Last week I took time off from the daily grind to refresh myself with another exhibition- and what an event. We're talking 12 rooms of paintings and drawings from all periods, but with the emphasis on baroque; a cornucopia of art treasures presented to an audience that hasn't seen most of them. That includes me. I've never been to Budapest, but if this is a taste of the art in that city, then it's on my visit list.
The show is so large and wide ranging in its genres and styles that it would be pointless to try to overview it in a review. Instead, I've listed a number of paintings that caught my eye, or that I found of surpassing interest. When you go in the first painting you'll see is a strange Woman of the Apocalypse by a Hungarian master whose many headed beast of Revelations is obviously based on Durer's print of the same subject. Most people will have come for Raphael's Esterhazy Madonna though –top of the post- but in all honesty it's a disappointment because the multileveled frame around it kills its charm stone dead. What idiot decided to surround Raphael's paintings with over-elaborate and ornamented frames? It's a deplorable trend. Best to view it in a reproduction sans frame.
You're spoilt for choice in the 17th century rooms. There's a Poussin- which I'll save for another post- or you could have an El Greco or Annibale Carracci, or how about a dynamic Flight into Egypt from Luca Giordano? I've opted for a well painted canvas by Caravaggio's arch rival, Il Cavaliere d' Arpino, whose Diana and Actaeon has an interesting twist: the goddess seems to be pleading with the hunter rather than intimidating him. Stylistically, it's a nice re-working of Titian into a picture of courtly elegance. More in tune with the orotund and majestic feel of the baroque is Ribera's Martyrdom of St Andrew, which has a gravitas to it that makes it seem like a painted lecture. If Ribera is too realistic then you could always turn to the classicism of Artemesia Gentileschi's Jael and Sistera, which has a restraint despite its violent subject of a woman bashing a tent peg into a man's head!
Old master drawings are set out in two large rooms and there are some hits and misses here. Apart from the Leonardo sheets, I was drawn to a Durer drawing of a rider which must connect with the engraving of Death, Knight and the Devil. I'm not so convinced about the Raphael drawing though- it looks well below his usual standard. My favourite drawing in the entire show would have to be Rembrandt's spirited pen and wash sketch of his wife Saskia sitting at a window. I love the bold line of Rembrandt's pen which seems even more emphatic than usual here. There are some impressive portraits here: Goya, Sebastiano dell Piombo, Moroni. But, completely outside my customary frame of reference, I've chosen an 18th century one. Greuze's portrait of the collector Paul Randon de Boisset. We're used to Greuze's swooning, sentimental young beauties in the Wallace Collection- but this has a piercing naturalism and seriousness that really does impress.
Some nice contributions from still-lifers like van der Heyden and others. Tally ho past the hunting scenes which bore me to death…but this is more like it-exotic birds and fruit from the 18th century Hungarian painter Jacob Bogdany. He was quite successful in London and I can see why. His paintings of birds are stunning; this could be re-titled "The Parrot Lecture". The intimidating bird on the left reminds me of a professor I once knew! The landscapes are really of very high quality. My particular favourite was one of Claude- a gentle scene of a rustic driving his livestock across a brook. Then there's two Salvator Rosa's which are very fine. John Wooton's Classical Landscape doesn't do a bad job of bringing Poussin's philosophers' grove into the 18th century.
That leaves the modern art which I didn't really get a chance to appreciate as I was dead on my feet by the time I got there! Mention must be made, however, of a Picasso Mother and Child, done right at the end of his Blue Period and start of the Rose period. This painting marks a period of transition: moon to sun, grey to gold, austerity for prosperity. And don't we all need that!
Finally, the catalogue, which was really a bargain at its special discount price of £9.95. The art is set out chronologically in the catalogue, century by century and the drawings are not separated from the paintings. The catalogue entries aren't very detailed, but then all the art is reproduced.