The new year’s most enticing exhibitions span millennia of artistic achievement, says Richard Dorment.
Nobody uses the word “unmissable” in real life. When it’s used by critics it usually means “good”. But every so often no other word will do for calling attention to exhibitions that will only be around for a few months and may never happen again. This year, a few exhibitions that fall into that rare category are coming to London.
The Royal Academy’s Manet: Portraying Life is the first show to look at Edouard Manet’s portraits as distinct from his scenes of modern life. Manet is the perfect artist to usher in the new year, a blast of fresh air who clears away the cobwebs and makes you sit up and pay attention (Jan 26 - Apr 14) .
And in the early spring the National Gallery stages one of those shows you’d think could not be done: a display of 16 major altarpieces by one of the most lovable masters of the Italian Renaissance, Federico Barocci. The scale and importance of loans that will be coming from the Marche region of Italy is so staggering that for a moment I wondered whether there hadn’t been some natural disaster that necessitated removal to London of pictures like his sublime The Last Supper from the cathedral at Urbino. (February 27 - May 19).
Then there is the mad and inspired project to temporarily repatriate the series of Old Master paintings sold from the collection of Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister, to Catherine the Great in 1779. Now among the glories of the Hermitage, they will hang for the summer in their original setting – that most beautiful of all Palladian houses, Houghton Hall in Norfolk. (May - September).
More important than any temporary exhibition in 2013 are the opening of new or renovated exhibition spaces. After the scandal of its 10-year closure, on April 13 the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam will once again open its doors to the public. Here in London the elegant former munitions store that’s being renovated by Zaha Hadid in Kensington Gardens will open this summer as the Serpentine-Sackler Gallery.