Confrontation: Cranach and Dix
Old meets new in a small but bold and beautiful new project at the National Gallery of Scotland, as Paul Dale discovers
As face offs go, it’s a pretty good one. In the red corner is Lucas Cranach’s 16th century painting ‘Venus and Cupid’ – with its naughty faced Cupid and languid nude lady mother Venus, the goddess of love. In the blue corner is Otto Dix’s 1932 ‘Mädchen auf Fell [Nude Girl on a Fur]’ with its heightened sense of realism, unglamorous pose and almost cartoon ugliness. The two paintings will go head to head – or in the parlance of the gallery (rather than the wrestling ring) – be hung next to each other in the first of what is hoped to be a long running series of mini displays at the National Gallery of Scotland. For dramatic effect the series is to be called Confrontation.
Tico Seifert, the senior curator of Northern European Art at the National explains the rationale behind these new ‘pop up’ mini shows. ‘We wanted to confront art that is normally not displayed together and stimulate fresh thinking on unexpected relationships. We attempted to do something similarly comparative in the first part of the Gallery of Modern Art’s [GMA] recent re-hang show What You See is Where You’re At and it seemed to work very well.’
For a project with such a ballsy name, Seifert, who is also currently working on the Young Vermeer show which will open in December, is being a little reserved and academic for my liking. I want him to be more Don King than Robert Hughes. So why these prize fighters from the National’s collection?
‘Well, Dix based his detailed style and technique on German Old Masters, especially Dürer and Cranach. Both artists, Cranach and Dix, depict female nudes but with very different approaches, aims and implications. It’s about the evolution of the depiction of the nude; it’s about the strong contrast of putting together the unexpected. I’m looking forward to seeing them together very much.’ Seifert lets out a little laugh. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Advocacy with passion.
At the time of talking to Seifert the paintings were still to be hung but he is already planning the next clash of the titans (or in the case of this gallery’s current media profile – the Titians).
‘I can’t tell you much but the next one will involve an old master and modern landscape painting.’ Fair enough, but will the displays always be in the same place, because surely that will start to feel a bit stale after a while? ‘No the idea behind this project is for the confrontation to act as a point of thought provoking departure for visitors so each new display needs to be in a different place. For instance these two paintings will be shown upstairs in the room with the old Netherlands and German art because I think they work well in that space, but who knows where Confrontation Mark II will raise its contrary head.’
Confrontation: Cranach and Dix, National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh, until Mon 18 Jul.