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Old friends and some new ones at the National Gallery

01 Nov 2006 / in about art, events

The current Velázquez exhibition occupies a load of wall space and many paintings have had to move to make room. The NG have rehung some of them very creatively in the basement of the Sainsbury wing as a show in their own right ‘Manet to Picasso’.

I wanted to have a damned good look at the Manets. It must have been the fact that I had just spent the previous hour and half looking at Velázquez’s work but I never realised just how profoundly Manet had been influenced by our Spanish hero. I’d read it in books and knew it of course but it had never really registered.

Apart from the Manets, what thrilled me in this (free) show were these:

Norbert Goeuneutte’s Boulevard de Clichy
I have no idea why I have never noticed this picture before because it’s fab. Yesterday as I cruised around the walls of the gallery this one jumped out at me and wouldn’t let me go. It’s a scene of a place in Paris where Vincent van Gogh would make his home a decade later. That grey sky full of yet more snow makes you shiver just looking at it.
Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers
This one started it all for me back in the late 1970s. All that sitting out in the sun getting burned, all that endless shuffling around galleries and striding through fields in the Netherlands and France can be blamed on this painting. The glow of that yellow background blew me away when I first saw it and its brightness keeps me coming back and wanting to find out more. Vincent painted this to impress his friend Gauguin who was coming to stay with him. It hung in Gauguin’s bedroom at Vincent’s house in Arles in the autumn of 1888.
Paul Gauguin’s The Guitar Player
Gah! I really wish I didn’t like Gauguin’s paintings so much. He was such a git and after what he did to Vincent in 1888 I should shut my eyes to his work, but I just can’t. His draughtsmanship was nowhere near as good as Vincent, but his colours and his sense of the decorative appeals to me in every way. I had not seen this painting before which is currently on loan at the NG.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Lake Keitele
What a beauty this is! At the time this was painted Finland had not yet achieved independence from Russia. The Finnish artist uses the gorgeous emptiness of this landscape to say something about the longing of the Finns for independence from Russia. How can grey paint appear sparkly silver?

Also to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt van Rijn’s birth the NG have rehung their pictures by him and his ‘school’ in a small (free) show called Rembrandt 400 . Like meeting a much-loved uncle, it’s always wonderful to see this fluffy old boy again:

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