1503 by Albrecht Dürer
German born Dürer has been hailed as one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance. His works are widely celebrated, but perhaps the most interesting element to Dürer is the sheer range in both subject and medium. A remarkable collection of his work has stood the test of time, from large religious paintings to woodcuts, and of everything from self-portraits to animal studies. Being able to see such a breadth of Dürer’s work allows an insight into his passion for both observation and imagination. He not only creates the visions of his mind, but documents the images of reality as we see here. Those of you who saw Lucien Freud: Painted Life on the BBC will remember that Freud himself had this image on the wall of his studio as an example of pure observation. Like Freud, who would return to the clarity of observational painting from the painterly, we must assume that Dürer liked to flit between styles, and why should one not. Many of the greatest painters did so; just look at Picasso — see 67, 109, 171. It isn’t hard to see why Freud had this image on his wall, as the crisp rhetoric of fine needles of grass topped with soft clusters of seeds, emerging from glassy waters, is comforting in its detail of familiarity. Watching plants reach upward for the light of the sun is an art tinted with the happy naturalism of Romanticism. The greens, gently ranging from the dark to the light, embody the freshness of organic growth; the water and its reflections demonstrate the true beauty of nature; and the dandelion heads waver with the energy of life. Watching the world so closely as to remember it visually is a talent, yet to recreate it to last hundreds of years is another thing entirely.