Dalí / El Greco Side-by-Side Exhibition Prompts “Are They Really Paintings of the Same Thing?”

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From July 9th to December 4th, 2022, The Auckland Project in the UK will bring together two Spanish masterpieces from British collections at the Spanish Gallery.

Acquired directly from the artist Salvador Dalí by the City of Glasgow in 1952 Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of the most famous and most reproduced paintings of the 20th century. It is displayed alongside that of El Greco Christ on the crosswhich, after more than two centuries in a private collection, was on public display for the first time with the opening of the Spanish Gallery last year.

Separated by almost 350 years, both artists were radical and innovative in their own time – El Greco with his expressive use of exaggerated forms and colors and Dalí with his dreamlike compositions rendered in clear detail. Both works convey landscapes based on places where the artists lived and worked, from the verdant Toledo to the coastal backdrop of Portlligat. This is where the similarities end, however, as each artist offers deeply contrasting perspectives on the subject.

El Greco portrays Christ as a real, living man – the living blood and sallow face, the use of exaggerated form, and the dramatic contrasts of light speak to an experience of dread. His painting forces the viewer to confront the suffering of Christ. Dalí, on the other hand, presents a beautiful but anonymous figure viewed from above, emphasizing his role as the Son of God and the greatness of the sacrifice attested. Dalí said: “I want to paint a Christ that is a painting with more beauty and joy than has ever been painted before.”

Dalí / El Greco will be the first temporary exhibition at The Spanish Gallery, the UK’s premier gallery dedicated to the art, history and culture of Spain’s Golden Age. Focusing on 16th and 17th century art, the gallery explores the universal themes of life’s transience and its struggle with the longing for eternity. The gallery complements and
contextualizes Francisco de Zurbarán’s Spanish masterpieces, which have been housed at Auckland Castle next door for over 250 years.
Dalí’s Christ of St. John of the Cross was last loaned to a British institution in 2017 and attended London’s Royal Academy. It has never been exhibited in the Northeast before.

Former director of the Glasgow Museums, Dr. Tom Honeyman, who acquired the work on behalf of the City of Glasgow, expressed Dalí’s desire to loan the work as widely as possible, consistent with the Spanish Gallery’s mission of making exceptional examples of Spanish art available to the British public. Honeyman said: “If I were ever asked what I would do with the Dalí, I think I would answer like this: circulate it as often and as often as possible.”

The exhibition invites visitors to reflect on their own response to the work of two important and influential artists, and is accompanied by an exhibition guide that includes three brief reflections, including one by Bishop of Durham, Right Reverend Paul Butler.

Jonathan Ruffer, founder of The Auckland Project, said: “Our Spanish gallery has several examples of ‘Christ on the Cross’ painted around 400 years ago, including our example by El Greco, a master of the Golden Age. The generous loan of Dalí’s iconic “Christ of St. John on the Cross” offers an opportunity to compare the same image from the world today with that of the past and to ask the question – are they really paintings of the same thing?”

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