The National Gallery opens to the public with a rare sighting of richness and quality
Like the rest of us I’ve spent the last year or so missing the arts and the ability to experience them in the flesh. I spend hours on end lamenting my previous speedy appreciation of gallery visits, cinema screenings and just missing being in close proximity to actual real art. But we are in a new phase of the world as we know it. Things are opening up and in London from 17th May the restaurants, bars etc are all accepting visitors indoors and galleries too. What joy!
I trundled off to The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to catch something of a rarity, a painting that has never left its home country of Poland before. Jan Matejko’s Copernicus was a visual majestic opener for my art starved eyes. The perfect remedy for my depravation. The National has done a superb job of presenting this very special painting. It has been placed in its own womb-like room, dark and cosseting there are stars dotting the walls, pertinent light shines on the painting and few other curios of interest to support the theme.
Painted in 1873 to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of astronomer Copernicus, it has hung in the Senate Chamber of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków ever since. It proved very popular and was much photographed, reproduced and the image licensed around the world. Matejko is widely regarded as the national painter of Poland, an exponent of history painting he’s famed for such pieces as Rejtan and the Union of Lublin but it is this vast canvas at the National Gallery, Astronomer Copernicus or Conversations with God that is truly his magnum opus. Mounted in a superb, regilded frame this 3m wide image offers a feast for the viewer. Our protagonist is placed image centre looking up to his left, he’s dressed in a fur edged coat and is seated outside with a dusk sky behind him. The paraphernalia that surrounds him draws you in, books, charts etc. It’s the little details that I like in this scene, a snake of rope across the floor, the highly accurate astrological charts scattered around Copernicus as he sits in congress with God while hold a pair of compasses.
I urge you to go and see this painting if you can, the room is quiet, and calming, the picture provocative and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, ‘We are all in some sort of cultural gutter but for some of us, if we take the time to go to the National Gallery can be looking at the star gazer’.
22th May – 27th June 2021 Admission free.