Royal Academy tries the art of explanation

`Their simplicity may surprise regular visitors'
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The Independent Online
The Royal Academy exhibition on Poussin, which opens tomorrow, will see the start of a push to make art easier to understand for casual visitors.

In a departure from traditional practice, the Royal Academy has put extended information panels in every gallery for the exhibition, along with extremely simple descriptions next to each painting telling the story depicted on canvas.

There will also be a video based on Poussin's last great series of works, The Four Seasons.

Strangely, though, in the move to make the work more approachable for new visitors, the Royal Academy has omitted to explain on the panels the skills of the artist and what he was trying to achieve in each work.

Nevertheless, following on from the National Gallery's decision to introduce CD-Rom audio guides with detailed information on every exhibit, the Royal Academy initiative shows further evidence of a new drive to woo visitors fresh to the art world. Indeed, the simplicity of some of the panels may surprise regular visitors.

The first panel one sees explains: "Poussin was a history painter. His art treats the great scenes of the past, from the Bible, ancient history and mythology." And next to one of the Four Seasons paintings, Spring, the panel reads: "In the garden of paradise, Eve points at the tree of knowledge to Adam. The dawn light reveals the newborn world, and God hovers over his creation."

A Royal Academy spokeswoman said: "We have been thinking that more people might come to exhibitions if the explanations had been easier. Poussin, in particular, has been over-intellectualised as the philosopher-painter. His subject matter was largely drawn from the Bible and ancient mythology, and the moral lessons he sought to convey may appear obscure to a modern audience."

She agreed that the panels next to the paintings did not give the visitor any guidance on Poussin's technique, but said this was available in the video and general gallery guide.

Pierre Rosenberg, director of the Louvre in Paris, which has lent 18 works for the exhibition, said he thought the new labels were "an absolute necessity for the public".

The exhibition of 88 paintings celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of the father of French painting, and runs until April.

Norman Rosenthal, head of exhibitions at the Royal Academy, said it was a privilege to present such a comprehensive exhibition. He added: "It is a pleasure to look at these paintings, to dance with these paintings. If you look at the painting of the Sabine women, it's an incredible ballet."

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