Opening on February 10, the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza
and Fundación Caja Madrid
are presenting Shadows, the first major exhibition on the depiction of projected shadow in western art. It brings together around 140 works by more than 100 artists, including paintings, photographs and film projections. The exhibition aims to focus on and analyse the wide-ranging implications, issues and solutions relating to the depiction of shadow in art from the Renaissance to the present day.
A classical tale recounted by Pliny the Elder (died 79AD) locates the origins of painting in Corinth when a young woman, daughter of the potter Butades of Sicyon, drew the outline of her beloved on a wall, helped by the light of a candle. The shadow as an element in artistic creation has been closely associated with the history of western art, employed with a basically naturalistic intent in order to emphasise the realism of the motif depicted, although each period has endowed it with different characteristics. This exhibition, which is the first monographic on this subject, aims to draw attention to the existence of cross-currents and to single out at times hidden threads that unite different periods and artists despite their separation in time.
As on previous occasions, the exhibition is organised over two venues: the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid. The galleries in the Museum will present works from the 15th to the late 19th centuries, offering a complete overview through the work of some of the most important artists to have depicted and used the element of shadow in their compositions. The first, introductory room looks at the myth of the shadow in the origins of painting before moving on to present various important examples of its study and use in the creation of perspective by Renaissance artists as well as its symbolic connotations at that period.
The next rooms look at works by the tenebrist, Baroque painters with their spectacular use of light and shadow and its incorporation as a crucial narrative element in the Romantic and post-Romantic era, before concluding with the depiction of light and shadow in Impressionism and Symbolism. Among the artists represented are Jan van Eyck, Lorenzo Lotto, Rembrandt, Georges de La Tour, Francisco de Goya, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Edouard Vuillard, Félix Vallotton and Santiago Rusiñol.
The Fundación Caja Madrid exhibition space will focus on the 20th century, paying particular attention to the use of shadow by various artists who were associated with the so-called return to order of the 1920s and who revived the importance of this element in their work, including Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Hopper and Pablo Picasso. It also looks at the importance of shadow in the Surrealists playful use of projection, particularly in the work of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. The remaining sections of this second part offer an overview of the subject in the second half of the 20th century, with works by Susan Rothenberg, Claudio Parmiggiani, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, among others. Another section focuses on the multi-media and playful use of shadow, from the photography of Man Ray and André Kertész to present-day installations by Christian Boltanski. Shadow in film is also considered, including the work of Murnau and Peter Greenaway.
The Invention of Painting
The first, introductory room looks at the myth of Butades mentioned above through the work of artists such as Joseph Wright of Derby, David Allan and Joseph-Benoît Suvée. It also includes paintings by Matías de Arteaga and Karl Friedrich Schinkel based on Quintillian (died 96AD) who traced the origins of painting to the practice of drawing round shadows from the sun on a wall. The room concludes with a painting by the contemporary artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid that re-examines the myth of Butades in order to make an ironic comment on the classical bases of Socialist Realism.
While the first shadows to be seen in art date from the 4th century BC and are associated with theatrical sets and the shadowing of objects in relief, the projected shadow made its first real appearance in the Renaissance. The 15th century saw an empirical interest in shadow while in the following century its use became closely associated with perspective. A shadow, which is the result of the interposition of a solid, opaque body between a light source and a projected surface, was the subject of early investigation by artists such as Gentile da Fabriano, Giovanni di Paolo, Pier Maria Pennacchi, Lorenzo Lotto and the Master of the Legend of the Magdalen all represented in the exhibition. In addition, in the Renaissance the shadow acquired an important symbolic connotation associated with the subject of the Annunciation: in the works by Jan van Eyck, Lorenzo di Credi and Ludovico Carracci on display in this room, the opaque reflection of the archangel or the Virgin refers to the shadow of the Almighty, whose power brought about the miracle of the Incarnation.
In the Renaissance a greater knowledge of the depiction of shadows (which would come to be part of academic art training) was accompanied by a certain restraint in its use as it was not considered desirable to muddy or blur the composition to the detriment of its visual clarity. The tenebrist painters of the Baroque period were, however, capable of exploiting the spectacular potential of the shadow in a previously unparalleled manner. This room presents a selection of religious compositions by Jean Leclerc, Matthias Stomer, Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrick ter Brugghen, Georges de La Tour, Mattia Preti and the so-called Master of the Candlelight, all works in which shadow emphasises the sacred presence and its manifestation in everyday life. In the paintings by Rembrandt, Pieter de Hooch and Gerrit Dou also shown in this section, light and shadow construct the compositional space and create the sense of a concrete moment in time.
Romanticism and post-Romanticism
In the 18th century shadow acquired new importance in the work of Johann Caspar Lavater and his Physiognomical Fragments (1776), with which that he aimed to pave the way for the study of human personality through the projection of the profile of the face on a screen. The 18th century also saw the birth of new aesthetic concepts such as the Sublime, and shadow began to be appreciated for its narrative qualities, which were generally negative ones. We gradually witness the appearance of a true aesthetic of the sinister, some of whose finest examples are to be found in the work of Francisco de Goya, Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Joseph Wright of Derby, Adolf Menzel, Jean-François Millet, William Holman Hunt, Jean-Paul Laurens, Gioacchino Toma and Émile Friant, of which a comprehensive selection is shown in this room.
Symbolism and the fin-de-siècle
Symbolism, which involved a departure from a naturalistic depiction of reality, made subjectivity the primary axis of representation. The mysterious and the sombre inspired the creativity of artists and writers. Claude Monets interiors, in which various members of the same family are gathered around a lamp, still retain echoes of French, late Romanticism, although they place greater emphasis on the study of light and shadow as visual phenomena. Monets example was followed by the Nabis painters Edouard Vuillard and Félix Vallotton, in whose interiors the atmosphere becomes dense and the forms tend to flatten out. Used with a greater narrative intent, shadow also occupies a leading position in much of the output of painters such as Léon Spilliaert, Xavier Mellery and the young Frantisek Kupka.
The exhibition concludes at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza with a section on Impressionism. It reveals the important change of direction in the treatment of shadow, which for the first time discards its narrative function to become the subject of purely visual investigation. The shadows of trees occupy an important role in the early work of Monet, but it would be in the paintings of Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley that we most clearly see the replacement of the traditional use of black for that of coloured shadows with the consequent disappearance of any negative implications. Other artists represented in this room include Childe Hassam, Joaquín Sorolla, Santiago Rusiñol and Darío de Regoyos.
FUNDACIÓN CAJA MADRID
Modern Realist movements
At the beginning of the 20th century shadows were almost completely fragmented by Cubism and the following abstract movements, which remained faithful to Cubisms two-dimensionality. It was not until Giorgio de Chirico and the return to order of the 1920s that the shadow again acquired an important role in painting. With De Chirico, shadows indicate a fictitious lifelikeness and also imbue the scene with a nightmarish feel. This duality is characteristic of much of 20th-century realist painting, in which the sinister co-exists with the false appearance of a stable order. This idea is expressed in different ways in the work of Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Christian Schad, Felix Nussbaum, Dick Ket, Carel Willink, Pyke Koch, Alfonso Ponce de León, Gregorio Prieto and Pablo Picasso, all represented here by important examples of their work.
Of all modern art movements, it was Surrealism that paid most attention to the treatment of shadow, particularly with regard to that movements interest in representing dreams. Artists such as Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Esteban Francés gave the representation of dreams a sense of realism that seemed more intense than the reality before our own eyes through their use of a highly detailed, painstaking technique and the insistent use of shadows. Dalí also used shadows to recompose contradictory images as part of his paranoical-critical method. This room concludes with works by the ever intriguing Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell.
From Pop Art to the Present Day
The shadow has also played an important role in painting of the second half of the 20th century as a result of the triumph of Pop Art and the situation in the international art scene of the 1960s. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein used motifs and techniques associated with advertising, employing the shadow as another element from daily life and Warhol actually devoted an entire series to the subject. Following Pop Art and later movements, shadow has continued to attract the interest of artists such as Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter, Jürgen Klake, Susan Rothenberg, Claudio Parmiggiani and Tobia Ercolino.
Photography has been described as the art of light and shadow. The importance of shadow in 20th century photography has influenced other artists, as mentioned earlier in the case of painting. This room includes some of the classic treatments of shadow to be found in the work of Man Ray, Brassaï, André Kertész, Alexander Rodchenko, Constantin Brancusi, Jaroslav Rössler, Anton Stankowski, Eugen Wisovsky, Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Imre Kinszki, Ansel Adams, Ralph Steiner, Dorothea Lange and Dorothy Norman. It also includes images by the Spanish photographers Nicolás de Lekuona, Pere Català Pic, Francesc Català-Roca and Ramón Masats Tartera. This section concludes with a group of three, large-scale photographs by the contemporary British artist Sam Taylor-Wood.
The last room in the exhibition is devoted to shadows in film. It will show projections of films by Robert Wiene, Arthur Robinson, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Fritz Lang, Sergei Eisenstein and Alfred Hitchcock, among others.