Simon Bartle, Visual Arts Correspondent

Making A Masterpiece: Bouts And Beyond (1450-2020)

The Making a Masterpiece Exhibition is all about artistic creation. The centrepiece, and inspiration for the exhibition, is the wonderful 15th century painting St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child (c. 1440-1475), by the workshop of Dieric Bouts. The Bowes Museum, at Barnard Castle acquired this painting for £2.3M, thanks to funding from the Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and a number of private donors, after a temporary export ban was placed on the painting.

The exhibition has brought together 85 works for this exhibition, of which 35 are loans. Eight of the loans have come from The National Gallery. The exhibition exhibits a work by Albrecht Bouts (c. 1452-1549), who was the younger son of Dieric Bouts. The exhibit, St Ambrose with Ambrosius van Engelen (c. 1520), is one wing of a triptych, and has been conserved by The National Gallery. It is the first time that this work has been exhibited, and it is a truly exhilarating work of art. Also featured, are an exquisite series of engravings by Lucas Van Leyden, borrowed from the British Museum.

This exhibition is groundbreaking. It has provided the impetus to analyse the technical state of rarely seen pieces. The Friends of York Art Gallery and the York Museum Trust have funded the conservation of prints that The York Gallery have not previously displayed.

The main exhibit, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child is visually stunning. The colours are magnificent even after the passage of 550 years. The teal in the picture has been cleverly picked out by the exhibition's background wall, and so has the fragmentation. The painting is “an outstanding 15th century painting deemed an important British cultural asset”, and its acquisition has initiated “a partnership of the York Art Gallery, The Bowes Museum, and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery."

The exhibition extends across York Art Gallery's three exhibition galleries, and the first gallery takes early Netherlandish Art as its starting point. It then moves on in the second gallery, to feature works by later more modern artists including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and Leonard Rosoman. Also featured in this section are works by William Etty (1787-1849). Etty, born in York, was elected as a Royal Academician in 1828. He had a long and commercially successful career. This exhibition, provides a welcome opportunity to review some of Etty's works in the context of image making.

The York Art Gallery originally presented his works in a major exhibition in 2011-2012, William Etty: Art and Controversy.

In the third gallery, 'Golden Age', Flemish and Dutch art is set alongside that of contemporary artist Christopher Cook. He was born in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, but is no relation to Captain Cook. Christopher now lives, and works near Knightsbridge in Devon.

For over twenty years Christopher has worked in an innovative and very experimental medium of graphite powder, oil and resin, his process is highly unusual. Christopher explains that he "utilizes industrially coated paper, which doesn't absorb oil. Initially it is a very liquid process, very much like making a painting, but as time passes it dries, and the medium changes. It then takes on a different form, which is more like that of making a drawing. The end result is halfway between a painting, and drawing".

The works of Christopher Cook have been the subject of many international solo exhibitions. He very recently won first prize in the Sunny Art Prize, 2019. His work received a prize at John Moores XXI, and he also won the Valeria Sykes Award for the New Light Art Prize 2017, at The Bowes Museum. Christopher's work is held in many major international collections, including notably Cleveland Museum, USA, Minneapolis Museum of Art, USA, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, the Fitzwilliam, and MoMA in New York.

In the exhibition, Christopher's work sits side by side with 'Golden Age' artists including Frans Snyders, Jan van Goyen, and Anthony van Dyke. Christopher comments that his work draws on those 'Golden Age' works by, "extracting components," and then "juxtaposing them to what's going on in the world today." His work most certainly reinterprets, and provides contrast to these earlier artworks. His unique, and thought provoking artworks are not to be missed.

This exhibition has taken over two and a half years to take it from inception to delivery, and it has required extraordinary dedication, and ultimately creative vision. It has been conceived, and co-curated by Dr Beatrice Bertram, Senior Curator at the York Art Gallery, and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein, from the University of York. Jeanne is the Director of York Art History Collaborations.

Drs. Bertram and Nuechterlein, have together provided a real insight into the artistic process, and their combined efforts are to be applauded. At first sight the exhibition could be viewed as purely academic, but actually it has a greater reach, and encourages the viewer to think more widely. In short, it inspires the audience.

The exhibition is indeed a first class 'balancing act' between academic presentation, and informative entertainment. It achieves all its objectives, and is exceptionally well delivered, so please do not miss it.

The Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond Exhibition is on show at The York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York, YO1 7EW. York Art Gallery is in Exhibition Square, five minutes’ from York Minster and opposite Bootham Bar. The Exhibition runs until 26 January 2020.

The exhibition and accompanying programme are part of a HLF funded partnership of York Art Gallery with The Bowes Museum and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and achieved in association with The National Gallery.

York Art Gallery Opening Times:
Open Monday - Sunday 10am - 5pm.
Last admission 4:30pm
Closed: 25, 26 December and January 1.

Admission to York Art Gallery:
YMT Card Holders - Free
Adults £8.00 (with 10% Gift Aid Donation)
Adults £7.27 (without donation
Children (16 and under) Free with paying adult
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