Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection

Private art collections can sometimes appear artistically polarising and disjointed. An art collector’s personal taste is not always uniform and cohesive, so when private art collections hang on the walls of carefully curated museums they can appear somewhat out of place. For ‘Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection’ this thankfully isn’t the case. From Ian and Mercedes Stoutzker, this collection is simultaneously varied, cohesive and personal. Situated in the National Museum Cardiff, Bacon to Doig offers museum-goers an intimate interpretation of modern art. From the delicate sketches of Henri Matisse to the mind-bending pottery of Grayson Perry you are transported to not just a playground of different artistic mediums, but an interesting historiography of modern art itself.

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Firstly,  credit must be given to the National Museum for their excellent use of space and composition in their presentation of the collection. The difficulties of moving a collection only enjoyed in a domestic setting to that of a museum was a challenge, but they have succeeded. The National Museum can somewhat go under the radar when people discuss Cardiff, but this collection will hopefully galvinise people’s interest in the museum itself. The museum, relative to other British museums, has always outdone itself in regards to the quality of its exhibitions and the professionalism it always operates under, so National Museum – big up yourself.

In terms of the collection, there’s plenty of room to take each piece in, marvel at it, scratch your head, mutter under your breath “Is THIS really art?”, etc even on busy days. The art is curated in a way that is sensible with each room having a really tangible sense of style and place. The exhibition is pretty low on photography, excluding one room of especially profound art and the collection of paper drawings. Photography is barred there and this also happens to be where all my favourite pieces were, so if you want to check them out you’re going to have to go yourself.

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Thematically, the collection covers a lot of the major sub-sects of “modern art” from expressionistic canvases to post-impressionism (all these fancy words mean is that it’s all modern and varied). The art collection never becomes too highbrow and can be enjoyed by everyone, there isn’t a sense that you need a strong knowledge of art history or criticism to really appreciate the collection as a whole. Interestingly, a lot of this art was collected by the Stoutzkers was purchased when the artists were in the early stages of their career, so each piece has a sense of appealing innocence to them – there is a sense of each artist still struggling to find their own identity in a lot of the pieces, yet not in a way that it detracts from the pieces themselves. Instead, the sense of artistic innocence imbues a lot of the pieces with a certain playfulness; the collection appears wholly original by not just curating quality artists, but by curating them when they were all at a similar level of creative maturity.

It goes without saying that the art in the collection is of stellar quality, but this isn’t exactly where the appeal lies. The appeal of the collection is how original, yet similar, each piece feels. The zeitgeist of the modern artistic period is captured here in a visceral way. Particular highlights included Lucian Freud’s Girl With Closed Eyes, Francis Bacon’s  pieces, the Matisse sketch hidden away in the  filing cabinet Nude Model, Resting, and Grayson Perry’s Turner-prize winning vases which were, to me, the absolute highlight of the collection. At fear of spoiling too much, I’ll keep discussion of the actual pieces to that. The collection is best enjoyed without expectation, that way it’ll truly hit you at how important and visually stimulating the collection really is.

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The collection will be at National Museum Wales until the 31st January 2018, so please be sure to pop down time and time again before it leaves. It really is one of the most important private collections of modern art in the world and it’s in Cardiff, it’s free, it’s on your doorstep, so get going!

Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection – 18 February 2017–31 January 2018, National Museum Cardiff

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