Turning to see: Van Dyck's last self-portrait comes to Birmingham

Opens Saturday 28 May 2016

His work was the talk of society in the mid-17th century, when he bucked the trend for stiff formal portraits to paint in a more relaxed and informal style. From Saturday 28 May, the last and greatest self-portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, alongside works by Picasso, Rembrandt and Freud – Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud.

Purchased for the nation for £10 million by the National Portrait Gallery after a hugely successful public fundraising campaign, supported by the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is one of just six galleries in the country to be hosting Van Dyck’s stunning work as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s UK tour of this painting.  

The exhibition has been curated by internationally-renowned artist John Stezaker, who is adding his own unique ‘twist’ to the display, situating the Van Dyck alongside other works that complement the artist’s dramatic turned pose. The artworks featured are drawn from the collections of the National Portrait Gallery and Birmingham Museums Trust. The exhibition will include rare drawings, paintings and photographs by many other well-known artists, alongside a number of new works by John Stezaker being displayed for the first time – photographic collages composed of vintage movie stills, postcards and book illustrations that have been inspired by the theme of ‘turning’.

This is the first exhibition that Worcester-born Stezaker has curated. It promises to create ‘a spectacle of turning’ in the gallery, with all the portraits displayed in a single line around the square space, enabling the viewer to stand in the centre of the gallery and see them all as they turn through 360 degrees.

“This exhibition is an incredible opportunity for audiences to see this hugely important work by Van Dyck alongside rare and beautiful works from Birmingham’s collection. Working with artists like John Stezaker enables our collection to be shown in unique and inspiring ways, and this exhibition will I’m sure captivate audiences through the artworks featured and the spectacle of turning we hope to create in the gallery,” comments Lisa Beauchamp, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, who is working with John Stezaker on the exhibition.  

Reflecting on his experience of selecting artworks from Birmingham’s and the National Portrait Gallery collections, John Stezaker observes: “It has been a wonderful experience to be able to draw on such huge collections of works of art. Handling priceless masterpieces and having them even momentarily in my hands gave me such a feeling of excitement.”

Talking about the theme of the exhibition, John explains, “I have always been interested in the mysterious connection between turning and turning into in myths and legends. The act of turning to see is often prohibited and transgression results in death or metamorphosis.”

Indeed, the exhibition draws on classic stories about turning and transformation – Orpheus losing Eurydice to the underworld when he turns to look at her, and Perseus turning to his reflective shield to protect himself from the petrifying gaze of Medusa.

“We are privileged to be able to display Van Dyck’s great self-portrait in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and it has been a fascinating experience to collaborate with John Stezaker in looking again at some of our own works,” comments the Director of Birmingham Museums Trust, Dr Ellen McAdam. “We hope this thoughtful and imaginative show will attract new audiences and introduce them to the other wonders of our collection.”

The exhibition is free and organised in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, with support from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It runs from Saturday 28 May until Sunday 4 September, and is open during normal Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery opening hours (Monday to Thursday, 10am to 5pm, Friday 10.30am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm). For more details, please visit www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag

Photograph credits and captions:

Self-Portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck, c. 1640 © National Portrait Gallery, London. www.npg.org.uk/vandyck . Van-Dyck’s Self-portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery following a major public appeal with the Art Fund and thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.

Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) CXI, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Mask (Film Portrait Collage) CLXXXV, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Mask (Film Portrait Collage) CLXXXVII, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Self-Portrait by Lucian Freud,  1963 © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Ends

MEDIA PREVIEW INVITATION

The media preview of Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud will be on Thursday 26 May at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. John Stezaker (exhibition curator) and Lisa Beauchamp (Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museums Trust) will be available for press interviews between 2pm-5pm on Thursday 26 May.

Notes to editors

About Sir Anthony van Dyck

Van Dyck was a Flemish artist who became the leading court painter in England, most famous in this country for his portraits of Charles I and his family. His portraits were known for a relaxed elegance which did not diminish the authority of his subjects. His self-portrait from around 1640 – the last he painted, as he died in 1641 aged just 42 years old - was purchased in 2014 by the National Portrait Gallery for £10 million, with the support of the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.

About the Tour

Van Dyck’s magnificent self-portrait has embarked on a major, three year tour, celebrating its acquisition for the nation in 2014. The tour gives visitors in Margate, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh and London the chance to see the portrait, and appreciate this important work in the context of British history and art.

Turner Contemporary, Margate:  24 January – 10 May 2015

Manchester Art Gallery:  21 May – 31 August 2015

National Portrait Gallery, London:  4 September 2015 – 4 January 2016 

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London:  12 January – 24 April 2016

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: 28 May – 4 September 2016

National Portrait Gallery, London:  16 September 2016 – 8 January 2017

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle:  28 January – 4 June 2017

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh:  24 June – 1 October 2017

National Portrait Gallery, London:  October 2017 – January 2018

Information about the Van Dyck Self-portrait including specially commissioned films detailing a period of conservation of the painting can be found on the National Portrait Gallery’s website www.npg.org.uk/vandyck     

A new booklet on the Van Dyck Self-portrait to coincide with the tour is available from the National Portrait Gallery Shops and online (npg.org.uk/shop) and the tour venues for £5 (paperback). There is also a full range of products supporting the tour available.

Van Dyck Self-portrait 1640-1

Purchased with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund in honour of David Verey CBE (Chairman of the Art Fund 2004–2014), the Portrait Fund, The Monument Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Aldama Foundation, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, Sir Harry Djanogly CBE, Mr and Mrs Michael Farmer, Matthew Freud, Catherine Green, Dr Bendor Grosvenor, Alexander Kahane, the Catherine Lewis Foundation, the Material World Foundation, The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust, Cynthia Lovelace Sears, two major supporters who wish to remain anonymous, and many contributions from the public following a joint appeal by the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Fund.

About John Stezaker

Born in 1949 in Worcester, John Stezaker is an internationally renowned artist best known for his striking photographic collages using vintage movie stills, postcards and book illustrations. His work is in international collections and his solo exhibitions include a major retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 2011. John Stezaker is represented by The Approach, London.

Birmingham Museums Trust

Birmingham Museums Trust is an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city. Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Attracting over one million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Aston Hall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle. www.birminghammuseums.org.uk

National Portrait Gallery

Founded in 1856, the aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’. The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. With over 1000 portraits on display across three floors, from Elizabeth I to David Beckham, the Gallery has something for everyone. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and the Collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. As well as the permanent displays, the Gallery has a diverse and ever-changing programme of exhibitions and events that promote an understanding and appreciation of portraiture in all forms. www.npg.org.uk

The Art Fund

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art.  In the past five years alone the Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including ARTIST ROOMS and the 2013-18 Aspire tour of Tate’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.

The Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 122,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 230 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. In addition to grant-giving, the Art Fund’s support for museums includes the annual Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year (won by The Whitworth, Manchester, in 2015), a publications programme and a range of digital platforms.

Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at www.artfund.org

For further information please contact Madeline Adeane, Press Relations Manager, madeane@artfund.org / 0207 225 4804.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players' money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about. www.hlf.org.uk  @heritagelottery. For further information please contact Katie Owen, HLF press office, on tel: (020) 7591 6036 out of hours mobile: 07973 613820.

For further media information or photographs, please contact:

Jay Commins

Pyper York Limited

Tel:         01904 500698

Email:    jay@pyperyork.co.uk

About Us

Birmingham Museums has extraordinary venues that provide a fascinating glimpse into Birmingham's rich and vibrant past and showcase world class museum collections. Sites include:Birmingham Museum & Art GalleryThinktank, Birmingham's Science MuseumAston HallBlakesley HallMuseum of the Jewellery QuarterSarehole MillSoho HouseWeoley CastleMuseums Collections Centre

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