For the first time in their history, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art are hosting a joint exhibition.
“The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760–1860” will open this Friday at the YUAG. Consisting of over 300 works, the show was assembled using mostly the University’s collections, with only a few objects on loan from various private collections. The exhibition seeks to provide a comprehensive view of European Romanticism as well as counter the view that Romantic artists were solely concerned with depicting themes of fantasy and internal reflection.
“We wanted to broaden out the idea that most people have about what romantic artists are,” YCBA Curator of Paintings and Sculpture Cassandra Albinson said. “We want people to think of these artists not only as inventive but also as responding to political and social change.”
According to curators from both museums, the idea of a joint exhibition arose roughly two years ago when the YCBA informed the YUAG it would be closed for renovations in 2015. While the YCBA would be closed for more than a year, Albinson explained, the center still wanted the public to have access to its collections.
Albinson said the decision to dedicate an exhibition to Romantic art came naturally, as both institutions own several well-known works from the period.
Laurence Kanter, the chief curator and the Lionel Goldfrank III curator of European art at the YUAG, said that while the YUAG’s collection of 18th-century European art is relatively small, its early 19th-century collection is quite strong. He noted that the collaboration with the YCBA enabled the exhibition to cover both centuries of the Romantic movement in depth.
In contrast to other YUAG exhibitions, “The Critique of Reason” will divide its works thematically rather than chronologically. Paola D’Agostino, the Nina and Lee Griggs assistant curator of European art at the YUAG, explained that the themed sections will serve to help the viewer obtain a more comprehensive understanding of Romanticism, as certain sections take a historical approach to art while others focus on the artistic process. For example, the section entitled “Nature: Spectacle and Specimen” looks at how some romantic artists used a scientific approach in interpreting the natural world. Another section, titled “The Changing Role of the Sketch,” focuses on the technical process of creating sketches.
Izabel Gass GRD ’15 , a graduate research assistant at YUAG and YCBA, added that since there was no unified Romantic movement in Europe, the period is notoriously difficult to define. She noted that honing in on various themes avoids having to define the movement as a single idea. Gass added that the exhibition emphasizes the broad range of art that the term “Romantic” encompasses, noting that viewers would not be able to appreciate this degree of variety by reading an art textbook.
Both Kanter and D’Agostino said they were unsure why the YCBA and YUAG have never put on a joint exhibition until now. But they noted that the YCBA’s mission to promote the study of British culture is not directly aligned with the YUAG’s goals. Albinson added that a collaboration with the YUAG was more appealing than sending the YCBA’s works on tour during the center’s renovation process.
“The Critique of Reason” will close July 26.