El Divino Morales at The Prado // Madrid

We also caught Prado’s ‘El Divino Morales’ exhibition of the work of Luis de Morales. Morales is one of the most significant Spanish artists from the Renaissance period. The show focusses on altarpieces and devotional panels, two formats that he championed.

For fifty years he lived and painted in Extremadura and was certainly the most prolific painter of that area.

He was influenced by Flemish traditions of the 1400-1500s as well as Italian Renaissance artists and formed a style combining these two. The Prado tells us that this contributed to the commercial possibilities and successes at the time of his work; his audience recognised the religious subjects and loved the emotionally charged manner in which they were painted.

There is a section of the exhibition devoted to his paintings of the Passion, one of his keys subjects. His figures are almost silhouetted against dark backgrounds and beautifully sculptural.

Museo Nacional del Prado // Madrid

Last weekend we had a wonderful trip to Madrid and had time to explore the spectacular collection at the Museo Nacional del Prado.

As well as enjoying their permanent collection, they had a fantastic exhibition of rock crystal carvings from Renaissance Milan; ‘Arte Transparente’.

The exhibition analysis's the technique of carving rock crystal, which has been relatively unexplored by galleries. There are twenty exquisite examples on display, with fourteen alone coming from the same group known as ‘The Dauphin’s Treasure’. The other six on display come from historic collections including pieces from the Medici family from Florence.

As a material, rock crystal is known for being prestigious and luxurious. During the Middle Ages it was even associated with the celestial, while now it carries a hefty price tag. In Milan it emerged during the 16th Century as royal and wealthy families became interested in its beauty and value.

Works of beauty in materials like this have always intrigued us, particularly as their status fits in both domestic interiors and gallery settings.

The Whitney // New York

During our trip to New York we also visited the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney focuses on American art from the 20th and 21st centuries. It was founded by sculptor and collector Gertrude Whitney, who wanted to promote the work of American avant-garde artists she felt were going unrecognised. After the Met Museum declined her gift of 700 works of art for their collection, she opened her own gallery in 1929.

It was a great year to visit the Whitney - in April it finally opened its new doors after the five year construction of a new gallery in the Meatpacking District.

The new building was remarkable to see, it has been designed by architect Renzo Piano, known for his many prizes and museum constructions. While he has been criticised for his imposing structures, we were struck by the boldness and bravery of his design.

We were most intrigued by the Whitney's permanent collection which ranges from 1912 to the mid 60s and traces the development of American Modernism. Unsurprisingly, the collection is dominated by Abstract Expressionism.

Among the works on display by Edward Hopper was this study for his iconic painting 'Nighthawks'.

We also like this charcoal drawing by Georgia O'Keeffe (left). Her abstract work was inspired by organic forms from nature like flowers and trees. There is a beautiful fluidity in the rhythmic spirals in this drawing. Willem de Kooning's paintings were also beautifully vibrant, such as this work called 'Door to the River' (right) which uses giant strokes of pink and yellow.

As well as a fantastic permanent collection, there was a retrospective of Frank Stella which we caught. The exhibition showcased works from the 1950s to the present day with over 120 works of art including paintings, sculptures and drawings. Stella is a key figure in American Modernism, inspiring minimal, abstract and colour fields artists so it felt pertinent to see his work in New York. We were also attracted by his bold colour schemes, works of art like this can enliven modern and minimal interiors.