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