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Painter’s Paintings

corot woman with a yellow sleeve

Corot’s portrait of a woman with a yellow sleeve

The National Gallery’s summer exhibition Painters’ Paintings are the personal collection of artists from Van Dyke to Freud. Each room starts with a self-portrait of the artist and their collection is hung along-side some of their own works so you can make direct comparisons. What is surprising is just how revealing these collections are into us gaining an insight into the character of the artists.

I started by going to watch the excellent video as it frees you from the necessity of feeling you have to read every piece of text on the walls. The artists themselves are a study in contrasts from the way they displayed their collection to their reasons for acquiring it. There is a photo of Matisse with part of his collection being displayed behind him in an almost slap-dash way. One gets the impression that his collection were like his children with his golden child being his Cezanne’s painting of The Bathers. Contrast that with Degas’s vast collection divided into contemporaries and old masters that he kept with curatorial precision. He is the compulsive collector “I buy, I buy, I can’t stop myself.”  Sir Thomas Lawrence is another obsessive collector using his collection of old masters as a learning tool for his own self-assured portraits. Both Leighton and Reynolds used their collections to cement their reputation as establishment figures as men of refinement and good taste.  For Van Dyke it’s a case of one up man ship; if Rubens can have a collection of Titian so can he. The star of the show is the Freud collection from the jewel like Cezanne, the exquisitely beautiful Corot portrait, Woman with a yellow sleeve and his self-portrait. The self-portrait is startling in its directness and defiance yet touching in its vulnerability presenting him-self to the world to say, this is me, this is who I am and I make no apology for it. The Freud self-portrait and the Corot portrait are worth the price of the entrance ticket alone. As for the rest of this exhibition as well as the superb paintings I learnt something about these artists from their personal collections that no amount of reading would have revealed.

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