The World in Black and White at the National Gallery

Can painting exist without colour? The answer is a yes resounding over seven centuries, judging by this latest exhibition at the National Gallery. Colour - explain curators Lelia Packer and Jennifer Sliwka - is a choice, not a necessity. The exhibition demonstrates this with a gathering of classical masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt Van Rijn and Jean-Dominique Ingres and modern interpreters such as Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close and Bridget Riley. But the history of Grisaille, or painting in black and white, began much earlier, probably with the stained glass of the XII Century, from which French monks extracted the colour to aid the faithful in concentrating on their spiritual endeavours. The exhibition offers more than 50 painted objects, including important international loans, which trace the history of an art made up of light and dark, of contrasts, finding its reasons for being aesthetically, morally and emotionally through the ages. If in the XV Century, white and black characterised preparatory studies like those by Domenico Ghirlandaio, all it took was the favour of collectivists to become its own genre, as seen with the good fortune of Santa Barbara by Van Eyck. Then there’s the trend of marble sculpted in tromp-l’oeil, the inspiration of early photography and cinema, the revolutionary abstraction of Kazimir Malevič. All the way up to the large immersive installation by Olafur Eliasson, in which lamplight brings us into a monochrome world.
Francesca Grego - © 2017 for Bulgari Hotel London