Major El Greco show in London

LONDON – Opening with a small icon and ending with a towering altarpiece, a major exhibition on the works of seminal painter El Greco opens in London today, featuring several pieces never shown together. Domenikos Theotocopoulos, who signed himself simply El Greco (the Greek), may have painted in the 16th and early 17th centuries but his works inspired modern masters like Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. «In his paintings, we see form and light and color liberated as they had never been before,» David Davies, co-curator of the exhibition at London’s National Gallery, said. «We see him moving from the Byzantine school of natural representation to an abstract representation of the imagination as his style and technique develops through his life,» he told reporters. The exhibition traces El Greco’s artistic development from the 1560s icon of tempura and gold on wood, «The Dormition of the Virgin,» to the oil on canvas «Virgin of the Immaculate Conception» completed a year before his death in 1614. The paintings are drawn from collections across Europe and the United States, and some have never traveled from Spain – El Greco’s adopted home. His subjects are mainly religiously inspired, but his style develops from rigidly formal to mystical abstraction. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in four versions of «The Purification of the Temple,» painted over a 40-year period. «We see him moving from a picture where he acknowledges his sources, such as Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Raphael, to a metaphor of the purification of the mind and soul,» Davies said, noting that the four had never before been hung together. Consigned to art history oblivion soon after his death, El Greco was rediscovered in the 19th century. His use of light and color was way ahead of its time, as were his hallucinatory images of death and salvation. El Greco’s last great commission, «The Opening of the Fifth Seal,» shows martyred souls yearning heavenward awaiting vindication and was the direct inspiration for Picasso’s «Demoiselles d’Avignon.» Two-thirds of the 62 pictures and sketches in the show that runs to May 23 are of a religious nature, while the others are lesser-known portraits, from a scowling, scarlet-robed Grand Inquisitor to his own smiling son.