Shades Of Grey In A Subtle Double Bill Of Bruegel: Review

Bruegel in Black and White, The Courtauld Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 30 months ago
Shades Of Grey In A Subtle Double Bill Of Bruegel: Review Bruegel in Black and White, The Courtauld Gallery 4
As a woman is about to be stoned for adultery, Christ writes on the floor let he who is without sin cast the first stone. The would-be executioners can be seen backing away. Courtesy The Courtauld Gallery.

Dutch master Pieter Bruegel is best known for his paintings of scenes filled with characters. But these two exhibitions across different floors of The Courtauld Gallery explore the subtler side of his work and how his style was emulated — not always legitimately.

The top floor re-unites his only surviving grissailes — these are paintings all created using solely shades of grey. There are only three small works but each is so powerful. As Christ defends a woman accused of adultery, both he and the woman are bathed in light while all those who were lined up to take part in the stoning seem to be slinking away into darkness.

Another work features the Virgin on her death bed and she still radiates a light so bright, the nearby fire and candles pale in comparison. These three grissailes are hung alongside copies by other painters including Bruegel's son Jan, but they lack the strength of the originals.

On the first floor is a fascinating display looking at the many fakes that were made of Bruegel's work to cash in on his name. There are some great drawings on display but we also see forgeries that were signed with Bruegel's name to up their value. Both are fantastically detailed and only the trained eye could tell the difference, as it's almost imperceptible.

Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grissailes Reunited is on until 8 May and Bruegel, Not Bruegel is on until 17 April. Tickets are £7 for adults and includes admission to the excellent permanent collection. Prospective visitors may want to wait until the Botticelli exhibition opens on 18 February so they can visit all three at the same time.

Last Updated 08 February 2016

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