Earlier this summer I visited the Painters' Paintings Exhibit at the National Gallery in London. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest museum fan in the world, although I wish I was, but every once in a while I find an exhibit that really just nails it. This was one of those.
The exhibit was constructed in a way that you would start from a contemporary painter and look at what paintings of other famous painters he had owned and displayed in his home or studio. The show started with Lucien Freud (1922-2011) who apparently has owned paintings from Cézanne, Corot and Degas. The exhibit went on to explain how these pieces have inspired and influenced Freud's work.
As you stepped into the next room, it was dedicated to Degas (1834-1917), showed what influenced him, and went on to the next one, all the way back to Sir Anthony van Dyck from the 16th century.
WHY IT WORKED?
The exhibit works through a linear timeline, starting with something familiar, something from our own age, and works its way back slowly to something classic that we often feel so distant of. This brings the viewer closer to van Dyck, and, with the paintings that he owned (Titians for example), even further back in time. It made the viewer feel connected with masters even from the Renaissance.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK?
There are a lot of mentions of famous pieces that people have owned or was influenced of, that are not displayed at the exhibition, since they don't move those around for temporary exhibitions. It would have been great to have little photos printed out of those, for those of us who are still just trying to catch up on art history and therefor don't know all these pieces by heart.
It was a really great exhibit, that not only showed a clear connection between painters throughout time, but also highlighted the importance of borrowing in art and design, and how we can learn from analysing previous masters. The temporary exhibits of the National Gallery never disappoint :)