Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Painters’ Paintings : From Freud to Van Dyck at the National Gallery from 23rd June to 4th September 2016

Exhibition Review – Painters’ Paintings : From Freud to Van Dyck at the National Gallery from 23rd June to 4th September 2016



The National Gallery presents an exhibition that explores great paintings from the perspective of the artists who owned them. The eighty works on display span over five hundred years of art history and allows visitors a rare opportunity to enter the private world of these painters and to try to understand the motivations of artists as collectors of paintings.


The National Gallery since its creation has acquired a number of important paintings which once belonged to celebrated painters: Van Dyck’s Titian; Reynolds’s Rembrandt, and Matisse’s Degas among many others. For the exhibition it was decided to bring together a series of case studies each devoted to a particular painter-collector. The artists included in the exhibition are Freud, Matisse, Degas, Leighton, Watts, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Van Dyck. Works from these artists’ collections are juxtaposed with a number of their own paintings, highlighting some of the connections between the artist and the art they possessed.

Half the works in the exhibition are loans from public and private collections, from New York and Philadelphia to Copenhagen and Paris. A number of them have not been seen in public for several decades.


In the first room is the painting that provided the inspiration for this exhibition, Corot’s Italian Woman, was left to the nation by Lucian Freud following his death in 2011. It was the interest that surrounded this painting when its was acquired by the National Gallery that provided the focus on the many connections between artists.

Other Lucian Freud’s work in the room illustrate how the artist used some of his collection to explore his own work, most obviously if you compare Cézanne’s (Afternoon in Naples, 1876–77) with Freud’s After Breakfast (2001). Perhaps a surprise is this particular room is the Constable portrait (Laura Moubray, 1808).


Henri Matisse started acquiring pictures long before he had encountered success and his collection includes many gifts and exchanges with fellow artists. He exchanged pictures with Picasso and the exhibition features Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Maar (1942). One of the works by Cézanne, Three Bathers (1879–82 ) which had a huge significance for Matisse who kept it for 37 years and regarded it has one of the great pieces of art. Dominating the Matisse room is the remarkable Degas’s Combing the Hair (about 1896) whose rich and vivid colours provided inspiration for Matisse’s own work.


Edgar Degas was considered one of the greatest collectors of his time, buying paintings from artists he admired from the past including Ingres and Delacroix. He also bought from his contemporaries especially Manet collecting the dispersed sections of The Execution of Maximilian (about 1867–8,) after the death of his friend.


Whilst the French painters in the exhibition were happy to buy work from their own time, the British painters tended to look to the past especially the Italian Renaissance. Frederic, Lord Leighton and George Frederic Watts were well-known figures in the British art establishment, Leighton in his Holland Park house assembled of pictures and objects he had purchased. Among them were Italian Renaissance painting , Jupiter and Semele ( possibly by Tintoretto about 1545). Watts, Leighton’s friend  had his own striking Renaissance painting, Knight of S. Stefano (probably Girolamo Macchietti, after 1563). Sir Thomas Lawrence was one of the leading British portraitist of the early 19th century and built a vast collection, once again he tended to look to the past with Carracci’s A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?) (about 1599 ), Raphael’s Allegory (about 1504) and Reni’s Coronation of the Virgin, (about 1607).


Sir Joshua Reynolds was the inaugural President of the Royal Academy and was one of the most significant figures of the British art world in the 18th century. His collection was formed as a resource for his teaching and supported his ideas about what constituted great art. Works by Van Dyck, Giovanni Bellini, Michelangelo, Poussin and Rembrandt all reflect the high status of Reynolds, however a painting from his rival Gainsborough’s Girl with Pigs (1781–2) suggests a competitive streak to his nature.


Sir Anthony van Dyck was England’s leading court painter in the first half of the 17th century and had worked in the studio of Rubens. Van Dyck built up an impressive collection of Italian pictures, his real passion was the work of Titian whose Vendramin Family (1540–5) and Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo (about 1510) dominate the final room.


This is a fascinating exhibition that features a number of remarkable works from artists that span five hundred years of art history. However it is often the intriguing stories behind the painting that illustrates the many ways that art can inspire other artists. Artists are susceptible to many influences from the past and the present and it is often possible to trace moves in their own artistic development from the works of art they possessed. This exhibition offers a unique perspective into the multi-layered connections between artists and the how collecting pieces of art can often provide a wide variety of financial and artistic reward.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Opening hours

Daily 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)

Fridays 10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)


Full price                                                                                          £12.00

Senior/Concession/Disabled visitors (carers FREE)             £10.00

Job seeker/Student/Art Fund/12–18s                                       £6.00

Under 12s (ticket required)                                                           FREE

Members go free           

For more information or to book tickets, visit the National Gallery website here

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