Sunday, 26 May 2019

New Loans at the National Gallery, London

The National Gallery has two new loans on show: ‘Flora’ by Francesco Melzi, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s favourite pupils, on loan from the Hermitage in St Petersburg; and ‘Tbe Sea at L’Estaque’ by Paul Cezanne, on loan from a private collection. Both are pretty fab so see them if you can.

'Flora' has recently been cleaned and this is its first outing from Russia in its newly-cleaned form. It was thought to be by Leonardo for many years but experts now attribute it to Melzi who is also credited with keeping Leonardo's notebooks safe for posterity (Vasari comments that Melzi treated them like sacred relics). The young Melzi followed his master to France and, when Leonardo died, returned to Milan with the notebooks. Just looking at that face it's easy to see how people might think it's by Leonardo.

Flora sits in a grotto surrounded by plants and has one breast on show, a symbol of fecundity, while she gazes at a flower. I wonder who commissioned this and first hung it on his/her wall? The blue of the cloak is gorgeous as are the purple spots that make up the small flowers. I'm not sure about the frame which seems to be a bit over-powering to me.

'Flora' is part of a small exhibition of the Leonardeschi, the pupils and followers of Leonardo da Vinci, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death. There are about 10 paintings in all, including a couple by Bernardo Luini that are very influenced by his master's style. The paintings are hung down one side of Room 12 and well worth a look.

The other new loan is a lovely landscape by Cezanne of 'The Sea at L'Estaque', with all the foliage and house roofs as Cezanne looked towards the sea.

It's a lovely little painting and that's what surprised me most - how small it is. He sent this to the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877 which shows that he considered it a worthy painting and I have to agree, with it's lovely colours and simplicity - a few daubs here for a tree and a few daubs there for a roof - and the lovely, clear light of the south of France. The painting is almost lost in one of the Impressionist rooms (Room 41 I think?) but it's well worth hunting out and taking a gaze at it.

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