Art from the Heart, National Gallery, review

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Art from the Heart, National Gallery, review

Even in our increasingly secular age (as evidenced by the latest census), Christmas remains for many a period of reflection and tradition, an opportunity to reconnect with ancient ways of doing things. Apparently not for the National Gallery, where advent has – rather brilliantly – become the season of innovation.

Two years ago, for example, it unveiled several midnight-blue dust pods, each as tapered as a wizard’s hat, in which visitors could watch a 13-minute long “experience” about Jan Gossaert’s altar piece The Adoration of the Kings on glossy screens. . Imagine if Carols from King’s tried something this funny.

Now comes its latest effort to engage a demographic of digital natives, Fruits of the Spirit: Art from the Heart, for which it has partnered with various institutions across Britain, from Plymouth to Dundee. For this virtual exhibition, which can be accessed for free on the gallery’s website, nine famous works from the National collection, including Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, have been chosen to represent “positive qualities” (love). illustrate. , kindness, self-control, and so on) from Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Each is then paired with a picture from somewhere else (Monet’s Water Lilies, for example, is juxtaposed with an altar piece from Canterbury Cathedral), and “hung” inside an octagonal, computer-generated capriccio, with wooden floors, sage- green walls, and an enormous oculus that offers an uplifting view to blue skies above.

The functionality is impressive and user-friendly. Viewers can turn 360 degrees and look at all the paintings arranged in small, chapel-like bays beyond semicircular arches. Benches even appear here and there – superfluous of course, but strengthen the illusion – although one lesson from this experiment is that curatorial principles must still be respected. In its software-evoked corner, Monet’s expansive canvas looks cramped.

Less successful (as the exhibition’s naff subtitle might suggest) is the analysis of the works on display. Intended to “explore topics essential to well-being”, this has a swirling, meandering quality that reminded me of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

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