Exhibition of the week
Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age
The humble fascinations of 17th-century Dutch art will have you lingering over kitchen scenes and domestic scandals in this excellent, and free, survey of an artist who puts women centre stage.
• National Gallery, London, from 22 February to 31 May.
The restrained but passionate gaze of one of Britain’s greatest artists falls on his closest friends.
• National Portrait Gallery, London, from 27 February to 28 June.
The early years of one of the supreme artists is laid bare in precocious paintings, drawings and prints.
• Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from 27 February to 7 June.
Artists Amy Ellison, Frances Heap, Joe Beedles, James Desser, Andrew Johnstone and John Powell-Jones encounter the Whitworth’s large collection of outsider art.
• The Whitworth, Manchester, until 14 June.
Image of the week
Photography showing maleness at its most touching, tragic and extreme includes Thomas Dworzak’s cache of found studio photographs of young Taliban fighters, some holding hands amid ornate arrangements of flowers, their eyes rimmed with black kohl. Were it not for the occasional artfully placed AK-47, one would assume that these posed portraits were evidence of an ultra-clandestine gay culture in Afghanistan. Read the full review.
What we learned
Masterpiece of the week
A Woman Drinking with Two Men by Pieter de Hooch
A young woman holds up her glass to the light, its honeyed liquid catching the pale sun that streams in through big windows. It might be an image of fragile perfection, the order that is about to be spoiled by her sinful dalliance with the men she’s hanging out with – if, that is, you see 17th-century Dutch art as a judging catalogue of everyday sins. But there’s so much more going on here than a mere moral allegory. The way De Hooch paints light, from the illuminated glass to shadows creeping towards the map on the wall, is both optically precise and intensely poetic. His creation of the box-like stage set of the room is just as captivating. And far from being easily reduced to a cliche, the little drama he depicts is full of silences and possibilities, a glass brimful of life’s ambiguities.
• National Gallery, London.
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