National Gallery presents Seduced by Art. Photography Past and Present

The National Gallery in London presents Seduced by Art. Photography Past and Present, an exhibition on view through 20 January 2013.

Richard Learoyd Man with Octopus Tattoo II (2011) by Richard Learoyd. Photograph: Courtesy of McKee Gallery, New York

Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present is the National Gallery’s first major exhibition of photography. This groundbreaking show explores the relationship between historical painting, early photography of the mid-19th century, and some of the most exciting work being done by photographers today.

‘Seduced by Art’ takes a provocative look at how photographers use fine art traditions, including Old Master painting, to explore and justify the possibilities of their art. Right from the beginning, photography dared to claim traditional ‘high art’ subjects as its own. Far from being a general survey, the exhibition draws attention to one particular and rich strand of photography’s history, in major early works by the greatest British and French practitioners alongside photographs by an international array of contemporary artists. The show includes new photography and video specially commissioned for the exhibition and on public display for the first time, plus works rarely seen in the UK.

Paintings and early and contemporary photographs are presented together according to traditional genres such as portraiture, still life and landscape. The large central room of the show will contrast beautiful and provocative religious imagery by 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and late 20th-century artist Helen Chadwick, with spectacular battlefield tableaux by Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet from 1821 and Luc Delahaye’s work of 2001. The theme of portraiture includes Tina Barney’s astute social portraits; Martin Parr’s acerbic work is displayed alongside Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (about 1750), while photographs by Craigie Horsfield and the Victorian artist David Wilkie Wynfield show the Baroque influence of Anthony van Dyck. Painted and photographed nudes will prompt us to reconsider the past and present reception of controversial works by early photographers such as Oscar Gustav Rejlander and contemporary practitioners like Richard Learoyd. A room of landscapes will feature works by the early French photographer Gustave Le Gray and contemporary artists such as Jem Southam and Richard Billingham, capped by a huge eight-part photogravure by Tacita Dean.

The show’s investigation of artistic method includes contemporary practitioners who, with every technical resource and innovation at hand in the digital age, continue to investigate the themes and procedures of historical painting and early photography. But it also includes more experimental work, in Sam Taylor-Wood’s time-based ‘Still Life’ (2001) and Ori Gersht’s digital still life, ‘Blow Up: Untitled 5’ (2007) (courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle), which will be displayed alongside its inspiration, the National Gallery’s Rosy Wealth of June (1886) by Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour. Video pieces will include a new work by Maisie Maud Broadhead and Jack Cole, ‘An Ode to Hill and Adamson’ (2011), made especially for the exhibition and shown alongside its source, an 1840s photographic portrait by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson.

Exceptionally, three ‘interventions’ of contemporary photographs by Richard Billingham, Craigie Horsfield and Richard Learoyd will be displayed in the Gallery’s permanent collection, juxtaposed with great 19th-century paintings by Constable, Degas and Ingres.

The show includes almost 90 photographs alongside selected paintings from the National Gallery’s collection. Key photographs will come from the Wilson Centre for Photography, with loans from Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Media Museum in Bradford, Fundació La Caixa in Spain, and direct from the photographers themselves.

‘Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present’ is curated by Hope Kingsley, Curator for Education and Collections at the Wilson Centre for Photography, and Christopher Riopelle, Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery. The exhibition travels to CaixaForum Barcelona (21 February – 19 May 2013) and to CaixaForum Madrid (18 June – 15 September 2013). –