Curator's Talk: Monochrome Exhibition

Thursday 7th December 2017

From the grisaille stained glass designed for Cistercian monks who prohibited the use of colour in their monasteries to the abstract monochrome canvases of Kazimir Malevich, black and white painting is an important and recurring artistic phenomenon in the history of art. The National Gallery’s autumn exhibition takes us on a journey through a world of shadow and light. With more than fifty painted objects created over 700 years, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White is a radical new look at what happens when artists cast aside the colour spectrum and focus on the visual power of black, white, and everything in between.

Paintings by Old Masters such as Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres will appear alongside works by some of the most exciting contemporary artists working today including Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, and Bridget Riley. Explore exquisite studies in light and shadow by Renaissance painters such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, as well as exquisite grisaille paintings by Flemish masters such as Memling and van Eyck, including his ravishing St Barbara, on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Discover how artists have challenged themselves over time to mimic the appearance of stone sculpture in painting, or to compete with new developments in printmaking.

Whilst Ingres’ majestic nude La Grande Odalisque in the Louvre is well-known, his painting of the same subject in monochrome tones (see above) in the Metropolitan Museum is less familiar, and its original purpose remains something of an enigma. Moving into the 20th century, when artists had even more colours available to them than ever before, the choice to abstain from colour could prove even more powerful or provocative. From Picasso’s analytical cubist pictures to Malevich’s abstract homages to monochrome, minimal colour could be employed to create the maximum impact, as continued in works we will see by Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly. Olafur Eliasson‘s immersive light installation Room for one colour (1997) brings a fascinating coda to the exhibition.

We are delighted that exhibition curator Dr Jennifer Sliwka has kindly agreed to give us an introductory lecture. Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Dr Sliwka was formerly the Ahmanson Curator at the National Gallery. Her recent exhibitions have included Visions of Paradise which featured new research on Botticini's Palmieri altarpiece and other paintings made for the Florentine church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence. You can click here to see a short video about some of Dr Slikwa's discoveries.

One of 2017's most important exhibitions - not to be missed! 



Please meet in the National Gallery Conference Rooms lobby where refreshments will be served from 10.30. The Conference Rooms are situated on the first floor of the Sainsbury Wing, next to the National Dining Room Restaurant. Our lecture will then take place in Conference Room Two at 11.00.

After lunch (optional) we have timed entry tickets to the exhibition.

Lecturing is not permitted in the exhibition but audioguide hire is also included and Siân Walters will be available for further discussion and questions. The fee will be £46.50 per person and includes coffee/tea and biscuits on arrival, an introductory slide lecture, timed entry tickets* and audioguide hire.

Please note: if you have an Art Fund pass, the study day price will be reduced by £4.00 (this includes the gallery ticket booking fee). We will refund this money by paypal if you pay online (please let us know if you do not have a paypal account), or if you are paying by cheque please simply deduct £4.00 per person from the total.

For members of the National Gallery, the study day price will be reduced by £12.00. We will refund this money by paypal if you pay online (please let us know if you do not have a paypal account), or if you are paying by cheque please simply deduct £12.00 per person from the total. However, members must book their own timed entry slot in advance - we regret that the gallery does not allow us to do this for you. Members can log in using their password to the members' website, and select a convenient timed entry slot. We would recommend doing this well in advance, to guarantee entry at your required time. (If you are joining the group for lunch, we would recommend that you book the 2.30 slot.)

Important note:
Please however inform us on booking if you have an Art Fund pass or National Gallery membership, and please do make a note to bring these passes on the day, otherwise entrance will not be permitted. We are afraid that we are unable to offer discounts if we are informed about passes after bookings have been made. Thank you.

*We have timed tickets for the afternoon slot - you can enter the gallery at any time between 2 and 5pm


Please let us know if you would like to join us for lunch - we will eat at a very reasonably-priced Italian restaurant near the National Gallery. There is a wide choice of dishes, and payment can be made on the day.

Please let us know on the booking form if you have any food intolerances, allergies or dietary requirements

Further Study Day Information

Location and Directions
We will meet in the Conference Rooms of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

To view a map of the gallery location click here

Travel Information:
The nearest tube stations are Leicester Square and Charing Cross. If you are coming from Waterloo, you may wish to take the overland train from Waterloo East which brings you into Charing Cross railway station, which is a regular and efficient service. If you are coming by bus, click here for a list of bus routes.

If you would like to join us please fill in the online booking form. If you would prefer to send a booking form by post please download a copy here

Once your booking has been accepted, we will notify you by email. Normally we will not need to send you any further information, so please just bring the study day details and email confirmation with you on the day. We regret we are unable to offer refunds on unused tickets, but tickets may be transferred to someone else for the event you have booked (please do let us know if you would like to do so, and give us the name of the person who will be taking your place). Booking closes two weeks before the study day, and availability is limited.

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this event.


  • Specially arranged introductory lecture with exhibition curator
  • One of the highlights of this year's exhibition calendar
  • On-site talks, timed entry tickets and audioguide hire included
  • Pre-lecture refreshments and lunch arranged



Booking is now closed.

If you have any questions regarding the study day or booking please send us an email or
call on +44 (0)1932 267322

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