Exhibition – Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020 – York Art Gallery (2019)

11 October 2019 – 26 January 2020

The exhibition Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020 is currently showing at York Art Gallery (11 October 2019 - 26 January 2020). It has been curated by Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein (University of York) with Dr Beatrice Bertram and Dr Jenny Alexander (both York Art Gallery), with support from CDP PhD student Jordan Cook; Friends of York Art Gallery MA Scholar Lucy Booth; and undergraduate students on the University of York Curating and Art History degree.

With the Dieric Bouts workshop painting Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child (late 15th century) at its centre, the exhibition features Dutch and Flemish art and explores how artists have created images from the northern Renaissance to the present day. It includes paintings by contemporary artist Christopher Cook alongside the Dutch still lifes from York Art Gallery's collection that directly inspired them.  

At the event opening the exhibition, on the evening of Thursday 10 October, Dr Nuechterlein, Reyahn King (Chief Executive, York Museums Trust) and Dr Susan Foister (Deputy Director and Director of Collections, National Gallery, London) gave speeches.  Read more and see photos from the opening.

The Exhibition

Read an introduction to the exhibition by Dr Nuechterlein:

The exhibition Making a Masterpiece: Bouts and Beyond, 1450-2020 takes its inspiration from a boldly designed 15th-century artwork, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, painted around 1470-80 by the workshop of Dieric Bouts. This fascinating religious image shows the patron saint of artists making a portrait drawing of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, with a half-completed panel painting in the background. By emphasising the act of making images, the St Luke painting serves as a springboard to explore artistic processes of creation, both real and imagined.

To read more about some of the research themes underlying the exhibition, see the essays by Adele Carraro and Yindi Chen, two of the Curating and Art History students who helped work on the exhibition during the 2018-19 academic year.

The St Luke painting was acquired by the Bowes Museum in 2016 in partnership with Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and York Art Gallery, with each of the three partners agreeing to develop its own programming around the painting and share its experiences with the others. The collaboration has been generously supported by the National Gallery, London. Making a Masterpiece is York Art Gallery’s contribution to this larger project.

The exhibition responds to the St Luke painting in three sections. The first section explores the material and conceptual practices of art-making in the Netherlands around the time that St Luke was painted, featuring major loans of paintings, prints and drawings from the National Gallery, London, British Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and National Galleries of Scotland. This display highlights how artworks were designed to communicate ideas and affect viewers, and the role of drawing in designing and recording compositions. The making and meaning of St Luke itself is explored through a digital app, presented through a touchscreen at the exhibition and available afterwards online.

The second section explores the studio environment and processes of art-making through a selection of works made between the 18th and 21st centuries. York’s rich collection of painting materials from the 19th-century artist William Etty reveals how he accumulated visual ideas through studies after life, then transformed these ideas into finished paintings, often of historical or mythological subjects. In the adjoining space, paintings and photographs of studio scenes — including several loans from regional museums and galleries — show how artists have projected ideas about art-making back out to the world through their imaginative representations of the studio environment.

The third section, featuring works from York Art Gallery’s own collections, shows how artists in the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch and Flemish 17th-century art brought out the meanings of their works through arrangement of features such as lighting, colour, size and spatial design. While these images often look like naturalistic representations of real life, they are carefully constructed to convey ideas about national identity, culture and morality.

One of these ‘Golden Age’ genres, still life, celebrated the accumulation of material goods while also highlighting the transience of human existence. These themes are reinterpreted for the modern age in the works of award-winning artist Christopher Cook, whose striking black-and-white graphite paintings insert unsettling contemporary references into traditional still-life ensembles. Over the course of the exhibition, he will create five new works responding to York Art Gallery’s collections.

York Art gallery - Making a Masterpiece exhibition - 2019-20

Gallery views at the opening of the exhibition (photo: M Coughlan/YAHCs)

Dieric Bouts, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child ©The Bowes Museum

Workshop of Dieric Bouts, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, late 15th century, Oil on canvas; ©The Bowes Museum.


Read about PhD student Jordan Cook's involvement in creating a digital interactive for the exhibition.

Interactive at Making a Masterpiece exhibition,York Art Gallery 2019-20

The digital interactive, facing St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child (photo: M Coughlan/YAHCs)

Read articles by third-year students on the University of York BA (Hons) course in Curating and Art History:

Adele Carraro, 'Unnatural Nature: Utopian Bouquets and Socio-economic Factors in 17th-century Holland'

Yindi Chen, 'The Response of Female Artists to Gendered Stereotypes'

Main image: York Art Gallery exhibition banner, featuring 'St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child' from the Workshop of Derek Bouts (c. 1470-90), The Bowes Museum

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