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"El Greco Opens Today"
2004-02-11 until 2004-05-23
UK United Kingdom
This will be the first major exhibition in the UK of the work of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541 - 1614), better known as El Greco (the Greek). He was one of the most original painters of his time, his work is startlingly modern in appearance, and greatly influenced twentieth-century painters including Cézanne, Picasso and Jackson Pollock. The exhibition traces the whole of El Greco’s career through a selection of his greatest paintings along with some rarely exhibited drawings and sculptures, enabling visitors to explore his astonishing artistic development. El Greco was soon forgotten after his death, but was rescued from obscurity in the 19th-century by an enthusiastic group of collectors, artists and critics.
El Greco stood apart from his contemporaries in the depiction of his visionary compositions; his pictures are characterised by bright colours, elongated forms and spiritual intensity, painted in a unique personal style, combining aspects of the Byzantine and Western traditions. Born in Crete, then a Venetian colony, El Greco first trained as an icon painter. Artistic ambition led him to Venice in 1568, where his style was transformed through his encounters with the work of Titian and Tintoretto. By 1570 he was in Rome, where he was exposed to Michelangelo’s influence, mixing with an elite circle of intellectuals connected with the Farnese Palace. He made his home in Spain, settling in Toledo in 1577. There, working for sophisticated patrons who shared his own intellectual interests, El Greco created the famous series of altarpieces in which his highly individual treatment of religious imagery attained its fullest expression.
The exhibition opens with a rare example of El Greco’s early work, the recently discovered icon of ‘The Dormition of the Virgin’ (Monastery of Ermoupolis, Syros). It includes masterpieces such as the ‘Laocoön’ (National Gallery of Art, Washington), ‘The Opening of the Fifth Seal (The Vision of Saint John)’ and ‘View of Toledo’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The exhibition will, for the first time, bring together a large group of psychologically penetrating portraits of his contemporaries, much admired by Velázquez, such as ‘Fray Hortensio Paravicino’ (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and ‘Jeronimo de Ceballos’ (Museo del Prado, Madrid). It reaches a climax with a group of altarpieces painted at the end of his career, including the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’(Museo del Prado, Madrid), which he painted to hang above his own tomb.
The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and is curated by the renowned scholar David Davies, with Xavier Bray (National Gallery, London), Gabriele Finaldi (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Keith Christiansen (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, one of the few English-language publications on the artist in recent years. Available from National Gallery Shops and mail-order priced £25 paperback and £40 hardback. Also available is a short introduction to El Greco written by Xavier Bray, available for £7.95 from the National Gallery.
'The Opening of the Fifth Seal (The Vision of Saint John)',
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Rogers Fund, 1956, inv. 56.48.