Friday, 6 January 2017

'Portrait of the Artist' at the Queen's Gallery

A few weeks ago I popped into the Queen's Gallery on the side of Buckingham Palace (yes, *that* Queen and *that* palace) to see the exhibition' 'Portrait of the Artist'. This exhibition is all about portraits and self-portraits in the Royal Collection and the poster girl is Artemisia Gentileschi who is currently prominently featured in the Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery.

It's quite a small exhibition and is nicely laid out, a nice mix of drawings, prints and paintings from the last 600 years or so. One of the earliest is a portrait of a man either by Raphael, his pupils or by one of his pupils of Raphael. It's confusing. I certainly don't think this is by Raphael but it's a lovely painting, three-quarter face with a hazy landscape beyond. He looks a bit young to me but he was a prodigy. The quality of the painting and its preservation were wonderful, the frame looks like it was added later (a plain frame always works better on portraits so the emphasis is on the face) and I love the texture and folds of the under-shirt. Is this really the face of Raphael?  Part of me hopes it is but another part of me can't help but think he'd wear something more colourful.

There are some lovely portraits of the 'greats' in this collection. There's a great painting of a self-portrait of Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun by Leopold Dumini that he completed on his travels as an exercise and a marvellous self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds with 'wig glasses', i.e. glasses that stretched around his wig. Who knew such things existed or that people would paint portraits with them on. I walked past this painting and then had to take a few steps back to look at it again. Glasses? On Sir Joshua Reynolds? 'Wig' glasses? O yes, they had everything back then! They were (apparently) designed to go round the expanse of wig that men wore.

There were also a few enormous paintings that supposedly included portraits of artists. One of the biggest - and most unbelievable - was 'Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession' by Lord Frederic Leighton which is supposed to include portraits of both Cimabue and Giotto.

Given that no-one knows what either Cimabue or Giotto looks like then it's a bit of a con but it's delightful in showing the reverence to art that an altarpiece deserves a procession. Cimabue is the man in white on the middle of the painting with Giotto the boy, his pupil, at his side. I can't help but wonder if Leighton had ever seen any real Cimabue paintings in his life?

That brings me back to Artemisia who clearly paints herself as an artist, a powerful statement of 'this who I am'. She's outlining a sketch of a painting while wearing a satin frock and a lock of hair falls free as it would when you're concentrating on your work. It really is quite marvellous.

There e also some great paintings by Zoffany (such as his painting of the Royal Academy in the nude drawing room and more 'moderns' painting and drawing the royal family. There's a lot here to see, even if it is quite small, and it's well worth seeing.

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