FOL­LOW­ING CARAVAGGIO

In Aus­tralia and across the world, there are nu­mer­ous ex­hi­bi­tions worth ex­plor­ing, writes Christo­pher Allen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

This has been an event­ful year for Caravaggio and the Car­avaggisti, start­ing around Easter with the flurry of ex­cite­ment about a pic­ture found in an at­tic that was claimed to be an orig­i­nal Caravaggio but was quite ob­vi­ously a copy by an­other hand of the fa­mous Ju­dith Be­head­ing Holofernes. Then the Thyssen-Borne­misza Mu­seum in Madrid showed Caravaggio and the Painters of the North from June to Septem­ber. And now two im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tions in Lon­don and New York fo­cus on his legacy.

Be­yond Caravaggio, at The Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don, shows works by Caravaggio and his fol­low­ers in Italy and the north­ern coun­tries, drawn mainly from pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions in Eng­land, Scot­land and Ire­land, aug­mented with a few Amer­i­can loans. The show in­cludes some mas­ter­pieces by Caravaggio and other im­por­tant fig­ures, but is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing as an op­por­tu­nity to see many pic­tures from smaller or pri­vate col­lec­tions, and to re­alise yet again how cer­tain themes that Caravaggio dealt with once or twice, such as card cheats or gyp­sies, be­came the stock in trade of later im­i­ta­tors.

Mean­while, and with a rather un­for­tu­nate co­in­ci­dence of ti­tle, the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum in New York has Valentin de Boulogne: Be­yond Caravaggio. Valentin (1591-1632) was Caravaggio’s most in­ter­est­ing di­rect fol­lower, although he did not ar­rive in Rome un­til af­ter the lat­ter’s death, with a distinc­tive sen­si­bil­ity, a po­etic depth that went far be­yond most of his con­tem­po­raries, as well as higher am­bi­tions: although ini­tially a mas­ter of genre sub­jects such as tav­ern scenes, he also as­pired to the se­ri­ous­ness of his­tory paint­ing.

In the 1620s, in­deed, Valentin de Boulogne and an­other young French­man, Ni­co­las Poussin, were re­garded as the two most promis­ing emerg­ing artists in Rome; but while Poussin went on to be­come a gi­ant, Valentin’s ca­reer was cut short by his un­timely death in 1632. And while Poussin re­mained a hero to mod­ernists like Cezanne, and some other con­tem­po­raries such as Ge­orges de La Tour, with his idio­syn­cratic blend of nat­u­ral­ism and ab­stract form, were re­dis­cov­ered in the con­text of the new re­al­ism of the 1930s, Valentin was rel­a­tively over­looked. This ex­hi­bi­tion, with a schol­arly cat­a­logue of the high­est qual­ity, marks the be- Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Hierony­mus Bosch in Berlin; Valentin de Boulogne at New York’s Metropoli­tan Mu­seum; Be­yond Caravaggio at Lon­don’s Na­tional Gallery; a Matisse nude at Syd­ney’s AGNSW lated re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of a great painter as well as a deep­en­ing of our knowl­edge of one of the most im­por­tant pe­ri­ods in art his­tory.

The Met also has im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tions de­voted to an 18th-cen­tury French artist with Frag­o­nard: Draw­ing Tri­umphant, and to a 20th­cen­tury Ger­man artist with Max Beck­mann in New York. Per­haps most in­trigu­ingly, though, the mu­seum takes us back to a much ear­lier time and a place charged with sym­bolic mean­ing for so many peo­ples and faiths in Jerusalem 1000-1400: Ev­ery Peo­ple Un­der Heaven.

Among other in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions of art-his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance are Draw­ings for Paint­ings in the Age of Rem­brandt at the Na­tional Gallery in Wash­ing­ton, which will be fol­lowed at the same mu­seum by Della Rob­bia: Sculpt­ing with Color in Re­nais­sance Florence —a com­pre­hen­sive ex­hi­bi­tion of the distinc­tive Floren­tine style of poly­chro­matic ce­ramic sculp­ture. The Staedel in Frank­furt is show­ing Wat­teau: The Draughts­man and The Bat­tle of the Sexes: Franz von Stuck to Frida Kahlo.

In Paris the Grand Palais has a trio of ex­hi­bi­tions de­voted to the avant-garde in Mex­ico, Henri Fantin-La­tour and Herge, the creator of Tintin. The most re­mark­able ex­hi­bi­tion in Paris, how­ever, is prob­a­bly Icons of Mod­ern Art at the new Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton. This ex­hi­bi­tion brings to­gether im­por­tant works from the last decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th cen­tury that were as­sem­bled by Sergei Shchukin, a wealthy col­lec­tor and art lover; the col­lec­tion was con­fis­cated dur­ing the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion and later bro­ken up un­der Stalin, so the works are be­ing seen to­gether for the first time in well over half a cen­tury.

An­other col­lec­tion that suf­fered from the dis­ap­proval and cen­sor­ship of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary regime is that of the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Tehran; works of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art ac­quired in the time of the Shah were largely deemed un­suit­able for ex­hi­bi­tion af­ter the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion of 1979, but at­ti­tudes have grown more lib­eral in re­cent years, and now more than 60 of the more im­por­tant pieces will be shown in an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Gemalde­ga­lerie in Berlin.

The Gemalde­ga­lerie, in part­ner­ship with the Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, also has an ex­hi­bi­tion on Hierony­mus Bosch and His Pic­to­rial World in the 16th and 17th Cen­turies to mark the 500th an­niver­sary of the death of this ap­par­ently ec­cen­tric but highly so­phis­ti­cated painter best known for his vi­sion­ary, in­tri­cate and proto-sur­real com­po­si­tions such as The Gar­den of Earthly De­lights in the Prado, with its dis­qui­et­ing de­pic­tion of the earthly par­adise and even more dis­turb­ing evo­ca­tions of sin­ful hu­man­ity and its sub­se­quent grisly pun­ish­ment in hell.

An even more dramatic story of the im­pact of war and rev­o­lu­tion on art col­lect­ing and mu­se­ums is told in an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Scud­erie del Quiri­nale in Rome: Il Museo uni­ver­sale marks the 200th an­niver­sary of the re­turn of hun­dreds of paint­ings and sculp­tures looted from churches, con­vents and palaces by the French army in the time of Napoleon. The re­turn to Italy of so many mas­ter­pieces that had been ren­dered

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