Art online: Prize-winning portraits and little-known Mondrians

The National Gallery is offering online exhibitions as the public stays at home

Anna Purna Kambhampaty, in a Time Magazine feature headlined How art movements tried to make sense of the world in the wake of the 1918 flu pandemic, explains how the Bauhaus movement – which began in Germany in 1919 focusing on industrial design – had parallels to the lingering fear of the flu pandemic.

Metal furniture, leather straps and utilitarian design allowed for ease of sanitation after the pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people.

Among artists to contract the Spanish flu was Piet Mondrian. The Dutch painter and theoretician, who is now regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and whose work has influenced not only art, but design, architecture and fashion, contracted the disease in 1919. From there his signature grid-based art, for which he is most recognised, was born.

Though the National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Street in Dublin is closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, its Mondrian exhibition, featuring a large selection of the artist's works on loan from the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, can now be viewed online.

The exhibition is the first of the artist’s work to be held in Ireland and includes his little-known early landscapes as well as his famous abstract paintings with their primary-colour grids against black-and-white backgrounds.

During lockdown the gallery is offering a 25-minute film with curator Janet McLean who tells the story of the evolution of Mondrian's oeuvre under the influence of Picasso and Braque, with tales of the artist's love for eccentric dance – much to the mortification of his friends – and his strict Calvinist upbringing. The film can be watched on demand from the gallery's website and costs €10. As the gallery is a charity, this helps to cover the cost of the large installation.

In McLean’s film she notes how despite his strict upbringing, Mondrian was encouraged to draw from a very young age.

Budding Irish artists

Along with works from the Zurich Portrait Prize 2020, the gallery is exhibiting the winner of this year's Young Portrait Prize, a competition that encourages children up to 18 years of age to paint. The shortlist of selected works shows some incredible talent from budding young Irish artists.

Eva McParland (14) was selected the overall winner for her work Is this Normal? An excellent study in photorealism, McParland’s work of her younger sister Ellen’s worried eyes peering over her face mask perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our times.

Painting since she was a small child, the teenager says her parents encouraged her into the art world as “there were always art supplies in our home” and it is something she would like to pursue when she is older.

“I think it really needs to be recognised that this pandemic affects young people differently. Ellen, who was nine when I painted her last year, was just making friends and then [Covid-19] happened. It is really anxiety-inducing in young people.”

McParland says the portrait – which took four days to paint, finishing it just hours before the deadline – “provokes deeper questions about the concept of normality”.

Family activities

The gallery also has some online activities available for families that may help to fill the dark January days stuck within the confines of our homes.

The education department and family programme includes a wide range of step-by-step creative and sensory activities at home including a colour experiment, in which children can make their own landscape, inspired by JMW Turner's watercolours, using tea and coffee. Though many will miss the annual spring Turner exhibition, the popular watercolours are also available to view online.

Creative Careers is a set of talks for young people aged 16 to 25 and Talk and Tea is a chat with the curators of this year’s Zurich Portrait Prize on February 9th, which will be of interest to 2021 entrants.

Further activities are Wearable Viewfinder, inspired by Mondrian, and Baby Botany, which is perfect for parents with babies and toddlers.

For those feeling anxious at this time, a new online series Mindfulness and Art has mindfulness prompts for meditation with selected artworks.

The Covid-19 social study, led by Dr Daisy Fancourt of University College London, which tracked arts participation and mental health in 72,000 adults aged 18 and older on a weekly basis since March, found that people who spent 30 minutes or more each day during the pandemic doing arts activities have reported lower rates of anxiety and greater life satisfaction.

See nationalgallery.ie