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Exceptional paintings by El Greco & Largilliére on loan

Two exceptional paintings have gone on display in the Museum’s permanent collection, generously placed on long-term loan by their owners.

A painting of Saint John the Evangelist by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541-1614) has been hung in the Spanish and Flemish gallery (8), complementing the recently acquired sculpture of the Virgin of Sorrows by Pedro de Mena (1628-1688).

There are no other works by El Greco in the Museum’s collections. Thought to have been painted late in the 1590s to early 1600s, this extraordinary half-length figure bears all the hallmarks of El Greco’s late style, such as the blurred facial features, extremely free brushwork and broad planes of intense colour. Although this remarkable style of painting was considered bizarre in El Greco’s lifetime, it has a retrospectively ‘modern’ quality that continues to inspires painters to this day.

In pride of place in Gallery 4, devoted to the display of French painting, sculpture and furniture from the 17th to the 19th century is a grandiose and exceptionally well preserved portrait of Charles-Jean-Pierre de Barentin, Comte de Montchal (1704-1763) by Nicolas Largillière (1656-1746) . Probably painted in 1736 to mark his marriage to Louise-Madeleine Bertin de Vaugien the previous year, the painting is testimony to the artist’s sensitivity as a colourist and his remarkable ability to paint realist - and often sumptuous - effects of textures, fabrics and finishes of all kinds.

The son of a hat merchant, Largillière was born in Paris in 1656, but spent much of the early part of his career in England. He returned to the city of his birth in 1679, where his fluent painting style proved enormously appealing to the wealthy Parisian middle classes, and, as his fame increased, to the aristocracy and provincial mercantile clients.

Set against the fictitious backdrop of a battlefield, the Count wears a highly decorative ‘dress’ armour with the red ribbon of the Order of St Louis on his left breast. The cool sheen of the armour is echoed in the gilt thread in the buttons and offsets the rich pile of the velvet jacket, heavily-embroidered sleeves, ocelot cloak with silk lining and intricate lace undergarment.

26 February 2015

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