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9 January 2022

2022: the year in art

The year ahead offers old and new masters alongside a full awkward-squad of painters.

By Michael Prodger

Will 2022 finally be the year of Raphael? The painter died at just 37, the victim of an unspecified pulmonary illness – probably pneumonia exacerbated by bloodletting – and the National Gallery’s generational exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death also fell foul of a disease that goes for the lungs. It was originally scheduled for October 2020 but pandemic interventions mean that it is now slated to open on 9 April. The chronological neatness may have been lost but the quality and range of the exhibits should mean that temporal concerns are quickly forgotten.

It is perhaps possible to be too perfect, and Raphael is these days more revered than loved: Leonardo and Michelangelo have usurped his position at the apex of the High Renaissance Holy Trinity. This show, however, will go beyond his immaculate paintings and drawings to examine the full breadth of his output, encompassing architecture, poetry, archaeology and designs for sculpture, tapestry and prints. With a stellar roster of loans, the exhibition will restate Raphael’s case in the never-ending game of “who was the greatest Renaissance Man?”

In painting academies across Europe, Raphael was long held as the ideal and, although Paul Cézanne’s artistic training was rudimentary, he too believed painting should be solidly grounded, in his case a determination to “treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone”. The Tate Modern is presenting a substantial exhibition of his work (from 6 October) to show why, despite the many struggles of his career, Picasso called him “the father of us all”. (Picasso, inevitably, also features in 2022: “Picasso-Ingres: Face to Face” at the National Gallery, from 3 June, pits him against another draughtsman-sensualist, the romantic neoclassicist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.)

Among those artists influenced by Cézanne were a quartet of distinctive and sometimes prickly women artists. “Making Modernism: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Marianne Werefkin” at the Royal Academy (from 12 November) will give them a place in the sun. Those artists may have painted in contrasting styles – Kollwitz’s often distressing monochromes of poverty and grief have little in common with Münter’s colour-saturated landscapes and portraits – but their work is proof that modernism was not the exclusive creation of a bunch of men in Paris but a cluster of central European women too. 

The year ahead looks to be a strong one for women artists generally. February will offer a startling contrast between two artists known for their animals: “Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child” (Hayward Gallery, 9 February) and “Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature” (Victoria & Albert Museum, 12 February). The Bourgeois exhibition centres on “the magic power of the needle”, as she called it, and how it “is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness.” The fabric works she started to create in the last two decades of her life are very different to her huge spiders but, in their own way, just as unsettling. And while Potter was one of the great anthropomorphisers, she was also a highly skilled naturalist. The exhibition looks at this side of her career, and how her animal creations came from looking hard at nature.

Tate Britain offers a welcome return to “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League with the Night” (from 24 November), which was another pandemic victim, opening and closing in quick succession in 2020. Yiadom-Boakye’s compelling and enigmatic portraits of imaginary people show both her awareness of the Western portrait tradition but also her own English-Ghanaian heritage.

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Women as objects of fascination feature large too. “Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan” at the Royal Academy (from 26 February) examines the relationship between James McNeill Whistler and the Irish model who was 17 when they met and started a six-year relationship (she was later linked to Gustave Courbet). She not only, in the words of friends, “gave Whistler the constant companionship he could not do without”, but also inspired and sat for some of his most important mood paintings – invariably studies in white, the perfect foil for her red hair.

Reframed: The Woman at the Window” at Dulwich Picture Gallery (from 4 May) uses the work of 40 artists, from Rembrandt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti to David Hockney and Rachel Whiteread, to look at a traditional artistic motif and how the simple conjunction of a female figure and light through glass places the viewer as intruder, witness, lover or voyeur. 

Henry Fuseli, the brilliantly odd Anglo-Swiss artist greatly admired by William Blake, could be all those things, and a frock fancier too. “Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism” at the Courtauld Gallery (from 13 October) unpicks the artist’s obsessions through 50 of his striking and largely private drawings. Many feature his wife Sophia and elaborate costumes and even more elaborate hairstyles, while others show his inventiveness as an erotic artist. Whatever Fuseli’s reasons for drawing these works – psychosexual, observational, stylistic – it is nevertheless the women who have the real agency.

British art following the Second World War is another shared theme for 2022. “Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945-1965”, an ambitious and hopefully revelatory survey show at the Barbican (from 3 March), will look at the innumerable artists who found new meaning and subjects in the aftermath of the war.

A selection of the period’s biggest names will also receive individual in-depth treatment. The biggest of the lot, Francis Bacon, was fascinated by animals and the parallels between wildness and the human psyche: “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast” (Royal Academy, 29 January) will teem with animal – and Baconian – urges. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth trained together at the Leeds School of Art in the 1920s, and went on to become the two leading figures in British sculpture. The Henry Moore Studios & Gardens at Perry Green in Hertfordshire is staging “Henry Moore: The Sixties” (from 1 April) charting his reaction, as a 60-something, to that fabled decade. Meanwhile, Tate St Ives, the town in which Hepworth long lived and worked, will be looking at her in detail (from 26 November).

The National Gallery is also moving in on the territory by treating Lucian Freud as a modern old master and giving him a full bells-and-whistles retrospective. “Lucian Freud: New Perspectives” (from 1 October) will scrutinise his seven decades-long career and his shift from miniaturist to maximalist and how it affected his critical fortunes – indeed where, a decade after his death, his reputation stands now.

No such questions attach themselves to Van Gogh. The exhibition of some 15 of his self-portraits – about half the number he made across his career – at the Courtauld Gallery (from 3 February) is an opportunity to examine both the nature of his self-representation, from his early days in Paris to the post-ear-lopping asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and to look around the £60m revamp of the gallery that houses one of Britain’s great collections. In fact, the Courtauld is offering a trio of odd, curious and outlier painters by adding early 16th-century attenuation in “The Art of Experiment: Parmigianino” (from 5 March) and Scandinavian angst in “Edvard Munch: Masterpieces from Bergen” (from 27 May).

Art’s itchiness is also the theme at Tate Modern, where “Surrealism Beyond Borders” (from 24 February) hosts a huge range of international artists (male and female), alongside the traditional Parisian coterie, who turned bafflement at the human condition into compelling art. Should 2022 reflect the preceding couple of years, that is a pretty good place to start.

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