An Artemisia Gentileschi Masterpiece Is Touring Schools, Doctors’ Offices, and Other Unexpected Places in the UK. Here’s Where to Spot It

The National Gallery in London has sent its new Artemisia Gentileschi on an unconventional tour.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (circa 1615–17). Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (circa 1615-17). Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Attention UK residents: A painting by Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi is currently touring the nation at a variety of unconventional exhibition locations, including a women’s library and a doctor’s office. This week, you can catch her celebrated Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (circa 1615-17) at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newcastle upon Tyne. (The painting is on loan from the collection of London’s National Gallery.)

“The National Gallery has never done a tour like this; taking a masterpiece to unexpected venues where it can be enjoyed by people who may not be able to see it in Trafalgar Square,” the museum’s director, Gabriele Finaldi, told the BBC.

The museum kicked off the tour in March, just in time for International Women’s Day, at Glasgow Women’s Library, before the work went on to travel to Yorkshire, where it was shown at the Pocklington Group Practice doctor’s office, a site selected with the assistance of UK charity organization Paintings in Hospitals.

“We chose places that we thought might connect with [Gentileschi’s] story and how she dealt with adversity,” Susan Foister, the director of collections at the National Gallery, told the Museums Association.

“Studies have shown that seeing an artwork in a care environment can reduce anxiety and aid recovery,” Painting in Hospital’s Amisha Karia told the Telegraph. “In this case, Artemisia dealt with challenges in her life, painting at a time when that wasn’t accepted for women. I hope that the painting provides inspiration by showing that people can face challenges and come out the other side.”

The painting’s four-day visit at Sacred Heart, a performing arts school for girls, began yesterday, following a series of lessons about the artist’s career.

Gentileschi overcame great adversity of her own and famously brought her rapist, who was her painting instructor, to trial. As part of her testimony, she was tortured in an attempt to prove the truthfulness of her statements. Today Gentileschi is known for her depictions of heroic women, such as Saint Catherine, who was sentenced to death by the emperor Maxentius on a spiked wheel, which miraculously broke upon contact with her body. She was then beheaded.

Artemisia Gentileschi, <em>Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria</em> (circa 1615–17). Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (circa 1615–17). Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

While learning about Gentileschi, the students had no idea that one of her paintings was about to be unveiled at a school-wide assembly. “Her story shows that if you’re motivated and driven to get to some place, you can get there, and it doesn’t matter what’s in your way,” one impressed student told the BBC.

“It feels apt to show Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria in a school founded by a similarly pioneering woman,” said Anita Bath, the school’s headmistress, in a statement. “Gentileschi and the founding Sisters of the Sacred Heart asserted their place in the world with confidence, enthusiasm, and strength of character, and have inspired countless women to do the same.”

The masterpiece is being displayed alongside student artwork, and will be open to the public Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., according to the school’s website. There are two more stops on the painting’s tour, including one in East London, where it will appear on the E17 Art Trail for the Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 celebrations.

Artemisia Gentileschi, <em>Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria</em> (circa 1615–17), before and after restoration. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (circa 1615-17), before and after restoration. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria joined the collection of National Gallery in mid-2018, and it became only the 21st work by a woman artist in the museum’s 2,000-object collection. The canvas had set an auction record for the artist at €1.85 million ($2.9 million) that December and the gallery then paid £3.6 million ($4.7 million) to the London dealer who purchased it.

Since its acquisition, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria has undergone a restoration funded by Art Fund, removing discolored varnish and cleaning and retouching the work. It is set to star in the museum’s upcoming Gentileschi retrospective in 2020.


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