Ex­hi­bi­tion

Susan Jenk­ins rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to glimpse into the pri­vate world of artists who ac­quired paintings and were in­spired by their fel­low painters

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Susan Jenk­ins ex­plores the works that in­spired the great artists

AC­cord­ing to the great 18th-cen­tury artist and found­ing pres­i­dent of the royal Academy Sir Joshua reynolds: ‘Works of art are mod­els you are to im­i­tate, and at the same time ri­vals you are to com­bat.’ The na­tional gallery’s fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion ‘Painters’ Paintings’ uses eight artist ‘case stud­ies’ and some 80 works of art to un­cover how artist-col­lec­tors have been in­flu­enced by the can­vases of their fel­low painters.

in­spired by Lu­cian Freud’s gift to the gallery of Corot’s Ital­ian Woman (about 1870) in 2012, and fea­tur­ing loans from pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions, the show pen­e­trates the pri­vate world of painters to demon­strate how artists have been in­spir­ing each other through their work for cen­turies.

Although Freud didn’t con­sider him­self to be a col­lec­tor, he was no­table for his in­ter­est in the paintings of other artists and sur­rounded him­self with their can­vases at home, com- ment­ing: ‘i go and see pic­tures rather like go­ing to the doc­tor. To get some help.’

Fel­low painters rang­ing from Sir An­thony van dyck and Sir Joshua reynolds to Henri Matisse and Hi­laire-ger­main-edgar de­gas shared Freud’s point of view. By jux­ta­pos­ing the work of these great masters with pic­tures they owned, this ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plores their mo­ti­va­tion for col­lect­ing art and shows how this in­flu­enced their own prac­tice.

The cu­ra­tor Anne rob­bins sug­gests that ‘look­ing at an artist’s col­lec­tion can be com­pared to en­ter­ing a mind’. She points out the di­ver­sity of rea­sons that ex­plain why one artist ac­quired work from an­other. Some­times, the mo­ti­va­tion was to of­fer pa­tron­age and en­cour­age­ment; at oth­ers, to ben­e­fit from spec­u­la­tion or fi­nan­cial gain.

Some works were ac­quired as gifts or to­kens of friend­ship, oth­ers as sources of in­spi­ra­tion. Matisse, who bought Cézanne’s Three Bathers in 1899, de­scribed

the in­flu­ence it had on him: ‘In the thirty-seven years I have owned this can­vas… it has sus­tained me morally in the crit­i­cal mo­ments of my ven­ture as an artist; I have drawn from it my faith and my per­se­ver­ance.’ In ev­ery case, such pur­chases re­flected the owner’s re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for the cre­ative process of a fel­low painter.

Both Matisse and De­gas were com­pul­sive col­lec­tors. Matisse re­port­edly pawned his wife’s wed­ding ring in 1900 to se­cure Paul Gau­guin’s Young Man with a Flower be­hind his Ear (1891). The wealth­ier De­gas fre­quently used his money to sup­port fel­low artists. In so do­ing, he of­ten ex­ceeded his bud­get, ac­cord­ing to a friend, as he car­ried on ‘buy­ing, buy­ing: in the evening he asks him­self how he will pay for what he bought that day and the next morn­ing he starts again’.

Dur­ing these spend­ing sprees, De­gas ac­quired nine paintings from his dear friend Edouard Manet, in­clud­ing Woman with a Cat (1880–2) and the re­assem­bled pieces of The Ex­e­cu­tion of Max­i­m­il­ian (about 1867– 8).

‘Painters’ Paintings’ ex­plores not only the works pur­chased, but also the in­spi­ra­tion de­rived by artists from their col­lec­tions. Lu­cian Freud’s After Cézanne, for in­stance, was clearly in­flu­enced by Cézanne’s Af­ter­noon in Naples (1876–7), ac­quired by him in 1999.

Sim­i­larly, van Dyck’s lux­u­ri­ous use of colour and com­po­si­tional de­vices in­di­cate his close study of the work of Ti­tian. By the time of his death in 1641, van Dyck owned 19 works by Ti­tian, in­clud­ing two in the Na­tional Gallery: The Ven­dramin Fam­ily (1540– 5) and Por­trait of Gero­lamo (?) Bar­barigo (about 1510).

Suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of Bri­tish artist-col­lec­tors in­flu­enced each other, both in terms of their col­lect­ing and their artis­tic tech­nique. Reynolds pur­chased works by van Dyck, no­tably his Por­trait of Ge­orge Gage with Two At­ten­dants, (prob­a­bly 1622– 3). Reynolds, in his turn, in­flu­enced his pupil, Thomas Lawrence, for whom ac­quir­ing works of art was both cre­atively im­por­tant and ev­i­dence of gen­tle­manly sta­tus.

Some of Lawrence’s most im­por­tant pur­chases found their way into the Na­tional Gallery, in­clud­ing Raphael’s An Al­le­gory (about 1504) and Agostino Car­racci’s car­toon A Woman borne off by a Sea God (about 1599), now re­turn­ing to pub­lic dis­play after 20 years in stor­age.

De­spite the un­doubted ri­valry be­tween artists, the ex­hi­bi­tion high­lights their mu­tual re­spect demon­strated through the ex­change of gifts. One such ex­am­ple is the 80th-birth­day card that Frank Auer­bach made in 2002 for his friend Lu­cian Freud. Matisse and Pi­casso’s fierce com­pet­i­tive­ness en­cour­aged their reg­u­lar ex­change of pic­tures and Matisse kept the two por­traits that Pi­casso gave him of his mis­tress, Dora Maar, in an at­tempt to learn from his ri­val’s work.

By ex­plor­ing a sim­ple theme, this is a de­light­ful show that can be en­joyed on many lev­els. Its main fo­cus of­fers in­sight into an un­known as­pect of artis­tic ac­tiv­ity, the cre­ative process and painterly in­spi­ra­tion, but the se­lec­tion of won­der­ful pic­tures pro­vides an en­joy­able aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence, en­riched with fresh in­for­ma­tion on their prove­nance. ‘Painters’ Paintings: from Freud to Van Dyck’ is at the Na­tional Gallery, Lon­don WC2, un­til Septem­ber 4 (020–7747 2885; www.na­tion­al­gallery.org.uk) Next week: Kate Malone at Wad­des­don Manor

‘In the thirty-seven years I have owned this can­vas... it has sus­tained me morally,’ said Matisse of Cézanne’s Three Bathers

Ti­tian’s The Ven­dramin Fam­ily, ven­er­at­ing a Relic of the True Cross (1540– 5)

‘Pi­casso shat­ters forms,’ de­clared Matisse, who was given this and an­other por­trait of Dora Maar by his fel­low artist. ‘I am their ser­vant’

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