In its latest exhibition, London's National Gallery is inviting visitors to a world of shadow and light. With more than fifty painted objects created over 700 years, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White is a radical new look at what happens when artists cast aside the colour spectrum and focus on the visual power of black, white, and everything in between.
Paintings by Old Masters such as Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres appear alongside works by some of the most exciting contemporary artists working today including Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, and Bridget Riley. Olafur Eliasson‘s immersive light installation Room for one colour (1997) brings a suitably mind-altering coda to the exhibition.
With major loans from around the world, and works from the National Gallery’s Collection, Monochrome reveals fresh insights into the use of colour as a choice rather than a necessity.
As Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka, curators of Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, explain: “Painters reduce their colour palette for many reasons, but mainly as a way of focusing the viewer’s attention on a particular subject, concept or technique. It can be very freeing - without the complexities of working in colour, you can experiment with form, texture, mark making, and symbolic meaning.”
The exhibition guides visitors through seven rooms, each addressing a different aspect of painting in black, white and grey, also known as grisaille. Explore Sacred Subjects, Studies in Light & Shadow, Independent Paintings in Grisaille, Monochrome Painting and Sculpture, Monochrome Painting and Printmaking, Black-and-White Painting in the Age of Photography and Film and Abstraction.
National Gallery Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says: “Artists choose to use black and white for aesthetic, emotional and sometimes even for moral reasons. The historical continuity and diversity of monochrome from the Middle Ages to today demonstrate how crucial a theme it is in Western art.”
Monochrome: Painting in Black and White opens at the National Gallery on 30 October 2017. Visit nationalgallery.org.uk, for more details.
Main image: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Workshop Odalisque in Grisaille about 1824-34. Oil on canvas. 83.2 × 109.2 cm. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1938 (38.65) | MONOCHROME: PAINTING IN BLACK AND WHITE, by Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka is published by and copyright of National Gallery Company Limited, 2017.