Monochrome: Painting in Black and White


What: Monochrome: Painting in Black and White


Where: The National Gallery, London


When: 30 Oct 17 – 18 Feb 18


Famed for its extensive collection of art from the 13th – 19th centuries The National Gallery’s latest show marks a departure from its archetype, exploring seven centuries of art in monochrome. The first of its kind, the show takes a progressive look at the history of painting in black and white with twelfth century stained glass created by Cistercian monks alongside some of the most exciting contemporary artists working today, including Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, Bridget Riley, and Jasper Johns.


Monochrome National Gallery 11


Examining why artists have elected to work without colour, the expo begins in the middle ages - a time when colour was considered the ‘forbidden fruit’ by the clergy as it provided a distraction from the divine. Subsequent rooms highlight the surprising number of artists known for their devotion and mastery of colour, including van Eyck, Rubens, and Boucher, and a selection of prepatory sketches elucidate to the idea that artists make their closest observations in light and shade, ‘thinking without colour first’.


Monochrome National Gallery 1


Monochrome National Gallery 6


Monochrome Natioanl Gallery 12


Moving closer to the present a huge portrait of Joel Shapiro by Chuck Close treads the line between photography and painting with his hand-painted pixels, alongside a stunning Vija Celmins painting of the night sky and a hyper real reduplication of a Hamburg prostitute and her boyfriend (who later murdered the woman), by Gerhard Richter - who reappears later in the penultimate room with a pair of pair of grey mirrors. It's here that Malevich’s black square takes centre stage surrounded with Op Art by Riley, Twoombly’s loose and lovely chalkboard paintings and a small square work by celebrated colour theorist Joseph Albers.


Monochrome National Gallery 10


The collection of works culminates with an opportunity to step into Olafur Eliasson’s Room For One Colour, and become part of the art. Eliasson’s installation of sodium yellow lamps suppress all other light frequencies and reduce everything in reach – including you - into black and white!


National Gallery Monochrome 7


While this inspired finale make’s room for the ultimate Instagram post, in the context of the art that came before it also leads the exhibition to a mind-altering end: as promised, noticing details you’d missed before, you’ll see differently. 


National Gallery Monochrome 4


Monochrome National Gallery 9