London Art Week has shifted the city’s focus away from contemporary art, with Old Masters galleries presenting ancient treasures that could have been sold two centuries ago (perhaps by James Christie himself). This year’s event is particularly strong, offering remarkable portraits and exciting rediscoveries.
Once bivouacked in historic 19th century premises on Old Bond Street — now sadly transformed into a flashy mecca of current bling — the venerable Agnew’s Gallery has reinvented itself, moving into a wonderful 18th century building in a tiny street off St. James’s, just opposite Spencer House.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A (1723-1792), Portrait of Sir Gerard Napier, 6th Bt. (1739-1765), three-quarter-length, in the uniform of the Dorsetshire Militia, in a landscape, his hand resting on a balustrade. Oil on canvas
Their inaugural exhibition, Portraiture through the Ages, presents a collection of rarely-seen portraits, depicting 19th and 20th century socialites and ordinary folk alike — all assembled by Anthony Crichton Stuart, the gallery’s new owner. Works include Sir Joshua Reynolds’ monumental Portrait of Sir Gerard Napier, as well assome extremely interesting artist self-portraits.
At Daniel Katz Ltd, From the Salon features some really outstanding works — as those who know the gallery will expect — with pieces having previously been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Royal Academy in London, and Paris’s Salon.
Jean-Leon Gerome, Portrait of Armand Gerome, brother of the artist, circa 1930. Oil on Canvas. Courtesy Daniel Katz Gallery
Danny Katz has made some really spectacular discoveries over the years, and is now presenting another marvel: The rediscovered Portrait of Armand Gérôme, brother of the artist (1848) by Jean-Léon Gérôme. London’s National Gallery had long held a study for the work, but the complete painting — though known by scholars — seemed to have vanished into thin air. Until now.
It is an incredibly rare and important work of art and a very alluring and sensitive portrait besides. In style, it is curiously modern: the young man’s uniform forms graphic shapes that almost resemble Japanese origami; the stair treads and balustrade in the background playing off the figure to create remarkable tension.
Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569-1622), Margherita Gonzaga, Duchess of Lorraine (1591–1632), 1606. Oil on canvas. Courtesy The Weiss Gallery
Moving even further back in time to the Weiss Gallery in Jermyn Street, I came to an exhibition of works by the 17th Century court portraitist Frans Pourbus the Younger entitled From Merchants to Monarchs. The show coincides with a new catalogue raisonné on the artist of who, I must admit, I had not heard much about — though I have always loved the formality of 16th and 17th Century portraits. Go and see this exhibition: never before have so many works by the artist been privately assembled and shown together. With 10 works, only the Medici collection in Florence’s Uffizi holds more.
Marble head of Antinous. Roman, circa 130-138 AD. Courtesy Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch
And finally, from the deep, deep past, comes a Roman marble head of Antinous, circa 2nd century A.D., thought not to have been seen in public since 1904, when it was owned by Robbie Ross, the dealer, and a close friend of Oscar Wilde. This very seductive sculpture is shown at Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch as part of the exhibition Fragments from the Tiber to the Ganges.
Antinous was a Greek youth from the province of Bithynia who became the favourite, and probably lover of the Emperor Hadrian. He died at a young age in mysterious circumstances. The portrait of this enchanting youth sits with a large fragment of a Cycladic marble figure, circa 2500-2400 B.C., and a Hellenistic marble torso of Venus, 1st century B.C.
Not to be outdone, Reflections on the Self, from Dürer to Struth at Christie’s Mayfair celebrates the changing lineaments of self-portraiture from the 1400s onwards, and is co-curated by specialists Cristian Albu and Jacob Uecker. Over 50 artists are represented by 70 works, which include a rare masterpiece by Albrecht Durer: the 15th century woodcut The Bathhouse. Cantering through art history, the exhibition ends with Sarah Lucas’ Self Portrait with Skull — a sort of Vanitas selfie.
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