Last week I had the privilege of attending and participating in a conference on Rubens. Held at York University, it united a stellar cast of art historians, curators, directors and students who congregated to discuss the fascinating topic of the human body in Rubens's art. Before leaving I took time to visit the York Art Gallery, glistening in the rain last Sunday; the weather had considerately stayed fine until the day after the symposium ended.
Although some masterpieces weren't on show- refurbishment strikes again- I did see a lot of good art. I was particularly delighted by the museum's collection of early renaissance painting. Thanks to the discernment and taste of 19th century collectors, a lot of our provincial galleries boast so-called 'primitives'. Another good provincial gallery is the Walker Art Gallery at Liverpool, which also has fine examples of this art in its holdings. How odd that these captains of industry, self-made men whose industriousness and money making ability brought these northern towns into being, should have liked this kind of simplicity in art. To my eye and mind, it seems anti-materialist and unburdened by progress or any hint of ambition whatsoever. Not that this was a universal taste. The metropolitan magnifici of the 19th century scorned this kind of picture; Sir Robert Peel, a trustee of the London NG, dismissed this kind of art as "curiosities", a damning label that occurs frequently in descriptions of early renaissance art. Peel was eventually overruled in matters of taste, and directors like Charles Eastlake went on to acquire such art enthusiastically for the NG.
I've not had much time for the blog this month due to all this professional activity, but I've nearly finished another post on connoisseurship (with more on Eastlake) which I'm aiming to put up here before the month ends.
York City Art Gallery in the Rain.
Francesco d'Ubertini Verdi (Bacchiacca), Agony in the Garden, about 1545.
Puccio di Simone, Two wings of a Triptych, 14th century.