Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wintertime at the National Gallery

The National Gallery, although under extensive refurbishment, has kept its doors open via the Millennium Wing (Clare Street entrance). Two days ago I paid a visit, as it had been a good while since my last one. I miss the Dargan and Milltown wings; currently, it feels like the limited number of works in small exhibitions are claustrophobically contained in spaces that don't do them justice. Ironically, your attention is drawn more to apparently endless walls and stairs than it is to the exhibition pieces. Hopefully, when the refurb ends, the two other wings will again do justice to the grand place the Gallery is. Maybe I'm blind, but I did also miss "Bear with us while we're doing the place up" -signs - indeed I could see and hear several tourists wander around in a confused manner. Nonetheless, all the facilities are still available: the large shop, cloakroom, information and the vast café that I've never seen less than packed.

During the refurbishment, Rooms 1-10 in the Millennium Wing and the Beit wing continue showing 'Masterpieces of the Collection'. There is a strong focus here on Irish art, with the usual Irish artistic motifs of poverty, death and misfortune. Paintings by Jack B. Yeats can be viewed in the Yeats room. More interesting to me were the current temporary exhibitions. As happens every January, the Gallery's collection of Turner's watercolours was displayed in the Print Gallery. These landscapes are delicate and usually dreamlike, most often painted with light colours. They seem to encompass temporariness: the viewer glances, sees, and as the landscape seems to fade away into the dreamworld of its paper, the viewer moves on. Entirely more solid are the miniature and silhouette portraits of the Mary A. McNeill Bequest displayed in the adjacent rooms.

My favourite section, indeed the very reason behind my visit, was a selection from the Prints and Drawings collection. 'Fables and Fairy Tales - Illustrations from the Collection' shows a small number of delightful illustrations by Richard and Charles Doyle, Harry Clarke, Paul Henry and John Butler Yeats. From a decidedly non-modern-day-appropriate series of drawings of a naughty boy being devoured by a lion, to 'Dicky's' sepia imaginings of fairies, to illustrations to Andersen's fairy tales in Clarke's deep lustruous colours, this exhibition will please both the child and the adult.


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