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Friday 12.12.14

« Weekend Picks | Main | Monday Links »

El Greco at PAM

On view at PAM, El Greco, The Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, 1590-1595, oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art in memory of J.H. Wade (all photos Jeff Jahn)

As the latest of the Portland Art Museum's very successful Masterworks series, El Greco's The Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, is now on display a few days early.

It is difficult to stylistically pigeon hole the Spanish Baroque painter El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) but his incredibly stylized elongations of the human body connect him to Italian Mannerists though his explosively empathetic compositions even remind me a little of the Carracci school (Ludovico in particular). Still, perhaps only the later Rembrandt can be considered his rival for supernatural presence and curator Dawson Carr has done a great job in bringing this truly stunning painting to Portland on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Religious or not, it is a must for all lovers of painting and is nothing short of remarkable as all of these Masterwork Series works have been.

Born Crete in 1541 (and likely not Catholic) El Greco originally sought his place in history in Venice, only to find greater acceptance in Toledo Spain, where his greatest paintings are most most frequently connected with his studio there. A painter's painter if ever there was, El Greco is famous for his effect on Picasso and the German Expressionists of die Brucke Group like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel or even Oskar Kokoshka's The Bride of the Wind. The reason for his influence is the way El Greco's somehow physically slightly awkward but spiritually poised figures predate Manet and photography's influence. His intensity of influence on Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin is also similarly palpable.



Giving me a tour yesterday, curator Dawson Carr made particular note how Mary is painted at three quarters face and not looking down as all of El Greco's other fully attributed Holy Family pictures had been. This gives the picture a more directed empathetic engagement where the viewer seeks her gaze first, though still slightly indirect before the other figures present themselves. As with Most El Greco's this one was such a mood, with Mary's shawl forming a ghostly defacto halo that keys us into all of the other lighter spots of the canvas... for that reason we could almost think of it as an almost all over composition with figures that seem to cluster within the phantasmagorical force that animates the clothing and swirling clouds.

On view at PAM through April 5th

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 12, 2014 at 14:30 | Comments (0)


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