The Frick Collection in New York essentially gave a preview to a larger exhibition showing 10 out of the 55 paintings that will go on tour. From New York the show will go in its entirety to The Art Museums of San Francisco and then on to the Kimbell in Fort Worth.
It is not just paintings that move around but curatorial personnel as well. Colin Bailey currently the Director In San Francisco was, curator at the Kimbell and then Deputy Director at the Frick. The show was conceived when he while he was still at the Frick and he was on the selection committee to choose the pictures from Edinburgh. Michael Clarke is today Director of the Art museum in Edinburgh though when I last saw him there, some years back, he was curator of French painting and Colin Bailey is also an specialist in that area. So it is no accident that there is a great French 18th Century painting in this exhibition--- making me very happy!
It amused me that the morning of the day that I went to the Frick to see the exhibition I had been at Sotheby’s for a stand up brunch and a preview of the Old Master sales for the week. Before the brunch they had a lecture on food and art, a subject I had never given much thought to but was quite interesting. One of the members of the panel mentioned that there were very few early images of the kitchen because usually food is celebrated in the eating not the creation of the meal.
The first painting in this small sampling at the Frick is a wonderful Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) of a “Woman Cooking Eggs” of 1618. The artist was still a very young man and this was probably part of his recent life’s experience. In the painting it appears that the woman’s son is watching and tasting because she is looking at him expectantly.
In the room next to the exhibition is an even smaller show of El Greco at the Frick, which is being done in conjunction with a show at the Metropolitan Museum. But you don’t have to leave the Edinburgh paintings room to see a great El Greco (1541-1614). Although El Greco was born in Greece by 1577 he was already working in Spain and there was known as The Greek. El Greco is certainly easier than his given name, Domenikos Theotokopoulos! The painting presented here is “An Allegory (Fábula)”, 1585–95. It’s a complicated story from classical antiquity which can be found abbreviated on the Frick website, but what is so enticing is the way El Greco works with the light. The only source being the boy blowing on the fire.
If this is not enough for one wall in between these two amazing pictures is Sandro Botticelli’s (1444/1445-1510) “The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child” of 1485. What a masterpiece. Botticelli doesn’t get any better than this.
Of course, we have the Scottish and English pictures including a wonderful Gainsborough, Ramsay and Reynolds with a John Singer Sargent in homage to the Colonies!
The final picture in the show, if you go through counter clockwise, as I did, was in some ways the most exciting. It is Jean-Antoine Watteau’s (1684–1721) Fêtes Vénitiennes”, 1718–19. This was probably a prime model for the popular subject of the Fête champêtre, freely translated as a garden party. Both his student Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736) and his great admirer Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743) are well known for similar subjects. Many of the paintings seem rather turned out to make a buck but this one has wonderful painterly qualities that show the real master.
Senior Curator at the Frick, Susan Grace Galassi, is responsible for the coordination of the show at the museum and the great hang from my point of view. As I have said before, I prefer to see just the best rather than more, and this exhibition truly delivers.