John Corry: Modern Artists and Old Masters: Four Exhibitions to Enjoy Print

Written by John A. Corry

Oct. 22, 2014: Once fall arrives, Bronxville-area art lovers anticipate the opening of special exhibitions. In some years the choices may be more interesting than in others. This year's offerings are especially enticing.

Most impressive is the just-opened Metropolitan Museum's presentation of the Lauder Collection of Cubist art, consisting of eighty-one paintings, collages, drawings, and sculptures by Picasso (34 works), Braque, Leger, and Gris. Promised last year as a gift by cosmetics mogul Leonard A. Lauder and valued at more than $1 billion, it will, as then reported by Carol Vogel in the New York Times, "fill a glaring gap in the Met's collection." The promised gift was undoubtedly instrumental in the museum's decision earlier this year to reconstruct its modern art galleries.

Initiated by Picasso and Braque, Cubism was an early twentieth-century art movement that is generally recognized as having in a few years revolutionized the European approach to painting. During my visit at a preview for museum members, I especially enjoyed a special gallery filled with Picassos. The first gallery displays three Braques, one of which, Trees at L'Estaque, the New York Times's Roberta Smith describes as "perhaps the most powerful Braque in a New York museum." (I had the benefit of reading her very helpful review in last Friday's edition and suggest that it might also benefit others before their visits.)

Probably because of the relatively small size of most of the pictures, the Met chose to display the collection in the exhibition space just off the Greek and Roman hall on the first floor rather than in the larger second-floor galleries. Based on the attendance at my Saturday late afternoon for-members-only visit, this is likely to make the rooms seem even more crowded. Also, the subject matter of a Cubist painting may often be less obvious and require closer inspection than that of a traditional picture such as Picasso's The Old Mill and Winslow Homer's depiction of a similar subject that hangs in the Yale Art Gallery and that I mentioned in my article on my visit there. So try to visit the show on a less crowded weekday morning.

Early next month, the Met will also commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Spanish painter El Greco with an exhibition of its entire collection of nine paintings by him, the largest of any outside Spain, together with the six owned by the Hispanic Society of America. The timing of these two shows is especially appropriate since art experts regard El Greco's twisted forms as having had a major influence on Cubism. In fact, an article in the Met's Cubism exhibition catalogue calls his Vision of Saint John "a critical inspiration" for Picasso's famous Les demoiselles d'Avignon, which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, two studies for which are shown in the exhibition's Picasso gallery.

El Greco was born on the Eastern Mediterranean island of Crete with the Greek name Domenikos Theotokopoulos, but after moving to Spain he acquired the shorter name by which he always has been known. My favorite El Greco painting is the Met's View of Toledo, showing that old Spanish city set on a high hill above the River Tagus. I also especially enjoy his Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind and Christ Carrying the Cross. Of the six paintings from the Hispanic Society, the Pietà is especially lovely.

This Spanish master is also being celebrated by the Frick. By the terms of their acquisition, its three El Grecos may not be shown outside its walls. But, starting early next month, they will be displayed together on a wall in the East Gallery. My longtime favorite is the dramatic Purification of the Temple.

Beginning November 5, another El Greco will be on view at the Frick. I can personally attest that a visit to the wonderful collection of European, British, and even American paintings at the National Gallery of Scotland is a high spot of any trip to Edinburgh. On November 5, the Frick will open an exhibition of ten of its masterpieces from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Included is El Greco's mysterious Allegory, picturing a boy lighting a candle in the presence of a man and a monkey. The exhibition will also include Botticelli's Virgin and Sleeping Christ Child, never shown before in the United States, Velázquez's An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, Sargent's portrait of Lady Agnew, and Constable's Vale of Dedham, which won him admission to the Royal Academy.

After the Frick show closes on February 1, the ten paintings will join 45 others from the National Gallery for exhibition at San Francisco's de Young Museum and Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum. They will include works by Rembrandt, Titian, Vermeer, Gauguin, and Frederic Church's Niagara Falls, from the American Side, which is the one painting from the National Gallery that I can still recall from my last visit there more than twenty years ago.

Lack of exhibition space presumably is the reason why local viewers will be able to see only a portion of the whole show. The Frick recently proposed erecting a six-storey structure that, among other things, would add exhibition space. It is being opposed by preservationists and others, and the outcome is months if not years away. But the exhibition that the Frick is presenting is well worth the visit.

Finally, through February 8, MoMA is showing what New York Times critic Holland Cotter calls a "marvelous" show of colorful paper cut-outs by French master Henri Matisse. They were created by him during the last ten years of his life, when he had become largely chair- and bed-ridden. The simplicity of their design is sharply in contrast to the complexity of the Cubist works being displayed at the Met. A smaller version of the show drew more than 500,000 visitors at London's Tate Modern this summer, so that non-MoMA members would be well advised to order well in advance the timed admission tickets that are available to them.