Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Joy of Paint

 This morning I took my place in the queue outside the National Gallery and shuffled towards the entrance and my appointment (pre-booked, of course) with Titian: Love, Desire, Death – Titian's seven Ovid-inspired Poesie ('poetries') together in one place for the first time in more than 400 years. I had heard that the National is not a place to go maskless and unchallenged, so for once I masked up: if Paris was worth a mass, Titian is surely worth a mask. 
   It was so good, so deeply cheering to be back in the National. Approaching through the galleries leading to the exhibition room, it was hard not to stop and linger, and as I passed through a grin of aesthetic joy was already spreading over my face. It stayed firmly in place as I relished the spectacle of Titian's great masterpieces – 'the most beautiful paintings in the world' in Lucian Freud's view (and I wouldn't argue) – all gathered together. Three were already familiar, being in the National's collection (or shared with the National Gallery of Scotland) and two are resident elsewhere in London (the Wallace Collection and Apsley House), but The Rape of Europa had come all the way from Boston, and Venus and Adonis from the Prado. Though they were painted across two decades and show Titian's development of an ever more daringly 'loose' style, all display almost superhuman technical virtuosity, and all are intensely sensual and immensely 'painterly'. Indeed they are some of the most painterly paintings ever executed – lush, juicy, sensuous – and to see them is to revel in the sheer joy of paint. If ever there was an exhibition that has to be seen in the flesh – and the word couldn't be more appropriate – it is this one. These are pictures that have to be seen full scale, examined closely and from a distance; reproductions give little or no idea of their stunning impact. Wearing a mask was a small price to pay for this experience, and, it has to be said, the crowd management measures in force mean that the room where the Poesie are reunited is not overcrowded. It is easy to stand undisturbed, and look and look, and give these astonishing pictures their due.  
  Staggering from the gallery in an aesthetic daze  – this had been my first exhibition since February – I went and had a spot of lunch before making my way to my next appointment with art: Robert Dukes's new exhibition at Browse & Darby. Here too was a 'painterly' painter, and here too was the sheer joy of paint. His glorious little still-lifes of fruit – lemons, oranges, quinces, an artichoke in flower – sing like nobody else's, and make me wish intensely that I could afford to have one hanging on my wall. In this exhibition Dukes also continues his exploration of other painters' works, with compositions 'after' Veronese, Caravaggio, Morandi, Rembrandt, and a particularly striking set  painted 'after Balthus' (and a 'homage to' Michael Andrews). As with the Titians, reproduction is wholly inadequate, but here are some oranges and quinces...

Robert Dukes's exhibition is on until the 6th of November (see the Browse & Darby website for details), and Titian: Love, Desire, Death until the 17th of January. 

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