Exhibition | Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 27, 2016

Press release (20 May 2016) from The National Gallery:

Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck
The National Gallery, London, 23 June — 4 September 2016

Curated by Anne Robbins

Works of art are models you are to imitate, and at the same time rivals you are to combat.  –Sir Joshua Reynolds

TICKET-PAINTERSSpanning over five hundred years of art history, Painters’ Paintings presents more than eighty works, which were once in the possession of great painters: pictures that artists were given or chose to acquire, works they lived with and were inspired by. This is an exceptional opportunity to glimpse inside the private world of these painters and to understand the motivations of artists as collectors of paintings.

The inspiration for this exhibition is a painter’s painting: Corot’s Italian Woman, left to the nation by Lucian Freud following his death in 2011. Freud had bought the Italian Woman ten years earlier, no doubt drawn to its solid brushwork and intense physical presence. A major work in its own right, the painting demands to be considered in the light of Freud’s achievements, as a painter who tackled the representation of the human figure with vigour comparable to Corot’s. In his will, Freud stated that he wanted to leave the painting to the nation as a thank you for welcoming his family so warmly when they arrived in the UK as refugees fleeing the Nazis. He also stipulated that the painting’s new home should be the National Gallery, where it could be enjoyed by future generations.

Anne Robbins, curator of Painters’ Paintings says: “Since its acquisition the painting’s notable provenance has attracted considerable attention; in fact, the picture is often appraised in the light of Freud’s own achievements, almost eclipsing the intrinsic merits of Corot’s canvas. It made us start considering questions such as which paintings do artists choose to hang on their own walls? How do the works of art they have in their homes and studios influence their personal creative journeys? What can we learn about painters from their collection of paintings? Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck is the result.”

Thomas Gainsborough, Girl with Pigs, 1781–82 (The Castle Howard Collection). Owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Thomas Gainsborough, Girl with Pigs, 1781–82 (The Castle Howard Collection). Owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The National Gallery holds a number of important paintings which, like the Corot, once belonged to celebrated painters: Van Dyck’s Titian; Reynolds’s Rembrandt, and Matisse’s Degas among many others. Painters’ Paintings is organised as a series of case studies each devoted to a particular painter-collector: Freud, Matisse, Degas, Leighton, Watts, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Van Dyck. Painters’ Paintings explores the motivations of these artists—as patrons, rivals, speculators—to collect paintings. The exhibition looks at the significance of these works of art for the painters who owned them—as tokens of friendship, status symbols, models to emulate, cherished possessions, financial investments or sources of inspiration.

Works from these artists’ collections are juxtaposed with a number of their own paintings, highlighting the connections between their own creative production and the art they lived with. These pairings and confrontations shed new light on both the paintings and the creative process of the painters who owned them, creating a dynamic and original dialogue between possession and painterly creation.

Half the works in the exhibition are loans from public and private collections, from New York and Philadelphia, to Copenhagen and Paris. A number of them have not been seen in public for several decades.

Dr. Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery says: “Artists by definition live with their own pictures, but what motivates them to possess works by other painters, be they contemporaries—friends or rivals—or older masters? The exhibition looks for the answers in the collecting of Freud, Matisse, Degas, Leighton, Watts, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Van Dyck.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792)

As the inaugural President of the Royal Academy, Reynolds was one of the most significant figures of the British art world in the 18th century; for him, collecting was a life-long passion, which he likened to “a great game.” Reynolds had a vast collection of drawings, paintings, and prints that informed both his teachings and supported his ideas about what constituted great art: style of Van Dyck (The Horses of Achilles, 1635–45, The National Gallery, London), Giovanni Bellini (The Agony in the Garden, about 1465, The National Gallery, London), after Michelangelo (Leda and the Swan, after 1530, The National Gallery, London), Poussin (The Adoration of the Shepherds, about 1633–34, The National Gallery, London), and Rembrandt (The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, about 1634–35, The British Museum, London).

Gainsborough’s Girl with Pigs (1781–82, Castle Howard Collection), bought by Reynolds in 1782, also illustrates Reynolds’s interest for the work of his contemporaries, demonstrating the breadth of his taste, but also its changeability—soon after, Reynolds tried to exchange his Gainsborough for a Titian.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830)

Lawrence was the leading British portraitist of the early 19th century. He was largely self-taught and hugely influenced by Sir Joshua Reynolds, following in his footsteps to become President of the Royal Academy. Like Degas, Lawrence was a voracious, obsessional collector, using the proceeds of the sale of his society portraits to amass an incomparable collection of Old Master drawings. An inventory upon his death listed some 4,300 drawings, including Carracci’s immense A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?) (about 1599, The National Gallery, London) and a number of paintings including Raphael’s Allegory (about 1504, The National Gallery, London) and Reni’s Coronation of the Virgin, (about 1607, The National Gallery, London).

This section of the exhibition places Lawrence’s collecting within his social world. The paintings he acquired established his reputation as a great connoisseur, and his advice was much sought by influential friends such as John Julius Angerstein and Sir George Beaumont, whose collections came to form the nucleus of the National Gallery holdings. Beyond his acquisitive zeal, the prodigiously gifted Lawrence also sought to gain information about his favoured artists’ methods. An exceptional loan from a private collection, his portrait of the Baring Brothers (Lawrence, Sir Francis Baring, 1st Baronet, John Baring and Charles Wall, 1806–07) demonstrates his absorption of the tradition of Renaissance male portrait, here injected with Lawrence’s trademark dash and virtuosity.

The full press release is available here»

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From Yale UP:

Anne Robbins, Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 96 pages, ISBN: 978-1857096118, £15.

9781857096118In this intriguing book, Anne Robbins explores the little-known history of artists collecting paintings. Focusing on the collections of Freud, Matisse, Degas, Leighton, Watts, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Van Dyck, she assesses the ways painters benefited from owning someone else’s work, their motivations for collecting, and how the history of a painting’s ownership influences our own view of both the artist and the work. Robbins investigates paintings as the sources of creative inspiration and their use in teaching theories of art. She also examines how painters acquired the paintings they desired, whether through auction, dealerships, gift or exchange, and how they cared for the works: storing them, displaying them, and, in some cases, flaunting them for self-promotion. Robbins ultimately argues that the acts of acquiring art and of art making evolve in tandem—with rich connections between works owned and works painted.

Anne Robbins is associate curator of Post-1800 paintings at the National Gallery, London.















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