The Dulwich Picture Gallery has revived an old tradition of sending its paintings to central London when it exhibits one of its major works this autumn in Painting from Life: Carracci Freud at Ordovas. The exhibition brings together a striking group of head studies by the great 17th century Bolognese painter, Annibale Carracci (1560–1609), and Lucian Freud (1922–2011), recognised today as one of the foremost painters of the 20th century. This rare and illuminating collaboration between an historic public art collection and a private gallery is curated jointly by Dr Xavier Bray (Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator, Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Pilar Ordovas (Ordovas) and runs from 5 October to 15 December 2012.
Freud’s interest in the Old Masters is well known and documented. Less well known, however, and never before explored are the visual connections between Carracci, one of the greatest Italian painters who took ‘nature’ as a point of departure in his art, and Freud, whose portraits capture a reality that is often unforgiving. Freud was familiar with at least two of Carracci’s most important head studies painted in the 1590s: Head of an Old Man, which he saw when he exhibited at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1994 and Head of an Old Woman, Private Collection, London, which he studied closely and of which he is known to have said, ‘I wish I could paint like this.’
This exhibition juxtaposes three notable Carracci head studies with a series of Freud head portraits. Each comparison reveals intriguing affinities, be they in technique, style, viewpoint or subject matter. For instance, the teaming of Carracci’s Portrait of a Bearded Old Man with Freud’s portrait of John Deakin from 1963–64 discloses fascinating similarities in the subjects’ stance, the close scrutiny given to foreheads and ears, and the brush work. Ordovas has curated this kind of exhibition before. Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt explored Bacon’s self-portraits and their relationship with Rembrandt’s small Self-Portrait with Beret from the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, a painting that fascinated Bacon throughout his career. The exhibition had over 10,000 visitors in the first month alone.
Dulwich Picture Gallery’s loan of Carracci’s Head of an Old Man to Ordovas is the first it has made to a central London show since 1937. This new collaboration resumes what was once a thriving tradition, initiated in 1816 when Royal Academicians, Constable among them, selected around four to six paintings from Dulwich’s collection so that they could be shown at the Royal Academy and copied by students. It is a timely resumption: there is currently a renewed sense of the importance of creative dialogue between contemporary art and the past, as this autumn’s inaugural Frieze Masters show testifies. Through an intimate comparison of these two artists’ work, Painting from Life: Carracci Freud reveals the different ways in which Freud and Carracci were both ‘modern’ in their own time.
Ordovas 25 SAVILE ROW LONDON W1S 2ER 5 October – 15 December 2012