Hamburger Kunsthalle takes a sweeping look at the 18th century

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Hamburger Kunsthalle takes a sweeping look at the 18th century
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732–1806), Die Gesellschaft im Freien, 1757–1759. Öl auf Leinwand, 67 x 114 cm © Musées de Chambéry. Photo: D. Gourbin.

HAMBURG.- In Goya, Fragonard, Tiepolo: The Freedom of Imagination, the Hamburger Kunsthalle takes a sweeping look at one of the most momentous chapters in European art history: the 18th century. This period of cultural blossoming and political unrest gave rise to such strikingly different masters as Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). The presentation gathers around 150 major paintings and prints from more than 30 major national and international museums, including Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, as well as our own holdings. Viewers have the rare chance to see brilliant works of art that are typically lent only seldom, if at all, such as The Tobacco Guards (1780) by Francisco de Goya, from the Prado. This ambitious exhibition brings together for the first time the art of Goya, Fragonard, and Tiepolo (as well as the latter’s son, Giovanni Domenico; 1727–1804), whose oeuvres are united by common themes that come to the fore in the context of our hang. These artists are heralded as pioneers of Modernism who broke new ground in the mid-18th century. In their work we can already observe radical changes and a liberation from inherited conventions of the academicians’ art.

The Hamburger Kunsthalle is home to the most significant collection of Spanish prints outside of Spain. Presented in combination with the paintings, the selection of etchings makes it possible to trace Goya’s powerful pictorial language over the course of his later career. The exhibition marks the glorious finale to our special programme for 2019 – the 150th anniversary year of the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo were key figures of 18th-century art, who redefined artistic freedom not only in their innovative oeuvres, but also with their open critique of traditional art institutions. Drastic ideological, political, and social change shaped the period 1740 to 1790, and also left its mark on the art and the lives and livelihoods of artists. Goya, Fragonard, and Tiepolo each responded to the new world around them with a novel pictorial language; common to them all: loose brushwork, unconventional figures, and bold palettes that form an, at times, radical form of artistic expression.

Through study trips abroad and reproductions circulated in publications, these three artists are known to have been familiar with one another’s work. Fragonard resided in Italy from 1756 to 1761. Goya, too, lived in Italy (1770–1771) and moved to France in 1824, where he died in 1828. Together with his son Giovanni Domenico, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo travelled in 1762 to Madrid, where until his death he was employed at the court of Charles III, King of Spain. Even if these artists never met personally, they nevertheless explored similar questions in their work, experimenting in equal measure with new artistic approaches: each strived for the »freedom of imagination«. Divided into seven chapters and with an array of stellar works, the exhibition reveals the atmospheric and ideal, the eerily grotesque, and the flagrant staginess of Goya’s, Fragonard’s, and Tiepolo’s œuvres, and shows viewers fascinating aspects of a visual world undergoing profound transformation.

Without the support of our committed partners and sponsors, realizing this exhibition would not have been possible. The Hamburger Kunsthalle thanks Freunde der Kunsthalle e. V., the Rudolf-August Oetker Stiftung, the Hubertus Wald Stiftung, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, and the Behörde für Kultur und Medien for supporting this ambitious project.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue (published in German by Hirmer), which includes numerous essays by renowned scholars and reflects the »freedom of imagination« with its modern design. The publication is available for purchase at the museum gift shop for €29.

For the first time, the Kunsthalle has created an audio guide that is available as a smartphone app. Designed to lead viewers through the exhibition, it can also be used in preparation for the show or as a way of revisiting your favourite sections on the way home afterwards (free download, or €4 for device rental in the exhibition galleries). Making around 30 stops, the guide sheds light on the historical, social, and political backgrounds of select artworks, as well as their histories of origin and provenances, and shares noteworthy technical discoveries made by art conservators. A five-minute, animated explanatory film from the exhibition is also available through the app. Casual and humorous, it provides visualized insight into the exhibition, introducing the artists in short portraits, and anchoring them in a broader historical context.

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