15 November 2013

The Young Dürer at the Courtauld Gallery

Albrecht Durer was a name that I had heard of but that was about it.

The real reason that I went to the exhibition was because I was in Somerset House anyway and I fancied having a look around the Courtauld Gallery. I had glimpsed some of the main galleries when visiting the Gaugin exhibition a couple of months previously and wanted to get back to see them properly.

The Young Durer: Drawing the Figure exhibition was a bonus, and a big bonus at that. It was on the top floor so I headed there first.

The exhibition covered just a few years in his early life, circa 1490-96 (that's a long time ago!), when he was still learning his art. In addition to the completed pieces there were several studies of things like folded cloth and various body parts, often Durer's own.

A lot of research went in to the exhibition which included earlier works by other artists that Durer either copied or drew some inspiration from. It also showed some sketches that became full works. There was a rough earlier version of this farmyard scene that was reworked quite significantly, e.g. the piglets were not in the original.

The descriptions of the drawings explained their subject which helped to understand them. I did not know, or had forgotten, the story of the seven wise and seven foolish virgins which was very popular at the time and various artists drew inspiration from it. The wise virgins remembered to bring lights in order to see their lovers in the dark, so this is one of the wise ones.

As with all of Durer's works on show, what impressed me most about this was the technical skill in the drawing.

The helpful texts also said something about the techniques Durer used and how this changed as he learnt more about his craft and saw more examples of other artists' works.

It was a nicely curated exhibition and convinced me to spend some time learning about a subject that I did not know that I was interest in.

My plan to see the rest of the Courtauld Gallery suffered due to the amount of time that I spent with Durer and I was restricted to a quick run through the floor below. The impressionists I liked, the rest less so. A Rubens outline did catch my eye but that may have been because it has the roughness of a sketch rather than the bland (my view) purity of the finished article.

I live in London so that I can go to things like this easily and often. And I plan to carry on doing just that.

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