Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre
Art Gallery of Ontario
Until September 26
The artists of the 19th century more than at any other time produced work that had a grand theatricality. It was a period where the drama of the human condition was a major theme and artists used images and themes related to theatre to explore and highlight it.
While many of the artists of the Renaissance created works of dramatic impact they dealt with a world of gods and myths.
The artists of the 19th century were more interested in depicting the drama of human emotions and events. Similar interest was shared by musicians and opera composers such as Verdi with his opera Macbeth.
The Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre exhibition, showing in Toronto, deals with this 19th century development. It covers the period from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 through to1914 and the beginning of World War I.
It is the period from the Age of Reason to the Modern Age.
The works explore various themes about art and theatre. There are the set designs by artists, artists using theatrical scenes as subject, and artists using the inspiration of the theatre to create dramatic scenes.
The more than 100 works are by the great artists such as Nicloas Poussin, Jacques-Louis David, Edgar Degas and Eugène Delacroix, through other lesser known artists such as Rowlandson, Aubrey Beardsley and a host of other minor ones.
Beardsley is represented by the full set of ink drawings he produced for Oscar Wilde’s Salome while the Poussin is a theatrical depiction of The Slaughter of the Innocents from the New Testament tale.
There are some unexpected inclusions such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s The Storm, Antigonus Pursued By The Bear, which depicts a scene from The Winter's Tale.
It is essentially one of the artist’s large landscapes, providing a dramatic theatrical background to the subject matter of the two almost indistinct figures.
The Wright work is one of many that use Shakespearian subject matter, with crucial scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear dominating.
One room is devoted to the opening scene of King Lear, where he speaks to his daughters. The largest of these paintings, Lear Banishing Cordelia, is by Henry Fuseli and is accompanied by several Fuseli prints, which also to be found in the Auckland Art Gallery collection.
Some additional theatrical devices, intended to add to the experience, are in the room with the Wright of Derby painting; traditional hand operated wind and rain machines that viewers can operate. In the Lear room, a recording of Lear and his daughter gives additional drama as well as a spotlight that alternately illuminates the two main characters.
A less successful attempt to engage the viewer is in the display of Delacroix’s small painting of Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking. It is flanked by two distorting mirrors and is presumably meant to convey the idea of a confused and distorted mind but fails to offer anything close.
In another room, the striking John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth is given an added dramatic element by allowing the viewer to listen through headphones to the score that Sir Arthur Sullivan composed to accompany that performance.
Drama and Desire: Artists and the Theatre is organised by la Direction des Musées de Marseille, Museo di arte moderna e contemporeanea di Trento e Revereto (MART), and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The works were selected from the collections of some of the world's major museums, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée d'Orsay, the British Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Wed, 18 Aug 2010