Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection

Hans Eworth, “Queen Elizabeth I,” circa 1565-70.

Organized by the Denver Art Museum, the Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection exhibition will feature 50 masterworks of British art by luminaries including Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence, John Constable, Angelica Kauffman, and George Stubbs. 

The Berger Collection is one of the most impressive collections of British art in America and this exhibition provides audiences the rare opportunity to see such a significant body of paintings in this region. The Portland Museum of Art (PMA)  is the first venue in this traveling show, which will be on view in Portland, ME October 2, 2014 through January 4, 2015.

With its diverse array of subjects and styles spanning six centuries of artistic practice, Treasures of British Art traces key developments in British art and culture through a chronological presentation of works. 

The earliest picture, a gilded altarpiece with a Crucifixion scene from circa 1395, is also an extremely rare surviving example of late Medieval religious painting—the type of object that was systematically destroyed in England when King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. 

Portraiture has long been an important genre in British art, and this tradition is well-represented in the exhibition from the linear, decorative style of 16th-century portraits of Tudor royals and nobility, to the loosely brushed naturalism ushered in by Sir Anthony van Dyck and found in 17th- and 18th-century portraiture, to the expressionistic 21st-century image of the artist David Hockney by Adam Birtwistle. 

Marine paintings and landscapes of faraway places—including a monumental naval battle painting by Adriaen van Diest and a luminous harbor scene by John Constable—reflect not only shifting aesthetic approaches to the natural world, but also the importance of maritime life and overseas exchange in the history of the British Isles. History paintings, equestrian subjects, and other important genres of the British school in styles ranging from the traditional to modern round out the expansive breadth of the exhibition.

The Berger Collection is a major private collection largely of British art, with a small but significant group of works by artists of other schools, including the French artist François Boucher and the American Winslow Homer. The late William M. B. Berger and his wife Bernadette Johnson Berger began amassing this collection in the mid-1990s out of their dual passion for British culture and for art’s potential to educate. Now owned by the Berger Collection Educational Trust and placed on long-term loan at the Denver Art Museum, the collection continues to expand through new acquisitions. The British paintings, drawings, and art objects number approximately 200 works and span more than six centuries—from the 14th to the 21st century. The very best paintings from this extraordinary collection have been selected for the traveling exhibition to fulfill the Berger family’s mission of sharing these masterpieces with a wide public audience.

Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection is accompanied by a catalogue of the same title authored by Kathleen Stuart, Curator of the Berger Collection. This catalogue includes full-color plates and detailed entries on each of the works in the exhibition.

From a review in maine today: (see the article for more information and images)

...Visitors can ponder the image of Christ nailed to the cross. (I)t was painted in a refined style with attention to the lush nature of the clothing worn by the crowd gathered below the cross, and the background appears three-dimensional, as if sculpted by a tool...

Adriaen Van Diest, "The Battle of Lowestoft," crica 1690.

Adriaen Van Diest, “The Battle of Lowestoft,” crica 1690.

From portraits, the show quickly moves into other themes, including pastoral landscapes, seascapes, naval warfare and equestrian scenes.

George Stubbs, "A Saddled Bay Hunter," 1786
George Stubbs, “A Saddled Bay Hunter,” 1786

Stubbs was considered Britain’s best horse painter because he was both an artist and scientist. In this painting, he represented a large, majestic horse with a thick neck and strong body. He placed the horse in a rolling landscape.

Stubbs endowed the horse “with such a sense of presence and personality,” Sherry said. “It’s representative of a sporting lifestyle. The horse was an important symbol of status, and this painting is just a fabulous example of that.”

... “Victory Celebrations,” a painting by Sir Claude Francis Barry from 1919, shows fireworks over London celebrating the end of World War I. Barry made this work in pointillist style, with tiny dots of paint forming the fiery spectacle ablaze in the sky above Big Ben, Parliament and the Westminster Bridge.

And finally, from 2002, we see Adam Birtwistle’s portrait of the painter David Hockney. The artist is set against a black background and shown from the waist up. Red suspenders frame his body, and Hockney grasps a pencil in his uplifted right hand. Birtwistle completed the portrait with a pink mark across Hockney’s face, a gestural stroke that is Birtwistle’s trademark.