Simon Carr reviews Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery at The Frick Collection, New York, on view through February 15, 2014.
Carr writes that the show "is a feast... in this small yet broad selection of jewels from Scotland, the standouts are canvases by Antoine Watteau, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent... For visitors who may be unused to considering Sargent among such elevated company, 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw,' 1892, deserves special attention... Completed in just six sittings, the portrait was painted entirely from life. Without even preliminary drawings, this is the alla prima technique of a showman, risking everything in the moment... In this canvas brilliant light pours from a fluid brush. Saturated shadows and sensual light have breath, bringing Lady Agnew to life... In all the paintings in this marvelous show, the representation of the human figure is central to artistic expression. These paintings proclaim a human reality in form and space, emotion and narrative, which should be as essential to contemporary artists as anything now on view in the galleries of Chelsea or the Lower East Side. Can artists today accept the challenge and respond in kind?"