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Bellotto’s place in history

Old Master paintings from the Dresden Picture Gallery go on show in Munich

Olivia Weinberg | July/August 2014

There must have been some tricky conversations at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich as the curators worked out which three painters were worthy of a mention in the title of their next exhibition, “Rembrandt—Titian—Bellotto: Spirit and Splendour of the Dresden Picture Gallery”. The line-up is so strong that just about any of the artists on show would have been a knockout combo. Velázquez, van Dyck, Watteau, Lorrain—gentlemen, you were robbed.

The Dresden Picture Gallery is one of the seven wonders of the art world. It is home to perhaps the most extensive and sensational collection of Old Master paintings in all of Europe—thanks to Augustus II (1670-1733), elector of Saxony and king of Poland. Keen to elevate his status, he worked with his son, Augustus III (1696-1763), to expand the royal collection tenfold. A passionate collector with a keen eye for detail, he bought an abundance of Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque paintings as well as important works by Dutch and Flemish masters. He gave the gallery a world-class reputation and put Dresden on the map.

“It was almost impossible to choose a selection,” says Dr Roger Diederen, director of the Kunst­halle. “I felt like a kid in a candy store.” After months of deliberating, around a hundred works have made the cut, each more impressive than the last—but “The Ruins of the Old Kreuzkirche in Dresden” (above) still stands out. Painted in 1765 by Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto’s nephew, it is an unforgettable study of Dresden’s oldest medieval church, destroyed by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. The tower appears to be crashing and crumbling before our eyes; you can feel the powdery dust in the air as the rubble spills out into the foreground. The clean lines of the adjacent streets create a wonderful open perspective and the colouring, less obvious than Canaletto’s palette, is soft, subdued and full of atmosphere. The wreckage is fresh, the spirit of the scene so convincing that it feels as if we are watching a live stream of that moment in history—or another one, the destruction of Dresden by the Allies in the final chapter of the second world war.  ~ Olivia Weinberg 

Rembrandt—Titian—Bellotto Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, August 22nd to Nov 23rd

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

American Impressionism: A New Vision (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, July 19th to Oct 19th). Impressionism came late to America: it wasn’t till the 1890s that Edmund Tarbell and Childe Hassam began to play with light, colour and texture. They join Sargent and Whistler here.

Olafur Eliasson (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, Aug 20th to Jan 4th). In 2003 he bathed Tate Modern in a pool of artificial sunlight. In 2008 he planted man-made waterfalls across New York. Now he makes a top-secret site-specific installation. “We don’t want people to get a fixed image in their heads,” says the curator, “this is something to go and see, to be a part of.”

Liverpool Biennial (Liverpool, July 5th to Oct 26th). The 2008 European Capital of Culture is back for round two. The cast includes Claude Parent at the Tate, Whistler at the Bluecoat,  and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic at the cathedral, playing “Symphony No.11: Hillsborough Memorial”, a new work by Michael Nyman.

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision (National Portrait Gallery, London, July 10th to Oct 26th). Frances Spalding curates an eclectic mix of portraits, photographs and manuscripts, including the letter Woolf sent her sister, Vanessa Bell, shortly before her suicide. (Right: Woolf by Bell, c1912.) 

Digital Revolution (Barbican, London, July 3rd to Sept 14th). A monster of a show that will divide the crowd. More tech, less art, it traces the rapid rise of the digital era: Google glass, 3D printers, creative coding. And will.i.am, apparently.

Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture (Design Museum, London, July 9th to Oct 12th). Architectural exhibitions are tricky, as they tend to rely on fiddly models and confusing sketches. Can this one do justice to a man who dealt in the monumental? 

Onchi Koshiro: The Abstract Prints (Art Institute of Chicago, July 19th to Oct 5th). Simple, organic shapes, mellow colours and fluid lines. ~ OW

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