The Eyes

The Eyes

Monday, November 3, 2014

El Greco: A 400th Anniversary Celebration

The 400th anniversary of El Greco's death will be remembered at the National Gallery of Art with an exhibition of 11 paintings from the Gallery, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and from the Walters Art Museum, in Baltimore. On view in the West Building, from November 2, 2014 through February 16, 2015, El Greco in the National Gallery of Art and Washington-Area Collections: A 400th Anniversary Celebration will include some of the artist's most beloved paintings, renowned for compositions of bold colors and subjects with dramatic expression.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, universally known as El Greco, was born on the Greek island of Crete, where he achieved mastery as a painter of Byzantine icons. Aspiring to success on a larger stage, he moved to Venice in his late twenties and absorbed the lessons of High Renaissance masters, especially Titian and Tintoretto. In 1570 he departed for Rome, where he studied the work of Michelangelo and encountered the style known as mannerism, which rejected the logic and naturalism of Renaissance art.

El Greco relocated to Spain in 1576 and spent the rest of his life in Toledo, where he finally received the major commissions that had eluded him in Italy. Unlike the Italian mannerists, who aimed at elegant artifice, El Greco used their dramatically elongated figures and ambiguous treatment of space for expressive ends, creating transcendent works that, like the icons of his youth, convey deep spirituality. Blending diverse influences—Byzantine, Renaissance, mannerist—he developed a unique style that captures the religious fervor of Counter-Reformation Spain.

At the close of the 19th century, artists striving for emotional or expressive effects found a kindred spirit in El Greco, and since that time his influence has been immense. Many have regarded him as a forerunner of modernism. Echoes of his art appear in the works of such diverse artists as Paul C├ęzanne, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti, Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Bacon.

With seven paintings by El Greco, the Gallery has one of the largest collections of his work in the United States, made possible by the generosity of the Gallery's early benefactors Andrew W. Mellon, Samuel H. Kress, Joseph Widener, and Chester Dale.

From November 4, 2014 through February 1, 2015, New York City will commemorate the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death with two exhibitions showcasing all of the artist's work from New York public collections. The exhibitions will be on view at The Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (with works on loan from the Hispanic Society of America).


Saint Martin and the Beggar | c. 1600/1614
Oil on Canvas | Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington


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