The Gallery of European Painting

The Gallery of European Painting abandons the popular museum convention of arranging paintings by national school. By stressing the continuity of artistic development throughout modern Europe, whose schools of painting evolved in fairly close contact with one another, it aims to present the evolution of artistic phenomena. At the same time, through the diversity of traditions and the conditions of development exemplified by selected works of art, it also attempts to present a broad universal overview of old European painting.

The gallery is divided into thematic segments, the first of which is devoted to landscape in its numerous varieties: with staffage, realistic-idealization, townscapes and seascapes. This is followed by “lower” forms, suited to the decoration of private salons and studies: still lifes, depictions of animals, and genre scenes. The final segment concerns the most highly regarded genre, “histories” great and small, paintings depicting “high” subject matter such as: biblical, mythological, allegorical and literary scenes.

The first segment of the exhibition is “Landscape”, a genre of paintings in which the main or only focus is wild nature. The gallery presents a diverse range of visions of nature, a subject highly valued by collectors. Visitors can see depictions of pure, untamed landscapes, a setting which, often juxtaposed with small human figures, conveys the insignificance of human life compared to the grandeur of the natural world.

Among the paintings in this segment are the works of Flemish masters, such as “Landscape” by Jacques d’Arthois (1613–1683 Brussels). This tranquil three-plane composition shows the edge of a forest with a figural group in the centre. Subtle vibrating light permeates the scene. The monumentality of the natural forms is emphasized through bold rhythm and intense colour. Saturated shades of red and golden yellow radiate through the browns, silvers and dark greens. The visitor can also view works by Austrian landscape painters who, in an idealized yet realistic way, depicted distance, natural light and air, and conveyed the distinctive atmosphere of the location, time of year or day. Among these are Michael Wutky (Krems 1739–1822 Vienna) with “Landscape with a Sunrise”, “Rising Moon” and “Landscape with a Man Digging a Grave”; Lorenz Adolf Schönberger (Vorslau near Vienna 1768–1847 Mainz) with “Landscape with a Sunset”; Johann Christian Brand (1722–1795 Vienna) with “Landscape with a Ford”, as well as the works of painters from the Austro-German circle. The aforementioned works are complemented by two townscapes by an unknown painter, entitled “View of Petersburg”.

The next three thematic segments are “Still Life”, “Animal World” and “The Mirror of Everyday Life”.

The still life as a separate genre of painting began to emerge in the late 16th century, but did not gain widespread popularity in Europe until the following century. The first mention of still lifes, nature morte, dates back to the mid-18th century, and it probably developed in academic and anti-Baroque circles in France. This genre is inspired by inanimate natural objects, whose forms, shapes, textures, colours and reaction to light the painter aims to convey. Here, the skill of the artist is judged by the selection of subject matter, the aesthetic arrangement of the composition and the use of illusionistic techniques, often combined with a symbolic message. Among the first-rate examples of the genre is “Flowers in a Glass Vase” by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (Lille 1636–1699 London), a French painter of flowers from the Baroque period. He was educated in the artistic circles of Antwerp, and was heavily influenced by Flemish art, mainly Rubens. Another example, a pair of paintings under the title “Still Life with Putti”, is a collaboration between Jan Pauwel Gillemans (1651 Antwerp – 1704 Amsterdam) and Pieter Rysbraeck (Antwerp 1655–1729 Brussels). They feature a limited, dark colour scheme and a rich composition with garlands of fruit as the central motif executed by the former artist, against a classical landscape, which was the work of the latter. Of equal interest are the 18th-century flower pieces painted by Johann Baptist Drechsler (1756–1811 Vienna) and the imitators of D. Seghers.

The “Animal World” segment is concerned with pastoral scenes set in landscape and animal scenes: grazing cattle, horses, domestic fowl, game pursued by hounds, and fighting animals. Notable artists include Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart (Gdańsk 1630–1703 L’Aquila), Philipp Ferdinand de Hamilton (Brussels 1664–1750 Vienna), Christian Hilfgot Brand (Frankfurt 1695–1756 Vienna), Jan van Gool (Hague 1685–1763 Terwesten) and Pieter van Laer (1599–1642 Haarlem).

“The Mirror of Everyday Life” represents a wide range of scenes whose subject matter is everyday life: customs, rituals, work, relaxation and entertainment. Genre scenes (French: peinture de genre) usually feature ordinary people engaged in their daily activities, presented without adornment or idealization. This segment includes such vita populare scenes as “An Old Man with a Pitcher” and “An Old Lady with a Cat” by Giacomo Francesco Cipper, known as Todeschini (Feldkirch 1664–1736 Milan), who was active in northern Italy, and an 18th-century copy of the fête galante painting “Garden of Love” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640).

The final segment, “Religion and Mythology”, concerns the genre known as “history painting” (storie in Latin and Italian). The works have been arranged into thematic groups in order to present the treatment of different themes and motifs: the Bible – Old and New Testament, mythology and allegory, and historical scenes. This was the most highly regarded category of paintings, considered the most difficult as it required a high level of artistic mastery as well as an understanding of theology and the humanities. In addition, this genre was thought to offer viewers the most sublime spiritual and sensory experiences, shape their worldview and improve them intellectually.

The examples of biblical scenes include an 18th-century copy of Cristofano Allori’s painting “Judith with the Head of Holofernes”; “Samson and Delilah” by a painter from the circle of Guercino; and “Madonna of the Meadow” after Raphael’s work held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Conventions in mythological and allegorical scenes can be examined through such works as “The Hunt of Atalanta and Meleager” by Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596–1675), “Triumph of Galatea” by François Xavier Fabre (1766–1837 Montpelier) or “Diana and Callisto” by Francesco Furini (1600–1646 Florence).


Tłumaczenie: Biuro Tłumaczeń i Szkoła Językowa Skrivanek

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