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Da Vinci Extravaganza, Soviet Fantasy, 1980s Redux: Fall Preview

"The Rehearsal" (1874) by Edgar Degas. The picture will be on view in "Degas and the Ballet" at the Royal Academy from Sept. 17 through Dec. 11. Source: Royal Academy via Bloomberg

Nobody ever acquired more fame with fewer actual paintings than Leonardo. He makes even the ultra-rare Dutch master Vermeer seem prolific.

This autumn, the National Gallery in London shows almost all the authentic pictures from his sojourn in northern Italy (1482-1499) in “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” (Nov. 9-Feb. 5, 2012, sponsored by Credit Suisse Group AG).

It is an astonishing curatorial coup. These are among the most precious and fragile works of art in existence; almost all are on panels and so until recently would not have been allowed to travel. In the exhibition, only the “Last Supper,” immovably attached to a Milanese wall, is missing (and that will be represented by drawings and an early copy).

The “Virgin of the Rocks” from the Louvre will be seen side by side with the later London version of the same subject. Three great portraits, including the graceful “Lady With Ermine” from Krakow, will hang together in a remarkable exercise in compare and contrast. It is a fair bet that in terms of public interest, this will be the art exhibition of the year, if not the decade.

“Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement” at the Royal Academy (Sept. 17-Dec. 11, sponsored by Bank of New York Mellon Corp.) is also likely to pull the crowds. These ballerinas in frilly dresses and pastel colors approach Monet’s water lilies in popular appeal. The argument of the show is that Degas’s interest in dance was almost scientific, a parallel to early photographic and cinematic images of moving figures. In other words, this work was not chocolate-box but, for the late 19th century, hi-tech.

Lurid Apocalypse

Coming to Tate Britain is a show devoted to John Martin (1789-1854), a painter who combined an apocalyptical imagination, a lurid sense of color and a slick technique. The result was paintings that are at once wide-screen visions of the end of the world and the fall of civilizations and -- if you are not a fan -- a bit like Regency comic-book kitsch (Sept. 21-Jan. 15, 2012).

There was a touch of science-fiction fantasy about the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, the subject of “Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935” in the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy (Oct. 29-Jan. 22, 2012). One of the greatest projects, never built, was Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International,” a colossal early modernist version of the Tower of Babel. To coincide with the show, a reconstruction will be made in the RA courtyard.

Modernist Masters

In Paris, at the Grand Palais, there is a look at other pioneer modernists, notably Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, and their links with the Steins -- Gertrude and her siblings -- who were avant-garde patrons extraordinaire (Oct. 5-Jan. 16, 2012, supported by State Street Corp., with Aurel BGC).

At Tate Modern, the major event will be “Gerhard Richter: Panorama” (Oct. 6-Jan. 8, 2012), a survey of the painter’s work over five decades, coinciding with his 80th birthday. In other ways the timing is not ideal, because there was a big Richter show at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009, and one at the Serpentine.

These days, the cycle of fashion seems to revolve ever faster. Already, the 1980s are being revived and V&A is hosting “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-90” (Sept. 24-Jan. 15). Po-Mo, as a style, was itself a wild and eclectic revival, not to say mish-mash, of just about anything that had gone before. At 20 years distance it may look attractively nostalgic or, for those who loathed it in the first place, possibly not.

The British Museum is giving the run of its collections to a contemporary transvestite potter in ‘Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” (Oct. 6-Feb. 19, 2012), supported by AlixPartners, with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA). Perry has selected pieces made by anonymous, ancient hands, which will be shown beside his own textiles and naughtily inscribed ceramics. Will the Rosetta Stone ever seem the same after we’ve seen Perry’s “Rosetta Vase”?


(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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