Piranesi Drawings: Visions of Antiquity

1908,0616.44 (recto)-1

(British Museum, London, 20 February until 9 August 2020)

What do you think of when you think of Piranesi? Labyrinthine staircases and ominous prisons? The ruined monuments of ancient Rome? Marble vases brought home by Grand Tourists and Swedish kings? All of these would be absolutely correct, but each of them offers only one facet of the man. One way to get a broader sense of Piranesi’s achievements, as architect, designer, printmaker, publisher and art dealer, is by looking at his drawings; and, by happy chance, you can do just that at the moment here in London. In a completely shameless act of self-promotion, I wanted to flag a free exhibition at the British Museum (curated by me), running from tomorrow until 9 August 2020. Piranesi drawings: visions of antiquity presents all 51 of the Museum’s drawings by Piranesi. It’s one of the richest collections in the world, spanning his career from his arrival in Rome in 1740, as a young man of twenty, to his death in 1778 as one of the most influential and admired advocates of ancient Roman architecture. There’ll be traces of ‘your’ Piranesi here, whether you know him best as a visionary printmaker or a methodical antiquarian, but I hope you’ll also get a sense of just how exuberant and wide-ranging his talents were. Join me below the line for an unofficial romp through Piranesi’s life and work.

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Canaletto and the Art of Venice (2017)

Canaletto: View of the Salute

(Queen’s Gallery, London, until 12 November 2017)

In 1762, the young George III purchased en bloc the collection of Joseph Smith, the British consul in Venice. In doing so, he became at one stroke the owner of the greatest collection of Canaletto paintings and drawings in the world. These works have been in the Royal Collection ever since and now, gloriously, they’re brought together in a stunning exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, offering an abundance of Venetian delights. All in all, if you have any fondness for Venetian splendour, you must not miss this show.

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De Vouet à Watteau (2016)

Le Brun: Flora

Un siècle de dessin français: Chefs-d’oeuvre du musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie de Besançon

(Musée du Domaine départemental de Sceaux, until 12 February 2017)

I should have written about this some weeks ago, but the exhibition is still on for about a month and I’d love to flag this to anyone who might have a chance to see it. While the museum at Besançon is closed for restoration, some of its treasures have gone on tour, including a portion of its superb collection of works on paper.

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A curator’s tale

French Portrait Drawings: Exhibition Layout

Or, a newbie’s guide to preparing an exhibition

Last week I wrote about the forthcoming French Portrait Drawings show at the British Museum. Today I thought it might be fun, a few days before it opens on 8 September, to tell you a bit about the planning process from idea to installation, from a very personal point of view. The entire experience was new to me and, since many of my friends don’t seem quite sure what a curator does, I thought this might be of interest.

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French Portrait Drawings from Clouet to Courbet (2016-17)

Courbet: Self Portrait

(British Museum, 8 September 2016-29 January 2017)

I’ve been debating whether to write about this exhibition here. In the act of doing so, I’m banishing mystique and bringing the blog and the real world together for the first time; but my desire to write about this show was too strong to resist. It’s my exhibition, you see. I’ve been working on it ever since I joined the British Museum in late 2014 and now, to my mingled delight and terror, it’s on the brink of opening to the public.

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Art in Frankfurt

The Frankfurt skyline

I’ve had quite a few business trips over the last few months, but this week’s expedition to Frankfurt came together in a particularly satisfying way. I was only there for one full day, but thanks to cunning planning of my flights and a relatively brief business meeting, I had plenty of time free to explore the city’s museums and to take two very exciting trips to nearby towns. In a blissful stroke of luck my trip coincided with the Karlsruhe Handel Festival, so I even managed to squeeze in a performance: you can read about Arminio in another post. All in all, I had a wonderful time and here are a few recommendations if you should ever find yourself in that part of the world.

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Jean-Etienne Liotard (2015-16)

(Royal Academy, London, until 31 January 2016)

This is the first exhibition devoted to Liotard in the UK and it’s long overdue. He’s an artist I’ve always particularly liked, for he seems to represent the most appealing aspects of the 18th century: its increasing informality and its new interest in the individual as a worthy object of study. Born in Geneva, he had an unusually peripatetic life which took him not only to the usual artistic centres of Paris, Rome and London, but also to more exotic regions: after joining the entourage of a couple of British Grand Tourists whom he met in Rome, he spent four years in the Ottoman capital in Constantinople. For the rest of his life his art would be flavoured by the textures and patterns of the Turkish world.

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Drawn From the Antique (2015)

Agostino Veneziano: Baccio Bandinelli's Academy

Artists and the Classical Ideal

(Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, until 26 September 2015)

It’s 1531. A group of men have gathered in a low-ceilinged room in the Belvedere wing of the Vatican. All natural light has been banished. Clustered around a table, they are drawing from a classical statuette, lit only by candlelight to emphasise the curves and shadows of its graceful form. At the back, holding the statuette, is a bearded man in a cap. He is Baccio Bandinelli: sculptor, draughtsman and master of this little group of students. This engraving is the first depiction of artists drawing from classical models, and also the first depiction of a gathering which regarded itself as an art ‘academy’.

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Pierre-Paul Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman (2015)

Prud'hon: A seated male nude

(Dulwich Picture Gallery, until 15 November 2015)

This year there are many exhibitions designed to capitalise on the sudden flourish of enthusiasm for all things Waterloo and Napoleon. This small show at Dulwich shrewdly uses the Bonaparte connection as an excuse for bringing a little-known artist back into the limelight, and bravo to that. I say ‘little-known’ with some caution. Having spent far too long in the art world, I sometimes find it hard to judge how familiar an artist would be to the average passer-by on Oxford Street; but I think I’m safe in assuming that Prud’hon isn’t exactly a household name.

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Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album (2015)

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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