Up-close view of famous artworks

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Rembrandt, “Self Portrait at the Age of 34”. 1640. © The National Gallery, London.

Art / “Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London” at the National Gallery of Australia. March 5-June 14. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MASTERPIECES always draw the big crowds, and “Botticelli to Van Gogh” is the first time that the National Gallery, London in its near 200-year history, has toured an exhibition of works internationally. Australians now have a rare opportunity to see this amazing selection.

Spanning 450 years, the 61 paintings in this exhibition offer a review of western European art through seven defining periods. Art lovers on their cultural pilgrimage to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) will gain an experience of art that has helped shape culture in the world.

Standing in front of one masterpiece after another is daunting. Seeing the brushstrokes, the lines, colours and shapes of these master works come alive in the refurbished space. The money that the NGA has spent on renovations assure that they have the best backdrop and viewing experience for this exhibition.

One of the most famous of Rembrandt’s self-portraits is “Self Portrait at the Age of 34”. This speaks loudly about the artist’s position and self-esteem. Dressed in the clothes of a wealthy gentleman, Rembrandt pays homage to some of history’s famous artists. Also, an up-close view of his signature explains so much about his refined artistic skills.

Johannes Vermeer, “A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal”. c. 1670–72. © The National Gallery, London. Salting Bequest, 1910.

Just to the right of the Rembrandt, there is a work by Johannes Vermeer titled, “A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal”. One of only 34 paintings by Vermeer, this delicate and provocative work shows the importance of musical arts to visual artists. The young woman’s focus is directed at the artist/viewer, but the suggestive placing of a bow in between the strings of a viola da gamba says something else. It is full of suggestion.

John Constable’s painting “Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds” is an astounding work of art. The textures, the depth, those Constable clouds, the internal darkness and ghost-like figures, with a startlingly life-like elk towards the bottom centre, while everything is encased with heavy shadow in a dense landscape punctuated the exhibition for this reviewer.

Vincent Van Gogh, “Sunflowers”. 1888. © The National Gallery, London.

Botticelli, Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Turner, Constable, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Gauguin and others stand in another light when you see “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh. The brightness of the work alone compels a viewer to draw closer. It looks like it has been backlit and only recently painted. It is alive, just as the rest of this intensely fascinating exhibition is. This is a must-see.

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