At the National Gallery the year starts with a show of Pompeo Batoni’s stylish portraits of 18th-century Grand Tourists in Italy (20 February to 18 May). The painter Alison Watt (born Greenock, 1965) has now completed her two-year stint as the NG’s seventh Associate Artist and will be showing the fruits of her labours in the Sunley Room (13 March to 22 June). Watch out for the endless fascinations of drapery. The summer slot is filled by Radical Light: Italy’s Divisionist Painters 1891–1910 (18 June to
7 September), which traces the development of Italian pointillism into the excesses of Futurism. I’m looking forward to seeing work by Giovanni Segantini, though the likes of museum-hating Boccioni and Balla do seem a bit out of place in the hallowed precincts of our National Gallery. Autumn brings a major study of the Renaissance Portrait, Van Eyck to Titian (15 October to 18 January 2009), trumpeted as the first show to bring together Northern and Southern Renaissance masterpieces in a themed rather than chronological hang.
Photography gets the best deal at the National Portrait Gallery. Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913 to 2008 (14 February to 26 May) is self-explanatory, as indeed is Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990–2005 (16 October to 25 January 2009). Sandwiched somewhere in between is Wyndham Lewis: Portraits (3 July to 19 October), an exhibition worth waiting for, by one of our most radical and difficult artists.
Meanwhile, the Tate offers its usual cornucopia of very mixed delights. The year starts well with a Rose Hilton retrospective at Tate St Ives (26 January to 4 May), a tribute to the gentle School of Paris lyricism of this intensely feminine and intuitive painter. At Tate Liverpool is the first major UK showing of the flamboyant French artist, Niki de Saint Phalle (1 February to 5 May). Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group at Tate Britain (13 February to 4 May) should be an eye-opener for those who disparage English painting, while Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia at Tate Modern (21 February to 26 May) examines the spirit of Dada, the root cause of so much of today’s nonsense. As usual, there are far too many Tate exhibitions to list them all. Look out for Peter Doig, Klimt, Cy Twombly and Rothko.
The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, that enjoyable small museum in north London, celebrates its tenth anniversary with a show reflecting the strengths of its permanent collection, focusing for the first time on the interesting but little-known Massimo Campigli (A Decade of Discovery, 16 January to 6 April). This is followed by a survey of Italian printmaking (16 April to 15 June), then Daring to be Different: 55 Years of Missoni (25 June to 14 September) and European Photomontage (24 September to 21 December). Always worth a trip.
The BM continues to pack in the visitors to China’s Terracotta Army (until 6 April), following that with a less obvious crowd-puller Hadrian: Empire and Conflict (24 July to 26 October). Like the Terracotta Army, it will be staged in the Round Reading Room, itself inspired by one of Hadrian’s architectural masterpieces, the Pantheon in Rome.
The Wallace Collection offers various Old Master displays and then comes up with an autumn snorter: Cartoons and Coronets — The Genius of Osbert Lancaster (2 October to 11 January 2009). If that doesn’t play to packed houses, I’m a Pont Street Dutchman.
The Whitechapel is in the middle of its rebuild (scheduled to reopen in spring 2009) but is nevertheless managing to mount a series of smaller shows of film and photography. Among forthcoming events is Cornelia Parker’s filmed interview with Noam Chomsky (13 February to 30 March).
If that doesn’t stir you, try From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870–1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg, at the Royal Academy (26 January to 18 April). The word masterpiece is tired and overused but it actually fits some of the amazing modern paintings in Russian collections, particularly the Matisses commissioned by Sergei Shchukin. Along with top-quality work by such Russians as Levitan, Tatlin and Malevich, this show should prove a thumping success.
Following the Courtauld’s small but choice exhibition earlier this year, the Academy is putting together a more substantial Cranach show (8 March to 8 June) of some 70 works. Can’t wait — he’s been neglected for too long. The Summer Exhibition takes its usual and much-loved place, while the first major retrospective of the Danish artist Hammershoi, master of the enigmatic interior, will be held in the RA’s Sackler Galleries (28 June to 7 September). The Courtauld itself focuses on its own collection in a trio of exhibitions: Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at ‘La Loge’ (21 February to 25 May); The Courtauld Cézannes (26 June to 5 October); and Paths to Fame: Turner’s Watercolour Landscapes (30 October to 25 January 2009). The last includes Dorothy Scharf’s recent bequest of eight watercolours, which will be displayed together with the Courtauld’s existing holdings. Mouth-watering.
In 2008, the Hayward Gallery celebrates its 40th birthday. Highlights from its programme include Revolution in Photography (7 February to 27 April), prints and photomontages by one of the founding fathers of Constructivism Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956), and Psycho Buildings: Architecture by Artists (22 May to 27 August). Is this as good as it gets at this once-great venue?
The highlight of the year at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a retrospective of Nigel Hall’s work (9 March to 8 June). Hall (born 1943) is one of our finest sculptors with an international reputation which far exceeds his standing in his native country. Why does this happen again and again? We are so often slow to recognise the talents of our own artists, preferring to accept the readymade fame of Americans or (increasingly) Europeans. Hall is an abstract sculptor whose work is a meditation on landscape and our relationship to the environment. This carefully selected show should help to make him better-appreciated in Britain.
The excellent Pallant House Gallery in Chichester pays tribute to its principal recent benefactor, Colin St John Wilson, who died earlier this year, with an exhibition examining his career as both architect and collector (9 February to 8 June). The summer show will be devoted to that underrated Pop artist Colin Self and is challengingly titled Art in the Nuclear Age (21 June to 12 October), while the main winter exhibition examines the paintings and collages of Eileen Agar, often thought of as a Surrealist but far more independent-minded than that categorisation suggests.
China is currently at the height of fashion, so it’s no surprise to find the V&A devoting its major spring show to China Design Now (15 March to 13 July). Much more rewarding will be Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book (15 April to 29 June), a welcome survey of artists’ books. The autumn exhibition is Cold War Modern: Design 1945–75
(27 September to 11 January 2009), examining popular culture against the backdrop of the space race: Stanley Kubrick meets James Bond. At Dulwich Picture Gallery, another tribute to American art, Coming of Age: American Art 1850s–1950s (14 March to 8 June), with the usual suspects — Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Whistler, Pollock et al. The following show sounds more original. Painting Family: The De Brays, Master Painters of 17th-Century Holland (9 July to 5 October) deals with a now virtually forgotten artist clan. Could be a quiet revelation, or just more Golden Age treacle. To finish the year on a high note, Dulwich is mounting a Saul Steinberg retrospective (26 November to 15 February 2009). Is this comic genius of New Yorker fame an artist or an illustrator? And what’s the difference? See the show and decide for yourself…