'The man who didn't like the Leonardo exhibition'

November 29 2011

Image of 'The man who didn't like the Leonardo exhibition'

Picture: H M Bateman

A curious review of the Leonardo exhibition from Theodore K. Rabb in The Art Newspaper. He says the exhibition 'falls short'. Gripe no. 1, the Sainsbury Wing is a poor exhibition space:

Many words have been written about the gloom of the basement galleries in the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery. This is not the place to repeat them, save to say that it is especially hard on a master of delicate light and shade.

Gripe no. 2, it's better to see the drawings in the catalogue than in the flesh (no, he really says this):

By their very nature, they require close attention, which is notoriously difficult in the crowds at a large exhibition. Framed and hung on walls, they are certainly easier to see than in horizontal cases, where the viewer’s shadow tends to obscure the object. But it remains impossible at the exhibition to emulate the experience offered by the catalogue, where one can flip back and forth in intimate connection between a drawing and its application in a painting. This may well be an insuperable problem, especially with an artist like Leonardo, who liked to jot down his perceptions all over a sheet, but the advantage of the catalogue in this case is notable. 

And Gripe no. 3 (with which I have some sympathy), the two Madonnas of the Rocks should have been hung side by side:

Especially when the room is full of people, it becomes impossible to get more than the vaguest idea of how Leonardo changed his mind over the years. An explanation that has been reported is that the Louvre picture, dark and unrestored, would have suffered from too close a comparison with the more vivid, recently cleaned National Gallery panel. That such considerations (or any other that might be put forward) should have been allowed to rob viewers of an unrepeatable opportunity to look at two related masterpieces side by side prompts the profoundest of regrets.

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