Amidst recent debate over whether the “blockbuster” art show is dead, alive, dying, waning or mutating, it takes a blockbuster to appreciate the value of a blockbuster. This is especially so in Australia, whose several fine museums all started collecting way too late to acumulate many of the great masters. As Edmund Capon said in a recent interview, the quirky array of names along the sandstone frieze of the Art Gallery of New South Wales — Raphael, Michael Angelo (sic), Bellini, Titian — are aspirational, a list of all the artists whose works “we don’t have.” He didn’t add that we never will have them, but there is a poignance to that list of names in bronze, a reminder of one “tyranny of distance” which was untraversable at the time of the gallery’s construction and remains so. Whether or not one of Australia’s mining billionaires ever finds the taste and generosity to buy one of our public galleries some minor Titian, Capon, retiring after thirty very successful years as director of the Gallery, can now justifiably brag that he leaves it “full of Picassos.”
Lucy MacGillis grew up not far from Melville’s famous prospect of Mt. Greylock, surrounded by the rolling expanses, hills, and wooded slopes of the Berkshires. Since 2000 she has lived and worked in a small Umbrian town, Monte Castello di Vibio, not far from Todi, painting landscapes and familiar objects around her studio and the simple house where she lives. The distant views and the rooms of the house alike are filled with the clear, warm light of Umbria. As she explained to me, showing me photographs as illustrations, her point of departure is this all-encompassing light and its subtle changes through the course of the day and the seasons. Wherever she goes from there, she is guided by her eye. This visual experience, she says, slows down her painting, reflecting the slow, tranquil life in the town.
This exhibition in the heart of Rome’s centro storico highlights Italy’s part in the exploding cosmopolitanism of 19th-century France. In addition to masterworks by Boldini, De Nittis, and Zandomeneghi (1841 –1917), it features Vittorio Corcos, Antonio Mancini, Telemaco Signorini, Serafino De Tivoli, and several others. Many of the pieces belong to private collections rarely available for public viewing. The cafés, boulevards, theatres, and salons they depict give us some premonition of a self-congratulatory civic pride which would culminate in the 1889 Paris Exhibition.