Sunday, 22 November 2015

Exhibition review: The Greats: Masterpieces From the National Galleries of Scotland, AG NSW (2015)

This is a detail from one of the true gems of this curious little exhibition that seems have to have been staged out of nowhere. (But what a good idea it was!) Here is a clip from Sir Joseph Paton's 1847 The reconciliation of Oberon and Titania. Readers might remember the fairy paintings in Australia of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite or Pixie O'Harris. Well, this is from one of the originals of the genre, and it shows a scene imagined from one of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare of course became hugely popular in the 19th century after being "rediscovered" by the early Romantics, who worshipped at his bountiful altar. The habit became longstanding.

It's this kind of thing that you find in this odd showing of paintings from Scotland. There's a Da Vinci drawing, a Botticelli, a Titian and other priceless objects from a time when collecting art belonged to the realm of the gentleman.

Good works from the 15th, 16th, 17th and especially 18th centuries are set off wonderfully by a plethora of nice stuff from the 19th century, including some wonderful impressionist paintings by such artists as Gauguin, Pissaro and Monet.

It's the kind of thing that Australia should have, and probably if you went scrounging round all the state galleries in Australia you'd come up with something of equal quality and breadth. But when you remember that the impressionists were painting at a time when there was no public art gallery in Australia of any kind whatsoever, you remember how it used to be back in the bad old days. And these days you need a lot of money to do things that in those days you only needed good taste to achieve.

Going on a Sunday was probably not the best idea, because it was quite crowded. Better to go during the week when there are fewer guided groups and just less people in aggregate. Things can get a bit squeezy. Adult entrance fee is $22.

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