The National Gallery, London has arrived in Seoul at the National Museum of Korea with its collection of 52 paintings encompassing the Renaissance, Baroque and post-impressionism from the early 20th century.
The British museum’s works, which are currently touring across Asia, were unveiled Thursday in Seoul, curated by the NMK, and focus on how the perspective of western art shifted from God to humans with the advent of the Renaissance, after passing through the medieval period. The exhibition is titled "Eyes on Us: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London."
“The Virgin in Prayer” by Sassoferrato (Giovanni Battista Salvi) and “Virgin and Child” by Giovanni Bellini are two paintings which show how the holy figures were liberated from the decorative, flat backgrounds of medieval art, depicting Virgin Mary and the infant Christ as more human-like figures with emotional expressions.
With the advent of the Renaissance, artists began to use a linear perspective to create a sense of spatial depth and ideal proportions to depict human bodies.
The 52 paintings by 50 renowned artists from the Renaissance period to the early 20th century, including Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh, are on display across four sections: “Renaissance: Gods Descend to Earth,” “Divided Churches, Divergent Paths,” “A New Focus on the Individual,” and “Impressionism: Fleeting Moments.”
“Portraits were popular before photography was invented. This painting ‘Portrait of Vincenzo Morosini’ is painted so delicately that we can see the personality of the person, who appears to be very wealthy and prestigious, and has a picky and sensitive disposition,” said curator Sun Yu-ee during a press tour on Thursday.
Jacopo Tintoretto's portrait painting from the 16th century shows Vincenzo Morosini, who was given the position of “Knight of the Golden Stole” in 1572 when he was sent to the coronation of Pope Gregory XIII as a representative of the Venetian Republic.
Baroque art, which is characterized by dynamic compositions, a vivid use of color and intense expression of emotion, was introduced by Italian artist Caravaggio, whose dramatic style quickly spread across Europe. The painting “Boy Bitten by a Lizard” by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) is a must-see masterpiece at the exhibition.
The oil painting "Self-Portrait at the Age of 63" by the Dutch painter Rembrandt also serves as a compelling example of a broader artistic trend during the Baroque era. This painting showcases how he embraced the use of light and shade.
Impressionism came after photography and portable tube paints were invented. Artists were freed from the need to record the subject exactly as it was and they were able to paint outdoors and bring their painting materials outside. Paul Cezanne's work "The Stove in the Studio" is known as a work from the early 20th century that features both impressionism and Cubism.
“Bowl of Fruit and Tankard before a Window” by Paul Gauguin and “Long Grass with Butterflies” by Vincent Van Gogh have been placed side by side. The two artists of post impressionism are known to have been close friends, experimenting with the expressive possibilities of color.
“The painting of grass by Van Gogh was created when he was hospitalized due to mental illness, looking at the grass in 1890. He died by suicide in the same year,” Sun said.
The exhibition was organized to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and the United Kingdom. It is the first time Britain's National Gallery has presented its collection in Seoul.
"The United Kingdom has long been rightly considered a cultural superpower. ... The Hallyu exhibition in London and this masterpieces of the National Gallery in London exhibition here in Seoul are a great illustration of how Korea too is becoming a soft power superpower, exporting its culture internationally and attracting some of the world's finest art and artists to its shores," said British Ambassador to Korea Colin Crooks at the press opening.
The National Gallery, London holds some 26,000 works of art in its collection. The exhibition runs through Oct. 9.