Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th July, 2017

Rembrandt sheet of figuresThe National Portrait Gallery in London has put on some blockbuster exhibitions in recent years but the show The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, which opens tomorrow, conquers in a more subtle way. The Old Master European portrait drawings, ranging from Leonardo’s study of a male nude to Rembrandt’s sheet of figure studies is both intimate and intense. I have previously seen Old Master drawings mainly in folders or drawers at Chatsworth and other great houses in England and beyond, but seeing this captivating miscellany in mellow light on the bottle green walls of a windowless gallery really entices the observer into a personal relationship between both sitter and artist — a sort of triangular dynamic that clicks in when one stops in front of each portrait. Most are quite small and drawn with pale inks, but that in a sense draws one in closer. Some of the subjects are known court characters, or friends of the artists, while others are anonymous but full of character. One can sense their personalities across half a millennium. I particularly like the portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, including a series borrowed from the Royal Collection, not least the stern yet somehow vulnerable, somewhat androgynous Woman Wearing a White Headdress. The joy of a July morning’s Press View today was that the gallery was almost empty, so I could linger and savour. But I suspect the exhibition will soon bring in the crowds, and rightly so.

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