The Kimbell Art Museum’s new visiting exhibit, “Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland,” may strongly remind viewers of a stroll through the Kimbell’s own European collection.
It’s one of those shows that breathlessly presents the sweep of art history, or at least a good chunk of it. Fifty-five paintings span more than 400 years, from 1485 to 1932. There are portraits, still lifes and landscapes, with content ranging from biblical scenes to a severe Mondrian abstraction. Included are examples of Italian, Dutch, French, English and, yes, Scottish schools of painting.
The show gathers highlights from three museums, the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which are all near one another in Edinburgh, the nation’s capital. This tour marks the first time these friendly rivals have shown their signature masterpieces together.
The Scottish National Gallery’s collection alone is 100,000 pieces. So this is a highly selective exhibit, which is one reason it seems in harmony with the Kimbell’s tightly edited collection, and looks right at home on its walls. Kimbell Director Eric M. Lee says he counted 29 artists in common with his museum. They include Titian, El Greco, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Velazquez and, on the more modern end, names like Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso and Braque.
Yet a distinct pleasure of the show is seeing less familiar artists and schools. The Kimbell doesn’t have a Botticelli, and this exhibit includes The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (c. 1485), which has never been seen in the U.S.
Any chance to stand in front of a Vermeer is a rare gift – only 35 are extant, and all are housed in Europe, New York or Washington, D.C. This show has the largest Vermeer in existence, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (c. 1654-5), which is also the artist’s only painting on a biblical theme.
It is startling for anyone who knows only his tiny canvases with modest domestic scenes inside those rooms in Delft. As Kimbell curator C.D. Dickerson notes, “If I put my hand over the wall text, you’d have a hard time identifying the artist.” He goes on to point out the features that clearly define it as a Vermeer, such as the rendering of the fabrics, the light.
The show’s biggest celebrity might be John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892), a ravishing portrait of a Scottish aristocrat’s wife and one that’s been endlessly reproduced. “One of Sargent’s greatest portraits,” is the opinion of Kimbell Deputy Director George Shackelford, “one of the most appealing British Sargents in any collection in the world.” It was a big hit from the start, he said, and changed the fortunes of both Sargent and Lady Agnew.
Kimbell officials seem to be most taken with John Constable’s The Vale of Dedham (1827-28), a highly influential English landscape painting whose astonishing details reward an up-close examination. Shackelford says he and Lee joke about leaving it out when they send the crated paintings back across the Atlantic. They agree it’s the piece in the show that would most enhance the Kimbell’s collection.
The show’s central gallery, with walls clad in what Shackelford called “flaming Edinburgh red,” highlights Scottish artists. A charming painting by Sir Henry Raeburn could serve as the logo for the show. The well-known Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (1795), showing a lone gentleman gliding gracefully on ice, “is the painting that best represents the celebratory spirit of this exhibition,” Shackelford said in a press release. Its “image of freedom and confidence has come to symbolize the Scottish Enlightenment.”
In conjunction with the show, the Kimbell will throw a lavish all-day family event titled “Kimbell Fest: Scotland,” from 2 to 10 p.m. July 18.
This is where you’ll see kilts, bagpipers and highland dancers, and taste some (Texas-made) whiskeys. There will be music by The Wild Feathers, Whisky Folk Ramblers and Calhoun, plus food trucks, a photo dress-up booth and a re-enactment of a Viking invasion.
Kimbell spokeswoman Jessica Brandrup says 8,000 people attended last year’s summer festival, which had a Japanese theme, and that success means Kimbell Fest will now be an annual event. She says it’s fulfilling Renzo Piano’s wish that the space between the original Kahn structure and his new building might constitute a third venue.
Kimbell Art Museum
3333 Camp Bowie Blvd
Fort Worth 76107
“Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland”
Through Sept. 20 in the Renzo Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum
Tickets are $18, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6-11, and free for younger children and Kimbell members.
Admission is half-price on Tuesdays and 5-8 p.m. Fridays.
Kimbell Fest: Scotland
Saturday, July 18
2 to 10 p.m.