Review: ‘El Greco in New York’

El Greco "The Vision of St. John"

El Greco “The Vision of St. John”

Getting the chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is always a treat, and this fall a small show is particularly worth a visit.

El Greco in New York” features the work of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (I have learned his real name because, well, honestly, it’s just cool to say and throw out at random to be pretentious).

The show is very small, only some 20 or so pieces gathered from the Hispanic Society of America and the Met’s collection, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of the work.

El Greco "Self Portrait"

El Greco “Self Portrait”

“The Greek” (1541-1614) made his name in Toledo, Spain, following a stint in Italy, after leaving his home in Crete to seek fame and fortune. His work follows the standard religious themes of the period, but his style is unique to the period. Several of his portraits seem to have a blue filter — imagine the tonal quality of a movie like “Gone Girl,” for example. Add in the way he elongates his figures and the show makes a case that he is a precursor of modernism.

El Greco "View of Toledo"

El Greco “View of Toledo”

El Greco’s paintings have an ethereal quality that highlights the spirituality of the pieces, which probably developed from his training as an icon painter.

Four hundred years after his birth, El Greco is recognized as an influence on artists from Manet to Rothko, Cezanne to the German Expressionists.

“The Vision of St. John” is a great example of El Greco’s influence. The figures are elongated and and the flesh tones have a blue hue. The central grouping echoes Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” and it would be easy to convince that, with its stylized black shadows around the figures, it was the work of an expressionist.

Domenikos_Theotokopolos_El_Greco_ELG003

The paintings feel contemporary. One can only imagine how radical his work must have seemed to late-16th century viewers.

The artist always signed with his real name, and the name of Domenikos Theotokopoulos stands tall among the greats of art history still.

“El Greco in New York” runs through Feb. 1.

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