Paul Nash, The Elements, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, February 10 – May 9.
Paul Nash deserves to be considered one of the finest painters England has ever produced. His wonderful blend of Blakean fantasy and modern surrealism, set against the background of the two World Wars make him utterly compelling. Such works as Totes Mare, a bleak abandoned graveyard of bombers, say more about the tragedies of war than any words ever could.
Michelangelo's Dream of Human Life, Courtauld Institute, London, February 16 – May 18.
Walter Pater said that Michelangelo had a "capacity for profound dreaming." He had in mind Michelangelo's early art, but dreams appear later, most famously in Michelangelo's undecipherable drawing dedicated to Tommasso Cavalieri. It was a clever idea to include this and others such as the "Bacchanal of Putti" in a focused exhibition that brought connoisseurship, iconography and graphic analysis together in a productive and interesting way. The Michelangelo sheets were accompanied by other images of fancies and nightmares, notably Marcantonio Raimondi's "Raphael's Dream."
Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Masterpieces from the Uffizi, Italian Renaissance Drawings, British Museum, London, 22 April–25 July.
Easily the best exhibition of renaissance graphic art mounted in the U.K. this year. A show conceived with the aim of educating the general public about the technique of Leonardo, Raphael and other renaissance draughtsmen. Judging by the number of people I saw there, it was completely successful. Verrocchio's beautiful 'Head of a Woman' was worth the price of admission alone.
Caravaggio's Friends and Foes, Whitfield Fine Art, London, 27th May- 23rd July.
This exhibition organised by the baroque specialist Clovis Whitfield and other curators would have slipped completely under the radar. Forget the Caravaggio blockbusters on the continent; this was more interesting. No Caravaggio, but artists inspired by him such Louis Finson, Antiveduto Grammatica, Guido Reni and Giovanni Baglione, whose self-portrait was the perfect riposte to Caravaggio's dismissal of him as an artist. A refreshing approach to the over-used rival theme in exhibitions, and a perfect complement to Whitfield's new book on Caravaggio- Caravaggio's Eye.
Salvator Rosa (1615–1673): Bandits, Wilderness and Magic, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 15 September–28 November.
Salvator Rosa could be considered the world's first independent artist. Impatient with patrons, and fiercely committed to his art, Rosa epitomises the wayward artistic genus. Dulwich's second outing this year was expertly curated by Helen Langdon, Xavier Salomon and Caterina Volpi. It threw light on such themes as philosophy, bandits and witchcraft, while giving us a much more complex picture of this recalcitrant artist. It probably didn't get a large audience- but it deserved one.
Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries, National Gallery, London, 30th June-12th September.
Offsetting the magnificent accomplishments and acquisitions of the National Gallery are the mistakes, misattributions and curatorial embarrassments which have plagued since its founding in 1824. Typical of the introspective, and self-reflective events that the gallery is mounting these days, Close Examination showed such mortifications as the "bad Holbein", Kenneth Clark's "Giorgione" and the "Madonna of the Pinks", although that was presented as a triumph. Though sometimes it seemed like paintings in search of an exhibition, there's no escaping the fact that Close Examination was timely given the climate of "discoveries" and false attributions of the last decade, which, alas, continue to trouble us.
The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, 16 September–5 December.
Pre-Raphaelite is one of the most problematic terms in art history, so an exhibition like this was long overdue. Perhaps it promised more than it delivered, but there was no doubting the originality of the exhibition, and the quality of the works on display. Painters like William Dyce- post-Raphaelitism- and Sir Edward Burne-Jones- post Pre-Raphaelitism, inflected by Michelangelo- suggest both ends of the spectrum. And the bedrock of the show was John Ruskin's drawings of Venice, Verona and other centres, visual notes for an aesthetic and social manifesto for a new England.
Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, September 8th-October 17th.
Accompanying a papal visit of Benedict XVI to the U.K., this exhibition strove to transport us back to the time of Leo X and the tapestries commissioned for the Sistine Chapel. It largely succeeded by constructing an "installation" of tapestries, cartoons and ancillary drawings. Thus, the evolution of the whole design was laid out right in front of the public; from drawings of Raphael's pupils modelling for the apostles to the grandeur of the tapestries themselves. It was particularly good to see those, including the detailing on the detached borders, little allegorical worlds of meaning lost to a modern audience.
Treasures from Budapest, Royal Academy of Arts, 25th September- 12th December
This was an exhibition of blockbuster proportions that didn't seem like a blockbuster. Consisting of 12 rooms crammed with old master paintings and drawings, modern art and beyond, all from Budapest, the effect was overwhelming. With the £12 admission cost, that works out at a £1 a room- value for money. I spent over two hours there, but still didn't manage to see everything. Honourable mention should go to the 17th century selections including Poussin, Ribera, Artemesia Gentileschi and Lanfranco. A cornucopia of an exhibition.
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, National Portrait Gallery, 21 October–23 January 2011
One of the best exhibitions the NPG has put on in years. Lawrence was unjustly ignored and disparaged until scholars like Michael Levey and others began to plead his case. Now, this genius painter of portraits gets his place in the sun with a fine selection of paintings. Equally compelling is Lawrence's back-story of humble beginnings in Bristol, failed amorous relationships, and inexplicable financial problems despite his mercurial success in London. Many masterpieces here, such as his portraits of Angerstein, Payne-Knight, and a pictorial bouquet of beautiful women; but it is his group portrait of Francis Baring and Co which really captures the mix of wealth, romanticism and tragedy underpinning Lawrence's art. After this, Lawrence's stock can only rise.
AHT will be back after Christmas with more, including a post on trends, memes and themes in 2010.
In the meantime, have a great Christmas!