Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art

Must-See Exhibitions during London Art Week Winter

By Alex Morrison

The summer edition of London Art Week has become a fixture on the UK capital’s calendar, but now it’s time to wrap up and head out to the inaugural London Art Week Winter. This is a city-wide showcase of art from Antiquity to the 20th century, taking place in many of London’s best specialist galleries. Meanwhile, several major museums have exhibitions exploring work from the same period. Sotheby's Museum Network presents a selection of four of the best:

Prayer Book (1540-1576). © the Trustees of the British Museum.

Living with Gods: Peoples, Places and the Worlds Beyond
The British Museum, until 8 April 2018

The British Museum sheds fresh light on the eternal search for meaning with an exhibition on the ways in which religion and faith have shaped human societies. The show begins with one of the world’s oldest sculptures, the 40,000 year-old Lion Man carved in ivory and found in a cave in Germany in 1939. Visitors are taken on a journey past Siberian shamanic outfits to Buddhist wheels of life, and on to displays challenging traditional conceptions of religion. Soviet propaganda posters and a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book remind us that belief, in all its forms, remains at the heart of even the most secular communities. The show is accompanied by a BBC Radio 4 series written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, the museum’s former director.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and workshop. Odalisque in Grisaille, (c. 1824-1834). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1938, 38.65. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence.

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White
The National Gallery, until 18 February 2018

“Painting in black and white is a thread that runs through the history and practice of art,” explain curators Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka. The National Gallery's exhibition brings together artists from the Middle Ages to the present day, with works that “challenge viewers to reconsider their perception of the world around them”. In the 12th-century, Cistercian monks used black and white after Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux pronounced colour “unnecessarily exciting to the senses”, while contemporary artists such as Gerhard Richter “draw on monochrome’s metaphorical associations and affective qualities”, say the curators.

Paul Cézanne, Uncle Dominique in Smock and Blue Cap, (1866-1867). The Metropolitan Museum of Art Wolfe Fund, 1951 acquired from The Museum of Modern Art, Lillie P. Bliss Collection.

Cézanne Portraits
The National Portrait Gallery, until 11 February 2018

The latest exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery reveals how Cézanne used portraiture to develop both his technique and his relationship to subjects. “More than his landscapes and still-lifes, Cézanne’s portraits serve as markers or milestones in his long and prolific career, allowing us to ponder his perception and manipulation of the creative process and the genre,” says Mary Tompkins Lewis, author of a book of highlights from the exhibition, Paul Cézanne: Painting People. Crucial moments in the artist’s early career, such as a series of paintings depicting his uncle Dominique from the 1860s, make way for later portraits of his wife Hortense, and the residents of Provence where he spent his final years. These paintings transform the sitter into experimentations in volume and tone and, as Lewis says, attest to the way Cézanne “fundamentally transform[ed] the genre of portraiture in modern art”.

Jan Adam Kruseman, Portrait of Giovanni Belzoni, "the Great Belzoni" (1824), © Daniel Katz Gallery, London.

Egypt Uncovered: Belzoni and the Tomb of Pharaoh Seti I
Sir John Soane’s Museum, until 15 April 2018

The sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I is the most treasured object within the Sir John
Soane’s Museum’s collection, and, according to exhibition curator Joanna Tinworth,
“one of the most important objects ever found in Egypt”. Two hundred years after its
discovery, the Soane presents a show about its journey to the museum and about
Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the 19th-century Italian explorer who discovered it. “I think
that we get an insight into Belzoni’s passion, energy and talent, but also a surprising
sense of his duty and dedication,” says Tinworth. Belzoni recorded the interior of the
tomb through 300 watercolours, 23 of which are on display in the exhibition.

London Art Week, 1–8 December, Various venues, London.

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