, evoking the lush and opulent interiors.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. With 3 million items in its holdings, the Hermitage is often regarded as having the finest collection of paintings in the world today. In 2014, The Hermitage celebrated its 250-year anniversary and opened a new wing of the museum with 800 rooms dedicated to art from the 19th to 21st centuries. The exhibition is organised by The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg in association with the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Exhibitions Australia.

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will be at NGV International from 31 July – 8 November 2015 and will be presented alongside the David Bowie is exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of the 2015 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Jean-Baptiste Santerre (French 1651–1717) 'Two actresses' 1699

 

Jean-Baptiste Santerre (French 1651-1717)
Two actresses
1699
Oil on canvas
146.0 х 114.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1284)
Acquired 1768

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599–1641) 'Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton' 1640

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641)
Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton
1640
Oil on canvas
162.0 х 130.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-533)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Jean Louis Voille (French 1744–1804) 'Portrait of Olga Zherebtsova' 1790s

 

Jean Louis Voille (French 1744-1804)
Portrait of Olga Zherebtsova
1790s
Oil on canvas
73.5 х 58.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-5654)
Acquired from the collection of E. P. Oliv, Petrograd, 1923

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577–1640) 'The Apostle Paul' c. 1615

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640)
The Apostle Paul
c. 1615
Oil on wood panel
105.6 х 74.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-489)
Acquired before 1774

 

Leonardo Da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' early 16th century

 

Leonardo Da Vinci (school of)
Female nude (Donna Nuda)
Early 16th century
Oil on canvas
86.5 х 66.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-110)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606–69) 'Portrait of a scholar' 1631

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69)
Portrait of a scholar
1631
Oil on canvas
104.5 х 92.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-744)
Acquired from the collection of Count Heinrich von Brühl, Dresden, 1769

 

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (French 1715–83) 'Portrait of a boy with a book' 1740s

 

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (French 1715-83)
Portrait of a boy with a book
1740s
Oil on canvas
63.0 х 52.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1270)
Acquired from the collection of A. G. Teplov, St Petersburg, 1781

 

Domenico Capriolo (Italian (c. 1494)–1528) 'Portrait of a young man' 1512

 

Domenico Capriolo (Italian (c. 1494)-1528)
Portrait of a young man
1512
Oil on canvas
117.0 х 85.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-21)
Acquired from the collection of Baron Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers, Paris, 1772

 

Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

 

Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-93)
Portrait of Catherine II
1776-77
Oil on canvas
271.0 х 189.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1316)
Acquired from the artist, 1777

 

Titian (Italian (1485–90)–1576) 'Portrait of a young woman' c. 1536

 

Titian (Italian (1485-90)-1576)
Portrait of a young woman
c. 1536
Oil on canvas
96.0 х 75.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-71)
Acquired from the collection of Baron Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers, Paris, 1772

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606–69) 'Young woman trying on earrings' 1657

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69)
Young woman trying on earrings
1657
Oil on wood panel
39.5 х 32.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-784)
Acquired from the collection of the Comte de Baudouin, Paris, 1781

 

Francois CLOUET (French (c. 1516)–1572) 'Portrait of Charles IX' 1566

 

Francois Clouet (French (c. 1516)-1572)
Portrait of Charles IX
1566
Black and red chalk
33.1 x 22.5 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. OР-2893)
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

David Teniers II (Flemish 1610–90) 'Kitchen' 1646

 

David Teniers II (Flemish 1610-90)
Kitchen
1646
Oil on canvas
171.0 х 237.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-586)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Cornelis de Vos (Dutch/Flemish (c. 1584)–1651) 'Self-portrait of the artist with his wife Suzanne Cock and their children' c. 1634

 

Cornelis de Vos (Dutch/Flemish (c. 1584)-1651)
Self-portrait of the artist with his wife Suzanne Cock and their children
c. 1634
Oil on canvas
185.5 х 221.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-623)
Donated by Prince G. A. Potemkin, 1780s

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599–1641) 'Family portrait' c. 1619

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641)
Family portrait
c. 1619
Oil on canvas
113.5 х 93.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-534)
Acquired from a private collection, Brussels, 1774

 

Charles Vanloo (French 1705–65) 'Sultan's wife drinking coffee' 1750s

 

Charles Vanloo (French 1705-65)
Sultan’s wife drinking coffee
1750s
Oil on canvas
120.0 х 127.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-7489)
Acquired from the collection of Madame Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, Paris, 1772

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577–1640) The Adoration of the Magi c. 1620 Oil on canvas 235.0 х 277.5 cm The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. № ГЭ-494) Acquired from the collection of Dufresne, Amsterdam, 1770

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640)
The Adoration of the Magi
c. 1620
Oil on canvas
235.0 х 277.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. № ГЭ-494)
Acquired from the collection of Dufresne, Amsterdam, 1770

 

Diego Velazquez (Spanish 1599–1660) 'Luncheon' c. 1617–18

 

Diego Velázquez (Spanish 1599-1660)
Luncheon
c. 1617-18
Oil on canvas
108.5 х 102.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-389)
Acquired 1763-74

 

Melchior d'Hondecoeter (Dutch 1636–95) 'Birds in a park' 1686

 

Melchior d’Hondecoeter (Dutch 1636-95)
Birds in a park
1686
Oil on canvas
136.0 х 164.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1042)
Acquired from the collection of Jacques Aved, Paris, 1766

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579–1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630–40

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds
1630-40
Oil on canvas
136.5 х 240.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-607)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

 

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02
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st July – 8th November 2015

 

A scintillating exhibition at NGV International which showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Exhibition design is outstanding (particularly the floor tiling), as are the Da Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Flemish still life. Among my favourites is a small Watteau Savoyard with a Marmot (1716) which is absolutely still, delicate and exquisite: I thought of the photographs of Atget, his street sellers, when I saw this painting; and Frans Snyders’ tour-de-force Concert of birds (1630-40) which has such presence.

Well done to the curators, the Hermitage Museum and the NGV for staging such a magnificent exhibition.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

 

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Featuring works by artists including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck, the exhibition offers a dazzling array of works including the finest group of Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia.

This exclusive Melbourne exhibition will also highlight the innovation and vision of Catherine the Great, whose inexhaustible passion for education, the arts and culture heralded a period of enlightenment in the region. The extraordinary works sourced and commissioned by Catherine during her thirty-four year reign, created the foundations for the Hermitage today – considered to be one of the world’s greatest treasure houses of art and decorative arts. The exhibition will offer audiences an immersive experience, recreating the rich atmosphere of the Hermitage to showcase these exquisite works.

German-born Catherine the Great (Catherine II) came to power in 1762, aged thirty-three, and ruled Russia for the next thirty-four years, until her death in 1796. She saw herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, she modernised Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from Antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe. A fluent speaker of Russian, French and German, Catherine was largely self-educated, independent, idealistic and visionary.

While her reign was not always peaceful, Catherine sought to bring order, stability and prosperity to the vast Russian Empire. Her ideals of abolishing serfdom and ensuring the equality of all citizens under the law were ahead of her time, and strongly resisted by the nobility of the day; however, she achieved numerous other reforms, including the introduction of paper money and modernisation of Russia’s education system. French philosopher Denis Diderot, who visited St Petersburg in 1773, described an audience with Catherine as being ‘more like study than anything else: she is a stranger to no subject; there is no man in the Empire who knows her nation as well as she’.

 

Room 1 Catherine the collector

Between 1762 and 1796, the years of her reign, Catherine the Great oversaw a period of cultural renaissance in Russia. The world of ideas in which she was deeply involved from an early age found tangible expression in the material world the Empress later created around herself. The great complexes of imperial buildings Catherine constructed reflected her informed interest in both Classical and Chinese culture.

Catherine not only assembled a collection of Old Master paintings equal in scale and quality to leading European collections, but also paid considerable attention to the acquisition of contemporary art. While the richness and technical perfection of her diverse collections of decorative arts aimed to dazzle and please, they also had the more practical purpose of raising standards of artistic production in Russia. The fact that more than 400 exemplary works of art from her personal collection, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, porcelain, silver and precious gems, are seen here for the first time in Australia is cause for celebration.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-93) Portrait of Catherine II 1776-77

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Sèvres Cameo Service

The Sèvres Cameo Service relates to Catherine’s great passion for collecting engraved gemstones. Comprising 797 individual pieces designed to serve dinner, dessert and coffee to sixty people, the Cameo Service was commissioned from the celebrated Sèvres porcelain manufactory outside Paris as a present for Catherine’s court ‘favourite’, Prince Grigory Potemkin. The Empress’s monogram, ‘E II’ (the Russian version of her name being Ekaterina), woven from garlands of flowers and surmounted by a crown, adorned almost every object in the service.

Production of the service was both time consuming and labour-intensive. The exquisite blue element alone – made from separate layers of copper enamel that gradually seeped into the porcelain and set the pure colour – required five firings. In addition to the hundreds of porcelain objects decorated with painted and sculpted cameos and related silverware, the service also included grand central table decorations fashioned from biscuit, or unglazed cream-coloured porcelain, by the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot. These decorations illustrated tales from Greek mythology, and were presided over by a grand biscuit statue of Catherine the Great as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Exhibition passageway

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

Room 2 Italian art

When Catherine the Great began collecting European art, opportunities to acquire fine Italian Old Master paintings were already severely limited. Demand from wealthy collectors was high and the marketplace was saturated with misattributed works, some of which inevitably made their way to the Hermitage and other great collections.

Despite this, Catherine achieved great success collecting sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings, particularly from Venice, including great paintings by Titian, Paris Bordone and the enigmatic Lorenzo Lotto. These are complemented by fine examples of Roman and Florentine paintings, such as the famous Female nude (Donna nuda), by an artist very close to Leonardo da Vinci. This select group of paintings beautifully illustrate developments in figurative art, portraiture and religious art in Italy from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

In the early years of her reign, Catherine the Great acquired en masse several large collections of drawings representing all the main European schools. This set the foundations for the current Hermitage Museum’s outstanding Cabinet of Drawings. In terms of quality, Catherine’s acquisitions of Italian drawings were of the highest standard. The majority of these date from the mid sixteenth to late eighteenth centuries and include many rare and precious works.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) Portrait of an actor 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623)
Portrait of an actor
1620s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Domenico Fetti was court painter to Gerdinand II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, when he made this striking portrait of an actor. It is though to be Tristano Martinelli who made his fame working in the commedia dell’arte tradition. It is believe that Marinelli created and popularised the standard roll of the Harlequin in theatre. Fetti himself was involved with the theatre in both Mantua and Venice.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) Portrait of a lady with a boy Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71)
Portrait of a lady with a boy
Mid 1530s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This work by Venetian artist Paris Bordone is a typical example of formal Renaissance portraiture. Bordone’s main aim was to show the high social standing of the sitters, so he painted their luxurious costumes in great detail. He draws our attention to the sumptuous sleeves of this woman’s dress, he headgear resembling a turban, as well as her opulent jewellery. Bordone was one of Titian’s most talented pupils whose work is characterised by a level of precision not often present in his master’s work. This painting entered the Hermitage as a work by Giorgione.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) 'Portrait of a young man' 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) Portrait of a young man 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine 1529-30

 

Portrait of a young man by the Venetian master Domenico Capriolo captures the intellectual values of Renaissance art. Everything that surrounds this youth speaks of his interests, such as the church that indicates his piety; the statue of Venus that reveals his passion for Antiquity; and the folder (containing verses or drawings) that illustrates the richness of his inner world. The painting is dated 1512 and the artist’s name symbolised by a medallion containing a Capreolus, or deer, which is a play on his name. Such allusions were common in Renaissance art and would have been readily understood by his contemporaries.

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556)
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine
1529-30
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Lorenzo Lotto is a much admired sixteenth-century Venetian artist. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine has the typical dynamism of Lotto’s work, achieved not only through the poses, gestures and movement of the foliage, but also through his intense colour palette and the juxtaposition of resonant blues with red and yellow tones. Here, the Holy Family has been joined by Saint Justine of Padua, martyred in 304 AD, identifiable through her attribute of a sword piercing her breast. Justine was a very popular subject for artists of Northern Italy.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) Female nude (Donna Nuda) Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of)
Female nude (Donna Nuda)
Early 16th century
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This painting entered the Hermitage collection as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, but is now widely accepted to be by one of his close followers, possibly his pupil Salai. Perhaps more important is that it may be a close copy of a lost painting by Leonardo. Female nude (Donna Nuda) also shares some of the qualities of the famous Mona Lisa c. 1503-19, in the Louvre Museum, Paris; namely the repetition of the pose, the position of the hands and the landscape setting seen behind a stone ledge in front of which the figure is set. This is the most refined of numerous variants of this composition in existence.

 

 

Room 3 Flemish art

In the seventeenth century, Flanders comprised the Catholic-dominated Southern Netherlands or ‘Spanish’ Austrian Netherlands, an area larger than modern Belgium. Thanks in large part to the talents of artist Peter Paul Rubens, the Flanders or ‘Flemish’ school in this era became very prestigious. While chiefly a painter, Rubens had far-reaching stylistic influence on many visual art forms, from prints to silverware and architecture. Every leading artist of seventeenth-century Flanders studied in, passed through or was connected with Rubens’s studio.

A diplomat and court insider, Rubens operated on an international stage. His art was correspondingly monumental; characterised by large forms modelled with loose brushstrokes in glowing, brilliant colours. Rubens’s pupil Anthony van Dyck and collaborator Cornelis de Vos led the way in bringing new naturalism to portraiture. While they catered to different markets (van Dyck to the nobility and de Vos to a rich merchant class) their mutual influence is apparent.

Flanders was a nation built on trade, and Flemish artists travelled widely, especially to Italy. From Italy they brought back new pictorial trends, such as the theatrical naturalism of Caravaggio. Flemish artists excelled in naturalistic effects, which they applied even to traditionally humble subjects, such as still lifes and animal pictures, seen to brilliant effect in the art of Frans Snyders and David Teniers II.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

room-three-installation-e

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640) The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1620 at centre

 

Rubens painted the subject of the Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1) more often than any other episode from Christ’s life. Rendered at life-sized scale, this painting combines the humility of Christ’s birth with splendid, worldly pageantry. Three Kings from the East are shown crowding into Christ’s stable (portrayed as a cave, in an allusion to Christ’s later interment) wearing gold- embroidered silks and satins, and offering gifts. The eldest king, Caspar, kneels before Christ with gold; behind him is Melchior, with frankincense; and Balthazar with myrrh, used for embalming. With the help of his studio, Rubens produced more than sixty altarpieces during his career.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577–1640) 'Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)' c. 1612

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577-1640)
Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)
c. 1612
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero) depicts a story told by the Roman historian Valerius Maximus in his Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX (Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings), written around 30 AD. The story involves Cimon, an old man awaiting execution in prison who was not given food. Cimon’s daughter Pero visited him, and suckled him at her breast like a child. Pero’s nourishing of Cimon was considered an outstanding example of paying honour to one’s parents.

 

 

Room 4 Dutch art

The Hermitage holds the finest collection of Dutch art outside the Netherlands. While Peter the Great (1672-1725) had a passion for Dutch art and acquired some notable masterpieces, Catherine the Great established the depth and breadth of this extraordinary collection, beginning in 1764 with her first acquisitions. In that year Catherine purchased 317 paintings that had been assembled for Frederick II of Prussia by the German merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Among this substantial group were more than 100 Dutch paintings by the most notable masters.

In 1769 Catherine purchased the collection of Count Heinrich von Brühl, which included spectacular landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, Isaack Jansz. van Ostade and Aert van der Neer, as well as four Rembrandt portraits, including the wonderful Portrait of a scholar, 1631. For the rest of her life Catherine continued to add outstanding Dutch works to her rich collection. Although the paintings and drawings from the Dutch school included here are only a fragment of the extensive and diverse collection assembled by Catherine the Great, they reveal her artistic preferences and taste.

 

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 4 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Rembrandt. Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69) Portrait of a scholar 1631 at centre.

 

Rembrandt painted Portrait of a scholar shortly after moving from his native Leiden to Amsterdam in 1630. He had already established a growing reputation in Leiden and was enticed to the capital by the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, father of his future wife Saskia. Once completing the move, Rembrandt rapidly became the city’s leading artist, mainly on account of dazzling portraits such as this early masterpiece. He then secured the most prestigious commissions from wealthy and powerful citizens of Amsterdam.

 

 

Room 5 French taste

The Russian aristocracy spoke French and modelled their manners and style on those of the French Court. Catherine followed the vast intellectual strides of the French philosophes with passionate interest. She also embraced the arts, luring French artists, architects and craftsmen to St Petersburg.

Catherine relied on agents and advisors in France and Germany to identify and acquire works of art on her behalf. In this way she acquired the collection of Paris banker Louis Antoine Crozat, Baron de Thiers and other important bodies of work in France. Her holdings of French art came to encompass works by Renaissance masters as well as seventeenth-century landscapes and history paintings.

Catherine also acquired examples of work of her own century by Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau. The playful, erotic and at times wistful art of Watteau’s generation gave rise to the intimate and worldly art of François Boucher, whose pictures Catherine also purchased. The Empress collected modern masterpieces created in reaction to French courtly and decadent styles. Her paintings by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin are premier examples of a new, moralising directness in ambitious French art.

Catherine’s buying in France was not limited to French art. Also in this room are paintings by great German, Spanish and Italian masters that were acquired in Paris from prestigious collections under the direction of Catherine’s French advisors.

 

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 5 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne.

 

 

Room 6 Catherine and the world

For Catherine the Great, collecting art was part of a wider economic and diplomatic program designed to stimulate economic and cultural activity at home and abroad. At a meeting in December 1762 with the Moscow Senate, Catherine suggested that consuls be stationed in Spain, Holland and England not only to promote maritime trade but also to source luxury goods and works of art as examples for Russian artists and manufacturers to aspire to.

Through Catherine’s consuls and agents, such items began to flow into St Petersburg, steadily elevating that city into a vibrant centre of European culture. While her cultural sympathies were French, Catherine was also very curious about Britain – the economic success story of the age. She informed herself about Britain’s trade, commerce, manufacturing, philosophy and political system, and purchased works by modern British neoclassical masters, such as Joseph Wright of Derby and Joshua Reynolds. Examples of Spanish, Italian and German art were often not sourced in their own countries of origin but acquired as a part of larger collections.

 

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 6 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with the 1773 sculpture Catherine II by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741-1826) at centre.

 

 

Room 7 The Walpole collection

In 1779 Catherine the Great acquired 198 paintings from a celebrated collection formed by Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, Britain’s first prime minister. They were bought from the family estate, Houghton Hall, and sold by Walpole’s grandson, George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford, who approached the Russian ambassador to Britain directly about the sale. At more than £40,000, the price was high, but the transaction was concluded in only two months. Attempts were made to keep this famous collection in Britain, to no avail.

The Walpole collection was outstanding in quality, and significantly enhanced the Hermitage’s range of Flemish and Italian works. The Russian ambassador to Great Britain, Alexey Musin-Pushkin, who organised the valuable purchase, wrote to Catherine the Great: ‘The greater part of the nobility here are displaying general dissatisfaction and regret that these paintings are being allowed out of this country, and are setting in train various projects to keep them here … No little assistance comes from Lord Orford’s zealous desire to unite [the collection for] the gallery of Your Imperial Majesty, rather than to sell it to parliament itself or, least of all, to divide it through sale to different individuals’.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Concert of birds, 1630-40 at right and Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) Cook at a kitchen table with dead game, c. 1636-37 second left
Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

An important place in Flemish seventeenth-century painting is occupied by two specific genres: animal painting and the still life. One of the most important animal and still-life painters was Frans Snyders, a very close collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens who often painted still-life details and animals on the master’s canvases. Snyders’s superb skill as a painter of animals is revealed by Concert of birds, based on a subject from Aesop’s Fables. It shows a gathering of feathered creatures screeching and singing under the direction of an owl seated on a dried branch in front of an open music score.

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds (detail)
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) 'Cook at a kitchen table with dead game' c. 1636-37 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68)
Cook at a kitchen table with dead game (detail)
c. 1636-37
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Frans Snyders was the son of the owner of one of Antwerp’s largest wine and eating houses. His dramatically realistic still lifes celebrate the exotic variety of rare fowls available at Antwerp’s markets. Images of dead animals being prepared for a banquet were understood in Snyder’s time as lessons in Christian morality. Many Dutch and Flemish still lifes featuring the sacrifice of an animal for the table functioned as allusions to Christ’s Passion and the transience of the flesh.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with, at left in the bottom image, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641) Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton, 1640

 

This is one of the most charming portraits of children paint by van Dyck, who had particular talent for such works. It is one of a group of family portraits commissioned from can Dyck by Philip, Lord Wharton in the late 1630s. Van Dyck worked in England for approximately ten ears and brought a new standard of elegance and style to English portraiture. He largely conveyed this through his flair for painting lavish costumes and sumptuous fabrics, a sensibility he carried through to his portraits of children.

 

 

Room 8 China

Eighteenth-century Enlightenment fascination with the East, particularly China, is reflected by Catherine the Great’s architectural and landscaping works completed in St Petersburg and at her summer and winter palaces, as well as by her collecting of Oriental curiosities and philosophical texts. Russian interest in China can be traced to the reign of the Romanov tsars in the seventeenth century, when several missions brought back Chinese treasures and goods to the Russian Court. Importantly, in 1689 the first treaty between Russia and China was signed at Nerchinsk, outlining the border between the countries and rules about caravan trade.

Like many educated people of her time, Catherine was fascinated by the concept of the enlightened ruler thought to be found in China, such as the Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662-1722), Yongzhèng Emperor (reigned 1723-35), and Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736-95). One of her regular and most influential correspondents was French philosopher Voltaire, who praised the Celestial Kingdom, its monarchs and men of wisdom; only in China, he thought, was a man’s life, honour and property truly protected by law. Such a clear link between Catherine’s desire for justice and order in Russia and general perceptions of good Chinese government, combined with the Enlightenment fashion for curiosities of all kinds, led to great Russian interest in China in the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 8 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours for exhibition
10am – 5pm daily

NGV Masterpieces from the Hermitage website

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26
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 1

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2013 – 23rd March 2014

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This is the first of a two-part posting on the huge Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The photographs in this posting are from the NGV International venue in St Kilda Road. The second part of the posting features photographs of work at NGV Australia: The Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Melbourne Now celebrates the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne.

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Keywords

Place, memory, anxiety, democracy, death, cultural identity, spatial relationships.

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The best

Daniel Crooks An embroidery of voids 2013 video.

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Highlights

Patricia Piccinini The Carrier 2012 sculpture; Mark Hilton dontworry 2013 sculpture.

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Honourable mentions

Stephen Benwell Statues various dates sculpture; Rick Amor mobile call 2012 painting; Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser Melbourne Noir 2013 installation.

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Disappointing

The weakness of the photography. With a couple of notable exceptions, I can hardly recall a memorable photographic image. Some of it was Year 12 standard.

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Low points

  • The lack of visually interesting and beautiful art work – it was mostly all so ho hum in terms of pleasure for the eye
  • The preponderance of installation/design/architectural projects that took up huge areas of space with innumerable objects
  • The balance between craft, form and concept
  • Too much low-fi art
  • Too much collective art
  • Little glass art
  • Weak third floor at NGV International
  • Two terrible installations on the ground floor of NGVA

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Verdict

As with any group exhibition there are highs and lows, successes and failures. Totally over this fad for participatory art spread throughout the galleries. Too much deconstructed/performance/collective design art that takes the viewer nowhere. Good effort by the NGV but the curators were, in some cases, far too clever for their own (and the exhibitions), good. 7/10

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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“Although the word “new” recurs like an incantation in the catalogue essays many exhibits are variations on well-worn themes. The trump cards of Melbourne Now are bulk and variety… It’s astonishing that curators still seem to assume that art which proclaims its own radicality must be intrinsically superior to more personal expressions. Yet mediocrity recognises no such distinctions. Most of this show’s avant-garde gestures are no better than clichés.”

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John Macdonald. Review of Melbourne Now. Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 11 January, 2014

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Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please note: All text below the images is from the guide book.

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“A rich, inspiring critical context prevails within Melbourne’s contemporary art community, reflecting the complexity of multiple situations and the engaging reality of a culture that is always in the process of becoming. Local knowledge is of course specific and resists generalisation – communities are protean things, which elide neat definition and representation. Notwithstanding the inevitable sampling and partial account which large-scale survey exhibitions unavoidably present, we hope that Melbourne Now retains a sense of semantic density, sensory intensity and conceptual complexity, harnessing the vision and energy that lie within our midst. Perhaps most importantly, the contributors to Melbourne Now highlight the countless ways in which art is able to change, alter and invigorate the senses, adding new perspectives and modes of perceiving the world in which we live.”

Max Delany. “Metro-cosmo-polis: Melbourne now” 2013

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Laith McGregor. 'Pong ping paradise' 2011

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Laith McGregor
Pong ping paradise
2011
Private collection, United States of America

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The drawings OK and KO, both 2013, which decorate the horizontal surfaces of two table-tennis tables and contain four large self-portraits portraying unease and concern, are more restrained. The hirsute beards of McGregor’s earlier works have evolved into all enveloping geometric grids, their hand-drawn asymmetry creating a subtle sense of distortion that contradicts the inherently flat surface of the tables.

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Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' 2011

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Ross Coulter
10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1)
2011
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' (detail) 2011

Ross Coulter. '10,000 paper planes - aftermath (1)' (detail) 2011

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Ross Coulter
10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1) (details)
2011
Type C photograph
156.0 x 200.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2012
© Ross Coulter
Last photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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With 10,000 paper planes – aftermath (1), 2011, Coulter encountered Melbourne’s intellectual heart, the State Library of Victoria (SLV). Being awarded the Georges Mora Foundation Fellowship in 2010 allowed Coulter to realise a concept he had been developing since he worked at the SLV in the late 1990s. The result is a playful intervention into what is usually a serious place of contemplation. Coulter’s paper planes, launched by 165 volunteers into the volume of the Latrobe Reading Room, give physical form to the notion of ideas flying through the building and the mind. This astute work investigates the striking contrast between the strict discipline of the library space and its categorisation system and the free flow of creativity that its holdings inspire in the visitor.

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Rick Amor. 'Mobile call' 2012

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Rick Amor
Mobile call
2012
Private collection, Melbourne

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Best known for his brooding urban landscapes, Amor’s work in Melbourne NowMobile call, 2012, stays true to this theme. The painting speaks to the heart of urban living in its depiction of a darkened city alleyway, with dim, foreboding lighting. A security camera on the wall surveys the scene, a lone, austere figure just within its watch. The camera represents the omnipresent surveillance of our modern lives, and an uneasy air of suspicion permeates the painting’s subdued, grey landscape. Amor’s reflections on the urban landscape are solemn, restrained and often melancholic. Quietly powerful, his work alludes to a mystery in the banality of daily existence. Mobile call is a realistic portrayal of a metropolitan landscape that opens our eyes to a strange and complex world.

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Steaphan Paton. 'Cloaked combat' (detail) 2013

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Steaphan Paton
Cloaked combat (detail)
2013
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Cloaked combat, 2013, is a visual exploration of the material and technological conflicts between cultures, and how these differences enable one culture to assert dominance over another. Five Aboriginal bark shields, customarily used in combat to deflect spears, repel psychedelic arrows shot from a foreign weapon. Fired by an unseen intruder cloaked in contemporary European camouflage, the psychedelic arrows rupture the bark shields and their diamond designs of identity and place, violating Aboriginal nationhood and traditional culture. The jarring clash of weapons not only illustrates a material conflict between these two cultures, but also suggests a deeper struggle between old and new. In its juxtaposition of prehistoric and modern technologies, Cloaked combat highlights an uneven match between Indigenous and European cultures and discloses the brutality of Australia’s colonisation.

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Zoom project team. 'Zoom' (detail) 2013

Zoom project team. 'Zoom' (detail) 2013

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Zoom project team
Curator: Ewan McEoin / Studio Propeller; Data visualisation: Greg More / OOM Creative; Graphic design: Matthew Angel; Exhibition design: Design Office; Sound installation: Marco Cher-Gibard; Data research: Serryn Eagleson / EDG Research; Digital survey design: Policy Booth
Zoom (details)
2013

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Anchored around a dynamic tapestry of data by Melbourne data artist Greg More, this exhibit offers a window into the ‘system of systems’ that makes up the modern city, peeling back the layers to reveal a sea of information beneath us. Data ebbs and flows, creating patterns normally inaccessible to the naked eye. Set against this morphing data field, an analogue human survey asks the audience to guide the future design of Melbourne through choice and opinion. ZOOM proposes that every citizen influences the future of the city, and that the city in turn influences everyone within it. Accepting this co-dependent relationship empowers us all to imagine the city we want to create together.

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Installation view of Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' 2012 (left) and Reko Rennie 'Initiation', 2013 (right)

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Installation view of Jon Campbell DUNNO (T. Towels) 2012 (left) and Reko Rennie Initiation, 2013 (right)

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Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' (detail) 2012

Jon Campbell. 'DUNNO (T. Towels)' (detail) 2012

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Jon Campbell
DUNNO (T. Towels) (details)
2012

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For Melbourne Now Campbell presents DUNNO (T. Towels), 2012, a work that continues his fascination with the vernacular culture of suburban Australia. Comprising eighty-five tea towels, some in their original condition and others that Campbell has modified through the addition of ‘choice’ snippets of Australian slang and cultural signifiers, this seemingly quotidian assortment of kitsch ‘kitchenalia’ is transformed into a mock heroic frieze in which we can discover the values and dramas of our present age.

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Reko Rennie Kamilaroi born in 1974 'Initiation' 2013

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Reko Rennie Kamilaroi born in 1974
Initiation
2013
Synthetic polymer paint on plywood (1-40)
300.0 x 520.0 cm (overall)
Collection of the artist
© Reko Rennie, courtesy Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne
Supported by Esther and David Frenkiel

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Initiation, 2013, a mural-scale, multi-panelled hoarding that subverts the negative stereotyping of Indigenous people living in contemporary Australian cities. This declarative, renegade installation work is a psychedelic farrago of street art, native flora and fauna, Kamilaroi patterns, X-ray images and text that addresses what it means to be an urban Aboriginal person. By yoking together contrary elements of graffiti, advertising, bling, street slogans and Kamilaroi diamond geometry, Rennie creates a monumental spectacle of resistance.

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Installation view of Reko Rennie 'Initiation', 2013

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Installation view of Reko Rennie Initiation, 2013

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Janet Burchill Jennifer McCamley 'The Belief' 2004-2013

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Janet Burchill
Jennifer McCamley
The Belief
2004-2013

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Shields from Papua New Guinea held in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection provided an aesthetic catalyst for the artists to develop an open-ended series of their own ‘shields’. The Belief includes shields made by Burchill and McCamley between 2004 and 2013. In part, this installation meditates on the form and function of shields from the perspective of a type of reverse ethnography. As the artists explain:

“The shield is an emblematic form ghosted by the functions of attack and defence and characterised by the aggressive display of insignia … We treat the shield as a perverse type of modular unit. While working with repetition, each shield acts as a carrier or container for different types and registers of content, motifs, emblems and aesthetic strategies. The series as a whole, then, becomes a large sculptural collage which allows us to incorporate a wide range of responses to making art and being alive now.”

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Janet Burchill Jennifer McCamley 'The Belief' (detail) 2004-2013

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Janet Burchill
Jennifer McCamley
The Belief (detail)
2004-2013

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Melbourne Now is an exhibition unlike any other we have mounted at the National Gallery of Victoria. It takes as its premise the idea that a city is significantly shaped by the artists, designers, architects, choreographers, intellectuals and community groups that live and work in its midst. With this in mind, we have set out to explore how Melbourne’s visual artists and creative practitioners contribute to the dynamic cultural identity of this city. The result is an exhibition that celebrates what is unique about Melbourne’s art, design and architecture communities.

When we began the process of creating Melbourne Now we envisaged using several gallery spaces within The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia; soon, however, we recognised that the number of outstanding Melbourne practitioners required us to greatly expand our commitment. Now spreading over both The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and NGV International, Melbourne Now encompasses more than 8000 square metres of exhibition space, making it the largest single show ever presented by the Gallery.

Melbourne Now represents a new way of working for the NGV. We have adopted a collaborative curatorial approach which has seen twenty of our curators work closely with both external design curators and many other members of the NGV team. Committing to this degree of research and development has provided a great opportunity to meet with artists in their studios and to engage with colleagues across the city as a platform not only for this exhibition, but also for long-term engagement.

A primary aim throughout the planning process has been to create an exhibition that offers dynamic engagement with our audiences. From the minute visitors enter NGV International they are invited to participate through the exhibition’s Community Hall project, which offers a diverse program of performances and displays that showcase a broad concept of creativity across all art forms, from egg decorating to choral performances. Entering the galleries, visitors discover that Melbourne Now includes ambitious and exciting contemporary art and design commissions in a wide range of media by emerging and established artists. We are especially proud of the design and architectural components of this exhibition which, for the first time, place these important areas of practice in the context of a wider survey of contemporary art. We have designed the exhibition in terms of a series of curated, interconnected installations and ‘exhibitions within the exhibition’ to offer an immersive, inclusive and sometimes participatory experience.

Viewers will find many new art commissions featured as keynote projects of Melbourne Now. One special element is a series of commissions developed specifically for children and young audiences – these works encourage participatory learning for kids and families. Artistic commissions extend from the visual arts to architecture, dance and choreography to reflect Melbourne’s diverse artistic expression. Many of the new visual arts and design commissions will be acquired for the Gallery’s permanent collections, leaving the people of Victoria a lasting legacy of Melbourne Now.

The intention of this exhibition is to encourage and inspire everyone to discover some of the best of Melbourne’s culture. To help achieve this, family-friendly activities, dance and music performances, inspiring talks from creative practitioners, city walks and ephemeral installations and events make up our public programs. Whatever your creative interests, there will be a lot to learn and enjoy in Melbourne NowMelbourne Now is a major project for the NGV which we hope will have a profound and lasting impact on our audiences, our engagement with the art communities in our city and on the NGV collection. We invite you to join us in enjoying some of the best of Melbourne’s creative art, design and architecture in this landmark exhibition.

Tony Ellwood
Director, National Gallery of Victoria

Foreword from the Melbourne Now exhibition guide book

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Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

Destiny Deacon Virginia Fraser 'Melbourne Noir' (detail) 2013

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Destiny Deacon
Virginia Fraser

Melbourne Noir (details)
2013
Installation comprising photography, video, sculptural diorama dimensions (variable) (installation)
Collection of the artists
© Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Adapting the quotidian formats of snapshot photography, home videos, community TV and performance modes drawn from vaudeville and minstrel shows, Deacon’s artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet melancholy comedic and satirical disposition. In decidedly lo-fi vignettes, friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives that amplify and deconstruct stereotypes of Indigenous identity and national history. For Melbourne Now, Deacon and Fraser present a trailer for a film noir that does not exist, a suite of photographs and a carnivalesque diorama. The pair’s playful political critiques underscore a prevailing sense of postcolonial unease, while connecting their work to wider global discourses concerned with racial struggle and cultural identity.

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Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

Darren Sylvester 'For you' (detail) 2013

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Darren Sylvester
For you (details)
2013
Based on Yves Saint Laurent Les Essentials rouge pur couture, La laque couture and Rouge pur couture range revolution lipsticks, Marrakesh sunset palette, Palette city drive, Ombres 5 lumiéres, Pure chromatic eyeshadows and Blush radiance
Illuminated dance floor, sound system
605.0 x 1500.0 x 1980.0 cm
Supported by VicHealth; assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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For Melbourne Now Sylvester presents For you, 2013, an illuminated dance floor utilising the current palette of colours of an international make-up brand. By tapping into commonly felt fears of embarrassment and the desire to show off in front of others, For you provides a gentle push onto a dance floor flush in colours already proven by market research to appear flattering on the widest cross-section of people. It is a work that plays on viewers’ vanity while acting as their support. In Sylvester’s own words, this work ‘will make you look good whilst enjoying it. It is for you’.

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Assembling over 250 outstanding commissions, acquired and loaned works and installations, Melbourne Now explores the idea that a city is significantly shaped by the artists, designers and architects who live and work in its midst. It reflects the complexity of Melbourne and its unique and dynamic cultural identity, considering a diverse range of creative practice as well as the cross-disciplinary work occurring in Melbourne today.

Melbourne Now is an ambitious project that represents a new direction for the National Gallery of Victoria in terms of its scope and its relationship with audiences. Drawing on the talents of more than 400 artists and designers from across a wide variety of art forms, Melbourne Now will offer an experience unprecedented in this city; from video, sound and light installations, to interactive community exhibitions and artworks, to gallery spaces housing working design and architectural practices. The exhibition will be an immersive, inclusive and participatory exhibition experience, providing a rich and compelling insight into Melbourne’s art, design and cultural practice at this moment. Melbourne Now aims to engage and reflect the inspiring range of activities that drive contemporary art and creative practice in Melbourne, and is the first of many steps to activate new models of art and interdisciplinary exhibition practice and participatory modes of audience engagement at the NGV.

The collaborative curatorial structure of Melbourne Now has seen more than twenty NGV curators working across disciplinary and departmental areas in collaboration with exhibition designers, public programs and education departments, among others. The project also involves a number of guest curators contributing to specific contexts, including architecture and design, performance and sound, as well as artist-curators invited to create ‘exhibitions within the exhibition’, develop off-site projects and to work with the NGV’s collection. Examples of these include Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now, curated by Fleur Watson; Drawing Now, curated by artist John Nixon, bringing together the work of forty-two artists; ZOOM, an immersive data visualisation of cultural demographics related to the future of the city, convened by Ewan McEoin; Melbourne Design Now, which explores creative intelligence in the fields of industrial, product, furniture and object design, curated by Simone LeAmon; and un Retrospective, curated by un Magazine. Other special projects present recent developments in jewellery design, choreography and sound.

Numerous special projects have been developed by NGV curators, including Designer Thinking, focusing on the culture of bespoke fashion design studios in Melbourne, and a suite of new commissions and works by Indigenous artists from across Victoria which reflect upon the history and legacies of colonial and postcolonial Melbourne. The NGV collection is also the subject of artistic reflection, reinterpretation and repositioning, with artists Arlo Mountford, Patrick Pound and The Telepathy Project and design practice MaterialByProduct bringing new insights to it through a suite of exhibitions, videos and performative installations.

In our Community Hall we will be hosting 600 events over the four months of Melbourne Now offering a daily rotating program of free workshops, talks, catwalks and show’n’tells run by leaders in their fields. And over summer, the NGV will present a range of programs and events, including a Children’s Festival, dance program, late-night music events and unique food and beverage offerings.

The exhibition covers 8000 square metres of space, covering much of the two campuses of the National Gallery of Victoria, and moves into the streets of Melbourne with initiatives such as the Flags for Melbourne project, ALLOURWALLS at Hosier Lane, walking and bike tours, open studios and other programs that will help to connect the wider community with the creative riches that Melbourne has to offer.

Melbourne Now Introduction

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Alan Constable. 'No title (teal SLR with flash)' 2013

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Alan Constable
No title (teal SLR with flash)
2013
Earthenware
15.5 x 24.0 x 11.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Alan Constable, courtesy Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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A camera’s ability to act as an extension of our eyes and to capture and preserve images renders it a potent instrument. In the case of Constable, this power has particular resonance and added poignancy. The artist lives with profound vision impairment and his compelling, hand-modelled ceramic reinterpretations of the camera – itself sometimes referred to as the ‘invented eye’ – possess an altogether more moving presence. For Melbourne Now, Constable has created a special group of his very personal cameras.

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Linda Marrinon. Installation view of works including 'Debutante' (centre) 2009

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Linda Marrinon
Installation view of works including Debutante (centre)
2009
Tinted plaster, muslin
Collection of the artist
© Linda Marrinon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Supported by Fiona and Sidney Myer AM, Yulgilbar Foundation and the Myer Foundation

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Marrinon’s art lingers romantically somewhere between the past and present. Her figures engage with notions of formal classical sculpture, with references to Hellenistic and Roman periods, yet remain quietly contemporary in their poise, scale, adornments and subject matter. Each work has a sophisticated and nonchalant air of awareness, as if posing for the audience. Informed by feminism and a keen sense of humour, Marrinon’s work is anti-heroic and anti-monumental. The figures featured in Melbourne Now range from two young siblings, Twins with skipping rope, New York, 1973, 2013, and a young woman, Debutante, 2009, to a soldier, Patriot in uniform, 2013, presented as a pantheon of unlikely types.

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Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania
2013
Wood, cardboard, paper, books, colour slides, glass slides, 8mm film, glass, stone, plastic, bone, gelatin silver photographs, metal, feather
267.0 x 370.0 x 271.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Brook Andrew, courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Andrew’s Vox: Beyond Tasmania, 2013, renders palpable as contemporary art a central preoccupation of his humanist practice – the legacy of historical trauma on the present. Inspired by a rare volume of drawings of fifty-two Tasmanian Aboriginal crania, Andrew has created a vast wunderkammer containing a severed human skeleton, anthropological literature and artefacts. The focal point of this assemblage of decontextualised exotica is a skull, which lays bare the practice of desecrating sacred burial sites in order to snatch Aboriginal skeletal remains as scientific trophies, amassed as specimens to be studied in support of taxonomic theories of evolution and eugenics. Andrew’s profound and humbling memorial to genocide was supported in its first presentation by fifty-two portraits and a commissioned requiem by composer Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe.

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Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

Brook Andrew. 'Vox: Beyond Tasmania' (detail) 2013

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Brook Andrew
Vox: Beyond Tasmania (details)
2013

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Daniel Crooks. 'An embroidery of voids' 2013 (still)

Daniel Crooks. 'An embroidery of voids' 2013 (still)

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Daniel Crooks
An embroidery of voids (stills)
2013
Colour single-channel digital video, sound, looped
Collection of the artist
© Daniel Crooks, courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney
Supported by Julie, Michael and Silvia Kantor
Photos: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Commissioned for Melbourne Now, Crooks’s most recent video work focuses his ‘time-slice’ treatment on the city’s famous laneways. As the camera traces a direct, Hamiltonian pathway through these lanes, familiar surroundings are captured in seamless temporal shifts. Cobblestones, signs, concrete, street art, shadows and people gracefully pan, stretch and distort across our vision, swept up in what the artist describes as a ‘dance of energy’. Exposing the underlying kinetic rhythm of all we see, Crooks’s work highlights each moment once, gloriously, before moving on, always forward, transforming Melbourne’s gritty and often inhospitable laneways into hypnotic and alluring sites.

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Jan Senbergs. 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013 (installation view)

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Jan Senbergs
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash (1-4)
158.0 x 120.0 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
© Jan Senbergs, courtesy Niagara Galleries

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Senbergs’s significance as a contemporary artist and his understanding of the places he depicts and their meanings make his contribution to Melbourne Now essential. Drawing inspiration from Scottish poet Edwin Muir’s collection The labyrinth (1949), Senbergs’s Extended Melbourne labyrinth, 2013, takes us on a journey through the myriad streets and topography that make up our sprawling city. His characteristic graphic style and closely cropped rendering of the city’s urban thoroughfares is at once enthralling and unsettling. While the artist neither overtly celebrates nor condemns his subject, there is a strong sense of Muir’s ‘roads that run and run and never reach an end’.

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Patrick Pound. 'The gallery of air' (detail) 2013

Patrick Pound. 'The gallery of air' (detail) 2013

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Patrick Pound
The gallery of air (details)
2013

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For Melbourne Now Pound has created The gallery of air, 2013, a contemporary wunderkammer of works of art and objects from across the range of the NGV collection. There are Old Master paintings depicting the effect of the wind, and everything from an exquisite painted fan to an ancient flute and photographs of a woman sighing. When taken as a group these disparate objects hold the idea of air. Added to works from the Gallery’s collection is an intriguing array of objects and pictures from Pound’s personal collection. On entering his installation, visitors will be drawn into a game of thinking and rethinking about the significance of the objects and how they might be activated by air. Some are obvious, some are obscure, but all are interesting.

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Marco Fusinato born Australia 1964 'Aetheric plexus (Broken X)' 2013

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Marco Fusinato born Australia 1964
Aetheric plexus (Broken X)
2013
Alloy tubing, lights, double couplers, Lanbox LCM DMX controller, dimmer rack, DMX MP3 player, powered speaker, sensor, extension leads, shot bags
880.0 x 410.0 x 230.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Marco Fusinato, courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney
Supported by Joan Clemenger and Peter Clemenger AM
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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For Melbourne Now, Fusinato presents Aetheric plexus (Broken X), 2013, a dispersed sculpture comprising deconstructed stage equipment that is activated by the presence of the viewer, triggering a sensory onslaught with a resonating orphic haze. The work responds to the wider context of galleries, in the artist’s words, ‘changing from places of reflection to palaces of entertainment’ by turning the engulfed audience member into a spectacle.

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Installation view of Susan Jacobs 'Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors)' 2013 with Mark Hilton 'dontworry' 2013 in the background

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Installation view of Susan Jacobs Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors) 2013 with Mark Hilton dontworry 2013 in the background

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In her most recent project, Jacobs fabricates a rudimentary version of the material Hemacite (also known as Bois Durci) – made from the blood of slaughtered animals and wood flour – which originated in the late nineteenth century and was moulded with hydraulic pressure and heat to form everyday objects, such as handles, buttons and small domestic and decorative items. The attempt to re-create this outmoded material highlights philosophical, economic and ethical implications of manufacturing and considers how elemental materials are reconstituted. Wood flour for pig iron (vessel for mixing metaphors), 2013, included in Melbourne Now, explores properties, physical forces and processes disparately linked across various periods of history.

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' 2013

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976
dontworry
2013
Cast resin, powder
The Michael Buxton Collection, Melbourne
© Mark Hilton, courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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dontworry, 2013, included in Melbourne Now, is the most ambitious and personal work Hilton has made to date. A dark representation of events the artist witnessed growing up in suburban Melbourne, this wall-based installation presents an unnerving picture of adolescent mayhem and bad behaviour. Extending across nine intricately detailed panels, each corresponding to a formative event in the artist’s life, dontworry can be understood as a deeply personal memoir that explores the transition from childhood to adulthood, and all the complications of this experience. Detailing moments of violence committed by groups or mobs of people, the installation revolves around Hilton’s continuing fascination with the often indistinguishable divide between truth and myth.

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' 2013 (detail)

Mark Hilton born Australia 1976 'dontworry' (detail) 2013

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Mark Hilton born Australia 1976
dontworry (details)
2013
Cast resin, powder
The Michael Buxton Collection, Melbourne
© Mark Hilton, courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

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180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
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National Gallery of Victoria website

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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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