A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Radical Light at The National Gallery

The National Gallery currently is currently showing an exhibition by the name of 'Radical Light' featuring a group of Italian painters who worked in Milan towards the end of the 19th century. I went along after work on Wednesday evening to investigate.

The exhibition apparently marks a change in direction for the NG, focusing on a smaller, lesser well know movement - Italian Divisionism - rather than opt for a big name ‘blockbuster’. Time will tell how successful this will be but my own opinion was that it is a move that should be celebrated.

It was a fairly small show - only 6 rooms. It began with a selection of landscapes showcasing the painting technique which has given rise to their name - the Divisionists. The paintings definitely have a distinct luminosity to them and the sense of light emanating from the canvas is immediately tangible. The exhibition makes quite a lot of this stylistic innovation and whereas it is undoubtedly effective the real merit for me lay in the political and social themes that were represented in the artists’ work.

The show moves on to feature images of Italy’s poor in scenes of social hardship - women working without respite in the rice fields or old men taking refuge in the church (one of highlights for me was the stark ‘The Christmas Of Those Left Behind’ by Morbelli).

Room 4 is arguably the strongest of the exhibition. It is dominated by Giuseppe Pellizza’s ‘The Living Torrent’, a powerful piece depicting a faceless, amorphous, concentrated crowd of workers in pursuit of justice. It is an imposing piece and I found it almost cinematic in certain ways. It has been called socialism’s greatest painting and it is easy to see why.

There are a few other pieces which also incorporate some of these social issues. The politicisation of these artists was what I will take from the exhibition - if you look at Italian history around the period it certainly was an eventful time - social unrest followed by government repression, assassination of the reigning monarch and eventual trade union legislation. It seems quite appropriate how the art of the Divisionists reflected these slightly turbulent times.

On a separate point while I was at the NG I took the opportunity to check out some of the paintings by Canaletto, Claude & Turner - some of the most beautiful art you will ever see!

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