Review Round Up: Making Modernism, Royal Academy of Arts

The London gallery has opened its new exhibition – but what have critics had to say about it?

Gabriele Münter, Portrait of Anna Roslund, 1917. Leicester Museums & Galleries. © DACS 2022

The Guardian: *** “This exhibition misunderstands how women artists have been excluded from the canon. The art patriarchy never said women can’t be artists, but that they can’t be great artists. This show accidentally perpetuates that by treating Kollwitz, a true great, as just one of a crowd.”

The Observer: **** “Kollwitz (1867-1945) is the most famous of the four artists brought together in Making Modernism at the Royal Academy. Yet even she – for all her graphic genius, working entirely in drawing and democratic print, cheaper to buy, easier to transport than any painting – is somewhat stinted in the world’s museums.”

Time Out: **** “The story here is one of artistic potential being slowly snuffed out by society. No one here got to fulfil their true visions: all were held back. That’s why in its own quiet, reserved way, everything here truly is radical.”

Evening Standard: **** “These tender depictions of motherhood and childhood are adjacent to a wall of moving drawings and prints by Kollwitz, showing entwined lovers and mothers cradling dead children (informed by Kollwitz’s own maternal grief). It’s a pitch-perfect room, bar the inclusion of a single painting by Ottilie Reylaender – perfectly accomplished but jarring alongside Kollwitz and Modersohn-Becker’s singular brilliance. Indeed, the occasional comparisons with Reylaender, Jacoba van Heemskerck and Erma Bossi feel unnecessary, and perhaps should have been confined to the show’s catalogue.”

The Arts Desk: *** “With half a gallery devoted to Kollwitz, it’s just possible to grasp the breadth and depth of her achievements. But the show is arranged according to themes such as Ourselves and Others and The Century of the Child, the work of the other artists being split between them, which makes it hard to engage with them individually.”

The Times: **** “The story of modernist art is crowded with women — or rather, it’s crowded with images of women depicted by men. Think of Manet’s brusquely naked Olympia, Picasso’s distorted demoiselles and Kirchner’s gaudy prostitutes. What happens when we switch the focus to female practitioners? That’s the question posed by this striking new show at the Royal Academy.”

The Telegraph: **** “With almost 70 paintings and works on paper, this excellent essay in rediscovery is, essentially, a survey of Expressionism from a female perspective. Halfway through, for instance, in a red-walled section titled Intimacy, we find a painting of a breastfeeding baby. Yet, children, for these ambitious women, were burdens as much as bundles of joy.”

The Upcoming: **** “Most visceral and accomplished is the work of Kӓthe Kollwitz. The etching Woman with Dead Child (1903) is unbearable. The realism with which the bodies are rendered makes the scene of the woman cradling a dead child all the more powerful. The grief is violent, animalistic. It is an image not soon forgotten.”

Making Modernism is on display at the Royal Academy of Arts until the 12th February 2023.

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