Passion for Paint: National Gallery, London

21 January - 17 September 2006
Group Exhibitions

A touring exhibition celebrates the qualities of paint.

by Gareth Hargreaves


Transparent glazes, glowing colours, washy stains, creamy swirls and thick impasto - Passion for Paint is a celebration of the qualities of paint itself. Drawing together 25 works by artists from different centturies, cultures, and collections, this is the first in a new series of touring exhibitions organised in partnership with Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.


Passion for Paint invites visitors to explore how artists have manipulated paint to represent and mimic the material world. It also looks at the potential of paint to convey sensation and emotion, and shows how, for some artists, the medium itself has become the subject. The exhibition includes works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Turner, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Sargent, Bacon, and Kossoff, as well as two new works painted specially for this exhibition by Suling Wang and Raqib Shaw.


Each artist's method reflects contrasting attitudes towards the act of painting and the essence of paint. For artists such as Rubens (Peace and War, The National Gallery), Van Dyck (Lady Thimbelby and her Sister, The National Gallery) and Sargent (Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer, Tate), the versatility of paint and mark-making have been as much a part of their work as the scenes they painted. Gillian Ayres works in an instinctive physical way, applying handfuls of pigment to the canvas; her pictures, she says, develop like music or poetry, each area suggesting the next, such as her picture, Spica, (Arts Council of England). Ian Davenport's Poured Lines Painting (Southampton City Art Gallery) was created by pouring paint onto a tilted canvas. In the playfully ironic Little Death, (Thomas Dane Gallery), Glenn Brown exploits the illusionary qualities of paint, creating a perfectly smooth version of a highly textured work by Frank Auerbach.


Two new works - Liwu River Loops by Suling Wang, and The Garden of Earthly Delights XV by Raqib Shaw (both Victoria Miro Gallery) - use a variety of exciting and unusual methods of application. Born in India and raised in Kashmir, Shaw's subjects are partly inspired by traditional Eastern art, but are executed using the modern medium of car paint. Shaw squeezes the fast drying liquid onto the picture then draws into it with a porcupine quill to create intricately patterned, glossy images that seem to float above the flat background. Taiwanese artist Suling Wang explores the qualities of paint using oil and acrylic alongside each other, while suggesting a complex layering of space through a rich variety of drips, stains and other marks.


The National Gallery has entered into a three-year partnership with Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to organise annual touring exhibitions around a core of paintings from the National Gallery's collection. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Northern Rock Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and in London by The Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation, this new relationship builds on a successful four-year partnership which produced exceptionally popular exhibitions including Paradise (2003), Making Faces (2004) and The Stuff of Life (2005) each attracting over 300,000 visitors across the three venues.


The exhibition will be at Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery from 21st January to 2nd April 2006, The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle from 13th April to 9th July and The National Gallery Sunley Room from 20th July to 17th September. Passion for Paint will be accompanied by a range of events, lectures and activities at all venues. For further details see Bristol's City Museum & Art GalleryThe Laing Art Gallery and The National Gallery for details.