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December 02 2010

Works by Van Gogh and Hockney mark London gallery's 200th birthday

Twelve paintings that 'would knock your socks off at 50 paces' feature in Dulwich Picture Gallery's anniversary celebrations

As birthday presents go, they are quite something: 12 of the most jaw-dropping paintings in any gallery anywhere, courtesy of institutions across Europe and the US including the Uffizi, Prado and Met.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery, England's oldest public art gallery, today announced it was marking its 200th anniversary in 2011 by displaying specially loaned paintings for a month at a time by artists such as Velázquez, El Greco, Rembrandt, Constable and David Hockney.

"We wanted paintings that would knock your socks off at 50 paces," said Ian Dejardin, the gallery's director, who admitted he has been thinking about the bicentenary since he joined five years ago.

"This is a very important date in the history of all museums in this country and if you're going to celebrate, then you might as well do it all year. If you haven't heard of Dulwich Picture Gallery by the end of the year then you're deaf."

The south London gallery opened 200 years ago to house a remarkable collection that had been built up over five years for the King of Poland, who wanted to build a royal collection from scratch.

His abdication in 1795 left two London-based art dealers with some fine paintings which, in turn, led to the creation of what is one of the world's oldest public galleries. Then it charged sixpence to keep riff-raff out. Today the riff-raff are welcome, but they must pay £5 to see a permanent collection that is one of the most important collections of old masters anywhere.

It is this reputation and history that had galleries saying yes to Dejardin's request for loans. One of the most eye-catching is the self-portrait of Van Gogh – he'll be Mr July – from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. It was specifically requested by Dejardin, not least because a 19-year-old Van Gogh walked from central London to the gallery in 1873 and made a mess of the visitor's book by blotting ink all over it. Unfortunately all that is known of his experience, said Dejardin, is that he "had a nice day".

Dejardin said the loans were like "a year-long advent calendar of your dreams". It kicks off with a Sir Thomas Lawrence portrait of Sir John Soane in January and is followed by a Velázquez portrait from the Prado in Madrid – "one of the most extraordinary portraits by the most extraordinary painter in the world," said Dejardin.

March sees the loan of a Vermeer from the Queen; then an El Greco from New York; a Veronese from Florence which comes to the UK for the first time; and a portrait by Rembrandt of his son Titus from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

August brings an Ingres from New York's Frick Collection; then comes a Gainsborough from Washington; Constable's The Leaping Horse from the Royal Academy; Hockney's Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy from Tate; and finally a perfect Christmas card image – Domenichino's The Adoration of the Shepherds from the National Gallery of Scotland.

Dejardin also announced a summer exhibition in which he had "high hopes for fisticuffs" from the visiting public, in that it will examine two artists as stylistically different as it is possible to get – Cy Twombly and Poussin. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2010

Bridget Riley versus the Old Masters

A survey of her art draws parallels between her graphic style and classic works from the National Gallery's collection. Colin Wiggins joins the dots ...

May 14 2010

Royal Academy to exhibit Hungary's art treasures

Masterpieces that have never been loaned before to go on show in London this autumn

Masterpieces from one of central Europe's finest state collections – many of which have never before been on loan – are to fill a rather large hole in the Royal Academy's autumn schedule, it was announced yesterday. The works being lent by Hungary's Museum of Fine Arts and its National Gallery represent a who's who of art history.

The dazzling list of artists includes Claude, El Greco, Gauguin, Goya, Leonardo, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Pissarro, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Schiele and Veronese.

Details of the Treasures From Budapest show were revealed in London yesterday, five months after the Prince of Liechtenstein abruptly cancelled the planned RA autumn show because of a row with customs and excise. The academy's director of exhibitions, Kathleen Soriano, admitted she had been forced to bring forward plans for the Budapest show but said she believed audiences would be surprised and delighted by its unprecedented scale.

David Ekserdjian, one of the show's curators, said he and his colleagues had been like children in a sweet shop when they were selecting the works.

"It was a very collaborative process," he said. "What was quite amazing, having had slightly similar experiences in the past, was that when one said: 'Could I have one of those?' – and it might be a Leonardo drawing – the response was: 'Why don't you have two.' "

One Leonardo drawing in the show, Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari, was described by Ekserdjian as "one of the most important and spectacularly impressive Leonardo drawings in the world".

Curators say there will be a good mix of genres including religious, portraits, landscapes, impressionists and expressionists as well as strong representation from Hungarian artists such as Jacob Bogdani who, in his day, was extremely popular in England. His Still Life with Fruits, Parrots and White Cockatoo (c 1700-1724) features exotic birds he painted in an aviary owned by the Duke of Marlborough at Windsor.

The last ever portrait of Liszt, by Mihály Munkácsy, will also form part of the show ahead of the bicentennial of the composer's birth next year.

Other highlights include an evocative Goya painting of a female water carrier which for a long time was classed simply as a peasant genre painting but has, in fact, a far more important place in Spanish history. It was painted between 1808-1812, around the time of Napoleon's siege of Zaragoza, and represents sustenance for Spaniards fighting for their independence.

There will also be works that were once owned by the British. For example Cornelis van Poelenburgh's portrait of the children of the Elector Palatine Frederick V – known as the "winter king" – was owned by Charles I and has his crowned monogram on the reverse of the panel.

The show's opening work will be dramatic and monumental – the 4 metre high St Andrew Altarpiece, made in about 1512, which shows the outstanding levels of skill and sophistication in early Hungarian wood carving.

And the exhibition may finish with a rather racy Egon Schiele called Two Women Embracing. "It is a highly emotive and erotically charged drawing and a very powerful image," said co-curator Joanna Norman.

The autumn hole in the schedule was caused by the cancellation of a show of works owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein. It would have been one of the exhibitions of the year, with works by Rubens and Van Dyke, but it was pulled because the prince was upset that a Coello painting he bought three years ago was impounded by UK customs and excise.

The Budapest exhibition is not entirely without purpose from Hungary's perspective. The country takes up the EU presidency in 2011 and this show forms part of that drum-banging.

Hungary's state collection of international art was begun in the 17th century and expanded dramatically during the rule of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy in the late 18th century.

Under communism, few westerners would have had any sort of access and even reproductions were rare, so many of the works on show will be new to British eyes.

Treasures from Budapest: European Masterpieces from Leonardo to Schiele at the RA, 25 September-12 December © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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