Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age, The National Gallery - FREE - ★★★★★ - Until May 31, 2020

The Eavesdropper by Nicolaes Maes, 1655.

It is hard to believe that this is the first-ever exhibition devoted to Nicolaes Maes in the UK. While he is not the most familiar of Dutch painters, his work has delighted many. Maes is best known for his genre paintings, but this show traces his career from the religious work created while he was in the studio of Rembrandt through to the success he enjoyed as a portrait artist. In the early religious works we see some fascinating hints of what is to come in his most famous period when he is painting domestic scenes. He portrays his religious subjects with the same gentle humanity and down-to-earth quality that shines through in his more popular works. In that second period of his working life, he creates the domestic scenes that anticipate artists like Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer. Focusing mostly on women he celebrates daily life without ever becoming cloying. Similarly he may moralise but it is always done in a humorous, kind-hearted manner. In his most famous series of the eavesdroppers, his subjects invite both the viewer and the artist into their world and to be complicit in their fun. These works become almost a metaphor for Maes' art. He delights in half pulling back the curtain and peeking into the world of others but he never condescends or indulges in high-handed judgment. He relishes the artist's privilege of being able to enter the lives of his subjects and to share them, and in turn he invites the viewer not to spy or judge but to recognise and experience our common humanity. The exhibition concludes with the portrait commissions that made Maes a very rich man. While these distinguished individuals are presented to impress, Maes still succeeds in gently exposing the person behind the persona in such works as Portrait of a Girl with a Deer (c. 1671). The work of Nicolaes Maes deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. This well-curated exhibition is a major step on that path!

Reviewed by J.C.

 Our Score:  ☆☆☆☆☆ 

WHEN, WHERE, GETTING THERE:
Until May 31, 2020
Sat - Thu: 10 am - 6 pm
Fri: 10 am - 10 pm
National Gallery (Ground Floor Galleries)
Nearest tube: Charing Cross
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions

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