REVIEW: Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, National Gallery

The National Gallery’s latest exhibition explores what happens when artists dismiss the colour spectrum – and the results they achieve. 

A Girl at the Window, Louis-Leopold Boilly, after 1799. (c) The National Gallery, London.

What would life be like without any colour? This is a question that wonders through the mind as you wonder around this new exhibition at the National Gallery that celebrates black, white and shades in between.

Well for one thing in the world of painting, it seems to sharpen the focus on the subject and heightening the sense of drama that comes through the painting – adding a new sense of perspective as seen in pieces such as Fedrico Barocci’s Aeneas and Anchises Escape from Troy. But it also seems to add extra depth and detail, forcing the viewer to notice things they perhaps wouldn’t had they seen it in full colour.

This fascinating exhibition also uncovers all the ways in which artists by using monochrome before creating a painting, a fresco or even a tapestry  could develop their work further to add more precision to their piece. Jan Van Eyck’s wonderfully delicate but detailed Saint Barbara allows the viewer to see beyond the main subject to see the finer details, thanks to its precision and sharp focus.

But the display also examines how monochrome also allowed artists to work in a different way that they were used to. For example, in creating his Las Meninas (Infanta Margarita Maria) in monochrome, it allowed Pablo Picasso to focus more closely on contours, spatial relationship and form to deepen the way in which he worked further.

The unexpected highlight of the exhibition comes in the form of Olafur Eliasson’s 1997 piece  Room for One Colour in which everything and everyone in the room becomes monochrome and is a surprisingly fitting way to end the exhibition that celebrates what monochrome can achieve.

Yes for the most part the exhibition can come across as slightly bleak, but it is also in its own way extremely enlightening and leaves you seeing monochrome in a completely different way.

Monochrome: Painting in Black & White is on display at the National Gallery from the 30th October until the 18th February 2018. For more information visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤❤

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