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Memory and Imagination

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Wed 23 January - Fri 1 March 2013, 10am - 5pm

Memory & Imagination is the first exhibition in central London for more than ten years to reappraise the artistic significance of 17th century Dutch artists inspired by the magical light and classical scenery of Italy.

In an intriguing collaboration with Dulwich Picture Gallery, fifteen major Dutch ‘Italianate’ paintings will hang alongside a smaller selection of contemporary landscape works, confirming a sense of continuity and debt by landscape artists of the present to landscape artists of the past.

Suggested Donation £4

Your ticket grants 2 for1 entry to Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Murillo and Justino DeNeve: The Art of Friendship

The Dutch Italianates

The warm, magical light of Rome and the exotic, poetic beauty of its surrounding Campagna were a powerful magnet to an influential group of Dutch artists during the 17th century, who became known as the Dutch Italianates.

Those who made the journey to Rome, the celebrated City regarded as the crucible of contemporary art, wandered into the barren and exotic countryside around the City, filling their sketchbooks with views of the sun-drenched, mountainous landscape and ruins of the warm south. On their return to the Netherlands, they created a new genre of idealised landscape painting that drew on elements from both memory and imagination. Rich in tone and colour, observation and humour, the Dutch Italianates were more popular and collectible in their own country during the 17th century than the ‘domestic’ school of Dutch landscape artists, more familiar to gallery visitors today.


Despite the powerful attraction of Italy, very few of the Italianates stayed there for more than a decade (the exception was Herman van Swanevelt). Adam Pynacker and Nicolaes Berchem spent three years living in a colony of northern artists around the Spanish Steps, while Philips Wouwermans, Aelbert Cuyp and Jan Wijnants never set foot in the country. As a result, some of the work of the Italianates is more overtly Italian in compositional elements than others. Cuyp and Wouwermans, both represented by major works in this exhibition, introduced different Italianate elements into their panoramic landscapes, often switching between different styles. Jan Both’s magical treatment of light demonstrates the more potent influence of his Italian experience and, in particular, his acquaintance in Rome with Claude Gellée, called ‘Le Lorrain’.

The Dutch Italianates lasted almost a century, but the paintings in this exhibition were all executed between 1640 and 1670, the period considered the most successful and characteristic of this landscape genre. They were acquired by Dulwich Picture Gallery during the 1790s, at the height of their value and reputation, and are considered one of the glories of the Dulwich collection.

A Contemporary Perspective on Old Master Painting

There are many artists practising today whose work owes a genuine and original relationship with the traditions of the Old Masters. Hanging a small selection of contemporary works that demonstrate this relationship alongside fifteen major Dutch Italianate works painted in the mid-17th century enables us to explore some of the connections that artists working today still retain with the traditions of landscape artists of the past.

Using great landscape art as a starting point, these contemporary artists do not rely on producing slavish copies or recycling imagery from Old Master paintings. Instead, they exploit connections and values they discover in paintings from the past, creating their own original works with meticulous attention to detail and the same preoccupation with narrative and imagination.

Martin Greenland and John Stark both use the traditional medium of oil painting to create finely crafted but invented landscapes, populated by mythical or imaginary figures. Emily Allchurch constructs her own vision of the contemporary world by reassembling digital images based on selected Old Master paintings (in this exhibition, basing her work on an early 16th century Flemish painting by Joachim Patinir), overlaid with a contemporary environmental narrative. Tom Hunter’s photography explores potent subject themes, familiar to landscape artists over many centuries, but reconstructs them using everyday events. The ‘everyday’ is explored again in a thoroughly modern medium by the American video artist, Jeffrey Blondes, whose 52-week, 24-hour cycle of trees, filmed over four seasons, conveys the same forces of nature that have transfixed so many great landscape artists of the past, not least the Dutch Italianates.

Image: Martin Greenland, Even Over Eden (detail)

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