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Canberra Today 7°/11° | Monday, May 16, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

One sensational exhibition of treasures


Ed Sheeran 2016, by Colin Davidson, oil on linen

Art / “Shakespeare to Winehouse: Icons from the National Portrait Gallery, London”, at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, until July 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

PORTRAIT painting dates back more than 5000 years.

While “Shakespeare to Winehouse: Icons from the National Portrait Gallery, London”, stem from the late 1500s, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra has one sensational exhibition of treasures on their hands.

As the National Portrait Gallery of London undergoes the largest renovation of its building in 125 years, more than 80 of their artworks have travelled to Canberra, so Australians have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see these iconic paintings.

Curated around six themes across a trans-historical approach, the subjects of fame, identity, self, love & loss, innovation and power all share the same language.

The paintings, photography, sculptures, bronzes, drawings, an LCD screen portrait and a lenticular print on a lightbox of the Queen, all cover an excellent representation of the changing nature of portraiture across centuries.

Self portrait c. 1640 by Sir Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas

Each work is set out with a nice distance between them, allowing multiple onlookers good visual access. From large-scale to small-scale, each work tells a story from pop icons to kings and queens.

An almost surreal image of Winston Churchill by Walter Sickert, painted around 100 years ago, caught this reviewer’s eye. It seemed almost contemporary in its oddly coloured approach, like a green negative that is looking out through history.

An ominous Charles Darwin by John Collier, painted 1883, stands tall and strong as to say, have you read my “On the Origin of Species”?

A work by Andy Warhol next to a Peter Paul Rubens was not out of place. It acts to tell the changing face of humanity across centuries, as every work did in its mirrored context.

From suffering to joy, to what looks like a blank stare from Ed Sheeran, the emotions of the times come through as strong as though every sitter were alive today. Single, double and family portraits, even unfinished portraits peer back at the viewer to say, “I am not lost to history”. The artists may be long dead, but the sitter says: “Here I am, make of me what you will”.

While the focus is very British, as of course it would be, coming from where it does, it still tells the story of the changing faces and the changing nature of people. This is an extensive exhibition that could be taken in several times.


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