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Masterpieces from the Lewis Collection

Picasso, Bacon, Freud, Soutine in the flesh

Left to right: Lucian Freud And the Bridegroom 1993, oil on canvas, 231.8 × 195.9 cm © Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Art Library; Pablo Picasso Femme allongée sur un canapé (Dora Maar) 1939, oil on canvas, 97.1 × 130.2 cm © Pablo Picasso/Succession Pablo Picasso. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney. The Lewis Collection

To see something ‘in the flesh’ is to see it close, live and unmediated. The chance to see art in this way is why we come to art museums. I am delighted to announce that we have received on long-term loan an outstanding group of paintings from British businessman and avid art collector Joe Lewis. Six of the 11 works, including paintings by Picasso, Bacon and Freud, will go on display immediately and allow people to see some of the finest examples of 20th-century figurative painting.Michael Brand, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales

These six outstanding works from the magnificent private collection of British businessman and avid art collector Joe Lewis – including one of the most important Lucian Freud works in the world – will be on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 12 April 2014.

This is the first loan of this kind from The Lewis Collection and is therefore an exceptional opportunity for our Gallery. It will allow our visitors, both local and international, to spend concentrated time with paintings of the highest quality and interest, said Michael Brand.

The exhibition In the flesh offers an intimate encounter with six paintings about flesh and the human figure. Produced by four of the most audacious figurative painters of the past century, these works explore the strangeness, power and vulnerability of the human face and body. In their paintings from the 1920s and 1930s, Chaïm Soutine and Pablo Picasso charge the art of portraiture with volatile new energy, rendering their subjects in fluid and fiercely coloured brushstrokes (Soutine) or jagged and flattened fragments (Picasso).

Francis Bacon, who admired Picasso and Soutine, pushes portraiture to a postwar extreme, evoking the trials of the flesh with beautiful brushwork. Meanwhile Bacon’s friend Lucian Freud, likewise a Soutine admirer, treats paint as a kind of flesh, using dragged and clotted oil paint to dramatise the life of the body.

A highlight of the exhibition is Picasso’s Woman lying on a couch (Dora Maar) (Femme allongée sur un canapé) 1939. As the Gallery’s head curator of international art, Justin Paton remarks: This work was painted when trouble was brewing all over Europe. And trouble erupts through the very skin and physique of Picasso’s model, Dora Maar. With splayed eyes, cadaverous green skin, artichoke hands and a snaggle-toothed smile, she is a monstrous but strangely sympathetic retort to the myth of ideal beauty – an odalisque for the age of surrealism and the Second World War.

Paton continues: The differences among these artists are as plentiful as the similarities. But they all lend force to a thought of the American painter Willem de Kooning: ‘Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented’.

The Lewis Collection

These paintings come from a group of 11 recently placed on long-term loan with the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Created by British businessman Joe Lewis and his daughter Vivienne Lewis, the collection includes the work of European modern masters as well as contemporary Chinese artists.

The Gallery will showcase the Picasso, Soutine, Bacon and Freud paintings in the Lowy, Gonski Gallery from 12 April. Four contemporary Chinese paintings by Fang Lijun, Yan Pei-Ming and Zhang Xiaogang will be exhibited separately later and David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist, painted in 1972, will feature in a major international exhibition.

On view
12 Apr – 22 Jun 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


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