First British exhibition for the work of El Greco, a once forgotten visionary

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The Independent Online

Masterpieces by El Greco that have not been seen outside Spain since he painted them in the 16th century will go on show next year in the first important exhibition of his work in Britain.

The exhibition at the National Gallery in London will trace the entire career of the visionary artist, who is thought to have studied under Titian, himself the subject of a blockbuster show at the National earlier this year.

Like Titian, El Greco enjoyed a successful career but was quickly forgotten after his death in 1614. The exhibition aims to chart the range of his achievements across religious subjects and portraiture, and show why he was rediscovered and acknowledged as one of the most original painters of his time. He greatly influenced 20th-century masters including Picasso, Cezanne and Jackson Pollock.

Charles Saumarez Smith, the National Gallery's director, said yesterday that it had been able to bring together the best of El Greco for the first time partly because of a greater willingness to lend works by some of the Spanish galleries where they were held.

Among them will be highly prized later paintings, including The Adoration of the Shepherds, from the Prado in Madrid, which he produced to hang above his own tomb, and The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, from the Museo de Santa Cruz in Toledo.

But the exhibition will also include a recently discovered and very rare early work - an icon of The Dormition of the Virgin from a Greek monastery. It was attributed only when a signature was spotted after a frame was removed for cleaning.

The artist was named Domenikos Theotokopoulos when he was born in Crete in 1541. He was a master icon painter by his early twenties and probably moved to Venice in 1567 when he was 26 and on to Spain about a decade later. He settled there and worked for a series of sophisticated patrons.

El Greco ("the Greek") was noticeably different from his contemporaries with his use of bright colours, elongated forms and aspects of both Byzantine and Western traditions. He was also deeply spiritual.

But his strikingly modern art has often suffered from public misunderstanding and derision. When the National Gallery bought a version of his Agony in the Garden in 1919, there was criticism that money had been wasted on an artist who was deranged and could not paint.

The exhibition, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, has been jointly produced with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is currently on display. It opens in London on 11 Februaryand runs until 23 May. Admission is £10 for adults, £8 for pensioners and the unemployed and £6 for students and children aged 12-18. Family tickets cost £20 and under-12s are free.