Exhibition in Focus: Monochrome at the National Gallery
There is still a month until Monochrome at the National Gallery London closes.
A fascinating look at how and why different ways artists over the ages used not only black but any single colour in their work. We are all familiar with black and white from photography as it was predominantly the colour choice used by many famous photographers and this is often so until today. However, not that often we come across examples of painting in black and white such as Ingres’s Odalisque.
Grisaille painting, or painting in grey tones was used over the last 1000 years for several reasons. In medieval times it was to denounce colour and its exuberance, opting for the more demure, reticent tones to show penitence and lack of interest in the world.
In Renaissance artists opted for grey scale to either trick the eye, using their skill to portray sculpture like works on a flat surface – often on the outer wings of an altarpiece, or creating a more affordable work for an eager art collector with a smaller purse.
Drawings, etchings, lithographs, all kind of prints became a thing to create if you wanted to make your name during the Renaissance. These too were affordable to the less wealthy, so even if only one patron could have the original, you or your apprentice could create etchings from which a number of prints could be produced for the wider public and travel far and wide.
National Gallery dedicated each room to another idea or technique moving through history from drawings, sketches and paintings to photography and surprisingly, paintings again but ones from the 20th century, something you usually encounter elsewhere.
There is a huge variety on display, from names you haven’t heard of to Ingres, Picasso, Gerhard Richter and the famous Black Square of Kazimir Malevich.
The exhibition ends with a blinding reminder of why we should pay more attention to the way we see and how we manage to do just that. A room filled with bright yellow light created by artist Olafur Eliasson will make you see – yellow and nothing else.
If you are looking for experience where you meet various well known names under not so well known subject headings, this exhibition is for you. It’s surprising and although not perfect, you can not regret going as everyone can learn something from stepping into a desaturated world for a little while, finding all the reasons why an artists might have decided to go this way.