The National Gallery, London has never exhibited works from its collection outside the UK for nearly 200 years since it was founded in 1824. “Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London” is the Gallery’s first-ever exhibition outside the UK being held here at the National Museum of Western Art in Japan, where 61 selected works from the collection are on view. Surely this could be a miracle. Major highlights of the exhibition include masterpieces of famous artists such as Vermeer and Van Gogh.
This exhibition also provides a comprehensive insight into the history of Western painting from the Italian Renaissance to Post-Impressionism. There is an online guided exhibition tour available on YouTube, so you might enjoy watching the video to “prep” yourself a bit before appreciating the masterpieces.
The masterpieces of famous painters coming to Japan for the first time ever
All 61 works are showcased in Japan for the first time ever. Unless you have been to the UK to see them, there is something inspiring about seeing the masterpieces you have only seen in art books and textbooks. There are so many outstanding works of art that you cannot decide which one to look for: Sunflowers, one of two paintings signed by Van Gogh himself, which was intended to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom; A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal by Vermeer, which has been interpreted in many ways; The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Crivelli, which is a joy to look at in detail once you know the context in which it was painted; and Renoir’s At the Theatre (La Première Sortie) with its cute little girl’s innocence.
It may not be possible to fully enjoy the exhibition even if you go only once.
The National Gallery of London, by citizens, for citizens
Many art museums in Europe, such as the Louvre and the Prado Museum, began by opening their collections to the public, originally owned by royalty and aristocracy. However, the National Gallery, London started by acquiring private collections and donations from bankers and business people. The Gallery plays an integral role in art education by providing access to the art collection for a wide and diverse public. It is particularly valuable as a place to learn Western art history, as it holds an extensive collection, rather than a fragmentary one. This exhibition “Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London” is also organized to highlight the distinctive nature of the Gallery’s collection.
Exhibitions that are limited to one era, trend or artist are common in Japan, and are also interesting, but this exhibition provides a valuable opportunity to look at the history of Western painting through exchange between the UK and other European countries.
Watch Europe from the UK and travel there
The exhibition “Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London” consists of seven themes. Through these themes, you can see the influences that European countries such as Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Spain have had on the UK, as well as exchanges with these countries. Even more fascinating is the “Grand Tour” of the wealthy British aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their children took a trip to France and Italy for a few years to broaden their horizons. Venice was particularly popular as a destination. It will be a fresh experience for us to appreciate the arts of European countries from such a British perspective.
The seven themes and the highlights of the exhibition are explained in a video by Ms. Christine Riding (Head of the Curatorial Department, the National Gallery, London), and you will be more impressed if you watch it beforehand.
MASTERPIECES FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON
Thursday, 18 June – Sunday, 18 October 2020
The National Museum of Western Art (Kokuritsu-Seiyou-Bijutsukan)
7-7 Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
9:30 am – 5:30 pm
Adults 1,700 yen, College students 1,100 yen, High school students 700 yen