Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 25 May 2015)

A man slumps at a table, his head buried in his arms. As he dreams, the dark creatures of his imagination rise out of the shadows behind him: a lynx, which looks up with wide eyes; bats, flocking in the darkness, and owls which mob the sleeping figure with their wings and steal his artist’s tools. This etching, made in 1799, forms part of Goya’s print series Los Caprichos and was originally conceived as an allegorical self-portrait. Its title is The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. For all of mankind’s pretensions to reason and rationality in this Enlightened age, Goya seems to say, we only have to sleep for our primal nightmares to come crawling out of the woodwork.

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The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure

Dürer: A Wise Virgin

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 12 January 2013)

In 1490 the nineteen-year-old Albrecht Dürer left his native Nuremberg and set off on his Wanderjahre, effectively the equivalent of an extended gap year for a Renaissance German artist. He had completed his apprenticeship with the painter Michael Wolgemut but, before setting up as a master in his own right, he wanted to spend some time travelling in Germany and studying in artistic centres other than Nuremberg. His trip would turn into a four-year journey, during which he even made a pilgrimage to Colmar in the hope of learning at the feet of his hero Martin Schongauer; only to find that Schongauer had died the previous year.

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Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901

Picasso: Harlequins

(Courtauld Institute, London, until 27 May 2013)

I haven’t left you much time to see this exhibition, but if you can get to Somerset House by the end of Bank Holiday Monday, I’d highly recommend it. The Courtauld have done again that which they do so well: choosing a very specific focus for an exhibition in order to throw new light on a familiar subject. Here they home in on one particular year in the young Picasso’s career: 1901, the year in which he came to Paris, had his first well-received exhibition at Galerie Vollard and then made his first compelling steps on the road to developing a distinctive style of his own.

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Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery

Michelangelo: Il Sogno

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 9 September 2012)

Over the last few years the Courtauld has become renowned for small-scale exhibitions, which often use works from its enviable collection as springboards to explore particular themes.  Recent personal favourites include Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, which focused on 15th-century cassone paintings, and the wonderful Michelangelo’s Dream, which used Il Sogno as the basis of a discussion of Michelangelo’s presentation drawings made for friends.  Both shows included loans from other collections alongside items from the Courtauld’s holdings, but the new exhibition is dedicated to the Courtauld’s own drawings (as was the recent show Spanish Drawings at the Courtauld Gallery).

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