For decades, David Hockney has argued that Old Masters “from Velázquez to Vermeer” used optical aids to help them produce their works, Alastair Sooke said in The Daily Telegraph. Critics have disputed his thesis, saying it detracts “from the notion of artistic genius,” but Hockney (b. 1937) has remained true to his opinion; In fact, in 2001 he published a “pertinent and compelling” book on what he calls “the lost techniques of the old masters.”
This exhibition, mainly at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge but with a few other pieces at the Heong Gallery at Downing College nearby, is the painter’s attempt to illustrate his point. It juxtaposes several dozen of his works with works by artists such as Monet, Poussin and Fra Angelico to show how artists have used technology in the production of their art.
Just as he has experimented with Polaroids and iPads, he argues that his “vaunted predecessors” used devices like camera obscura and 3-D wax models. Whatever you think of the theory, the result is a ‘blooming good show’ in which works from Hockney’s long career are juxtaposed with treasures from Fitzwilliam’s permanent collection to wonderful effect.
There is certainly much for the visitor to enjoy here, said Laura Cumming The Observer. There is a Hockney “acrylic of a beach umbrella casting shadows on the sand” that cleverly “isolates the tenets of Impressionism,” and a series of his 1960s-1970s California sketches “of dazzling lightness.” Elsewhere, alongside a winter scene by Camille Pissarro, is a ‘hypnotic’ multi-screen film showing the woodlands of the artist’s home in Yorkshire, highlighting the different ways in which the two artists evoke the colors of snow.
The exhibition is packed with technical details aimed at illuminating Hockney’s theories on Old Master techniques. How did Ingres achieve the “amazing accuracy” he was known for in his pencil portraits? By using a camera lucida, Hockney anticipates.
One of these devices, using mirrors to project images onto paper, can be seen in the Fitzwilliam, and also portraits of Ingres versus others of Hockney, made with a camera lucida. The art of drawing is amazing; Still, skepticism remains: there is no record of Ingres having such a device. We learn a lot about Hockney’s methods here.
However, whether the show sheds any light on past methods is debatable. But in the end it doesn’t matter, Jonathan Jones said in The guard. If you don’t agree with the theory, just join in to enjoy a “sparkling,” uplifting show. Hockney’s palette is gorgeous: his deconstructed response to a Hobbema landscape is a riot of “fiery farmhouses” and “emerald fields”; his Virgin Mary, hung next to that of Domenico Veneziano The announcement, is a “psychedelic rave of color”. In fact, some of Hockney’s work is so vivid that it ‘makes the old masters look boring’, although that’s not the intention – but against one of his landscapes, Constable’s painting of Hampstead Heath ‘looks like a wet handkerchief’.
Best of all is Hockney’s 1970 Le Parc des Sources, Vichy, a work of high “romantic grandeur”, depicting two figures seated on a bench and gazing into the distance of a manicured park. Its “intense, seductive colors envelop and immerse you”. It is a culmination of a superlative exhibition that will leave you “in awe of Hockney”.
Fitzwilliam Museum and Downing College, Cambridge (fitmuseum.cam.ac.uk). Until August 29 (free)
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/culture/art/956434/hockneys-eye-the-works-are-so-vibrant-they-make-the-old-masters-look Review: Hockney’s Eye | The week Great Britain