National Gallery launches its Masterpiece Tour

The National Gallery has launched its Masterpiece Tour, which will see Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian, Canaletto’s A Regatta on the Grand Canal and Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 visit museums and galleries all across the UK.
For the next three years these iconic works of art will each take a unique journey, the aim of which is to better people’s knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Old Master paintings. Support from Christie’s is making this excursion possible.
Speaking to the Financial Times recently, Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery, sees this as one way of widening access to the gallery and art itself, which is, for many, not at all on their cultural agenda. Art troublingly remains niche.
He also explained that it was a rational way of meeting the needs of art lovers outside of London who though keen to enjoy works by artists, past and present, cannot afford to travel to the capital on a regular basis. Given that the city dominates the art scene, the rest of the UK does miss out.
For people living outside London, a very worrying development is the relative cost of public transport,” Mr Penny told the newspaper.” Without being an expert on economics, it’s become far more expensive to travel by rail from the great regional cities. And the ideal of taking the family to the capital to see the great museums and sights – that’s become a bit of an old-fashioned thing.”
Each of the works will take it in turn to travel up and down the country (each year is dedicated to an artist). The first is Manet and his moving The Execution of Maximillian (1832 – 1883), which illustrates the moment when Archduke Ferdinand and two of his generals – Mejía and Miramón – were executed by Mexican forces.
The painting is politically charged with Manet dressing the firing squad in French uniform, where in actual reality Mexican soldiers had carried out the act (the assertion being that France was, in part, responsible for the deaths).
Following Manet will be Canaletto’s A Regatta on the Grand Canal (1740), which sees the Italian painter brilliantly capture the atmosphere of Venice’s annual carnival regatta.
This is an exquisite example of eighteenth century landscape painting at its finest, lucid, finely executed and tremendously atmospheric. It is almost like you’re looking out of a window.
The final leg of the tour goes to Rembrandt and his brooding Self Portrait at the Age of 63, which was delivered in the final year of his life (1669). Self-portraits were common throughout the Dutch painter’s life, but what makes this work so special is its contemplative mood. Its ability to affect is quite something.
It has been in the National Gallery’s collection since 1851 and is highly valued by all in the art world as a fine example of an artist at his best, irrespective of how vulnerable the narrative actually is.
“We hope that the masterpieces sent on these tours will reach people who have never visited their national collection or haven’t done so for ages and we hope that many of those whom we do reach then feel inspired to visit or revisit,” Mr Penny said last year.
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