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Guercino: A Passion for Drawing - The Collection of Sir Dennis Mahon

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Sir Denis Mahon's collection of works by Italian Baroque artist Guercino (15911666)

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Guercino: A Passion for Drawing | Ashmolean Museum, 11 Feb - 15 Apr 2012

This exhibition celebrates the adventurous and brilliant draughtsman Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), known as Guercino - or 'little squinter'.

Guercino came from a humble background, and was self-taught. Neglected for many years, large portions of Guercino's drawings were bought up by British collectors in the early 20th century for relatively modest amounts.

The core of this display comes from the collection of the redoubtable art historian, connoisseur and collector of Italian Baroque, Sir Denis Mahon. It is largely due to his timely acquisitions, his ceaseless championing of Guercino and his 1984 loan of his entire collection of Guercino's drawings to the Ashmolean, that Guercino's reputation has been reassessed. He is now recognised as one of the 17th century's greatest and most daring artists.

While admiring the quality of Guercino's draughtsmanship, his subject matter - frequently, preparatory drawings for religious commissions - is not for the squeamish. More varied and exquisitely realised variations on the theme of human cruelty can rarely have been gathered together - a strong, dramatic, tactile and adventurous collection. Guercino's tender, naturalistic works are, by contrast, a blessed relief. A red chalk portrait of two peasant women, or a study of a nude youth with arms raised are outstanding examples of luminous human empathy.

Alison Boulton (DI Reviewer), 13/02/12


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