The Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh contain some of the most celebrated and influential paintings, drawings, and sculpture in the history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the modern era. Naturally, the three institutions that comprise the National Galleries—the Scottish National Gallery, founded in 1850; the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, opened in 1889; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, opened in 1960— also holds the most comprehensive collection of Scottish art from the 17th to 19th centuries. Fifty-five paintings from these three institutions are on view in Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Scotland at the de Young Museum. The directed synthesis of masterpieces from three institutions into one presentation is a noteworthy achievement, as is the thoughtful curation of this exhibition to reveal the collections’ breadth and scope.
For the last several years the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have carefully built a strong reputation locally for presenting impressive collections of fine and modern artworks and material culture from acclaimed museums and galleries nationally and throughout the world. Botticelli to Braque comes on view concurrently with High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, and less than a year from exhibitions including Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert & Jane Meyerhoff Collection; Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art; Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House; and exhibits of Parmigianino’s infamous painting, Schiava Turca; and Bernini’s intricate sculpture, The Medusa.
Botticelli to Braque, as the title describes, spans nearly 450 years of European art history: from Sandro Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child created some time around 1490, to Piet Mondrian’s abstraction of planes, lines, and color, Composition with Double Line and Yellow from 1932. Many of these masterpieces in Botticelli to Braque were created by Scotland’s centuries of talented painters, well-known to the country’s own audiences, but have perhaps never been seen by San Francisco viewers. Among many fine examples of Scottish classical and modern art, some particularly significant images include Pitlessie Fair by Sir David Wilkie; and portraits of Europe’s historical figures, like Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Dr. Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch and Colonel Alastair Ranaldson, Macdonell of Glengarry. Renderings of scenes from myth, fairies, local history and folklore were an especially considerable theme in 19th century Scotland, and a particularly fine example, Sir Joseph Noel Paton’s The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania is on view. This exhibition culminates with Scotland’s modern themes and approaches, seen in Colorist Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell’s Portrait of a Lady in Black.
While celebrating Scotland’s finest painters, selections of paintings on exhibit were also chosen to complement the de Young and Legion of Honor’s permanent collection, making the Scotland National Gallery’s holdings relevant for American audiences. John Singer Sargent’s portrait, Caroline De Bassano, Marquise d’Espeuilles from 1884 on view in the de Young galleries makes an interesting comparison with his equally compelling portrait, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw from 1892 in Scotland National Gallery’s collection, both in how the artist captured the personality and status of his female sitters, and the change of depiction ocurring in less than a decade. Niagara Falls, from the American Side in Botticelli to Braque painted by Frederic Edwin Church, who was one of the central members of the Hudson River School, is a monumental representation of the sublime, natural beauty of the falls. de Young Museum itself has an impressive collection of American art, including paintings by many members of the Hudson River School, including Church, and devotes a large gallery within the museum overlooking its expansive garden with grand-scale paintings of lush expanses and exotic lands.
While Scotland has yet to become completely independent from its 300 year-old political union with Great Britain, as the past year’s referendum revealed, Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland beautifully illustrates this country’s uniquely rich culture, art, and history.
Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland will be at de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park through May 31, 2015.