Saturday 4 February 2017

Portrait of the Artist

Yesterday I went to have a look at Portrait of the Artist, the current exhibition at the Queen's Gallery (at Buckingham Palace). Larger and wider-ranging than I was expecting, it's made up of images of artists - self-portraits, portraits, pictures of artists at work, celebrations of the 'cult of the artist' - taken from the vast riches of the Royal Collection, and ranging in date from the 15th century to the 21st (represented by a Hockney iPad self-portrait). In scale, the pictures on display range from small-scale drawings (including a fascinating little Parmigianino self-portrait, perhaps a study for the famous convex one) to large, grand paintings - none larger  or grander than Lord Leighton's glorious Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, which used to hang over the main staircase of the National Gallery and can be enjoyed much better here.
 There are lovely self-portrait drawings by the Caracci brothers, Piazzetta and Bernini, confronting his mortality with open eyes. There's Rosalba Carriera's last self-portrait, calm and subdued, and a fine selection of miniatures, including self-portraits by Isaac Oliver and Samuel Cooper. On one wall hangs a row of three superb self-portraits from the 17th century - Rembrandt at the peak of his career, in a flat cap, with a gold ear-ring and two gold chains; Rubens exuding self-confidence, creative energy and swagger; and Daniel Mytens (below) turning a steady, half-defiant gaze on us.

 Curiosities include a Landseer self-portrait entitled The Connoisseurs, with two dogs (the 'connoisseurs' of the title) looking over his shoulder at what he is painting, a self-portrait by Thomas Patch in which he portrays himself as an ox, and a self-aggrandising effort by one Emma Gaggiotti Richards (a favourite of Victoria's), looking like a kind of artistic dominatrix. There's also an enjoyably brushy Alfred Stevens - A Girl in Pink Leaning on a Chair.
 Two high-impact Italian Baroque masterpieces form the climax of the exhibition - Cristoforo Allori's Judith with the Head of Holofernes (the former modelled by an ex-mistress of the artist, the latter by Allori himself, or so it is believed) and Artemisia Gentileschi's stunning Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (top). This virtuoso work, brilliantly conceived and executed, would alone be worth the price of admission. Talking of which, if you gift-aid your entry fee you can get a free pass for the rest of the year to this always rewarding gallery.


  1. I've been looking forward to seeing this exhibition; your review is very timely. I like the Queen's Gallery very much. Its generous admission policy, which you've highlighted, seems entirely unknown to the foaming republicans of the Comment is Free world. While they're busy ranting on about the inaccessible wealth of the monarchy, I'm on my 5th free visit of the year to the 'vast riches' of the Royal Collection. Even better, because I am 'disabled', I'm allowed to take a companion for free too. Thank you, Ma'am!

  2. Absolutely, Mary! And of course the Royals don't own this stuff anyway, it's not part of their wealth.

  3. I truly envy those who have such deep perception.

    I'm like a pig staring at a wrist watch: all interest, no comprehension.