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El Greco in America: Critics, Collectors, and Connoisseurs

Richard L. Kagan, Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emeritus of History and Academy Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University. The 400th anniversary of the death of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, universally known as El Greco (1541-1614), is remembered at the National Gallery of Art with an exhibition of 11 paintings from the Gallery, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. With seven paintings by El Greco, the Gallery has one of the largest collections of his work in the United States, made possible by the generosity of early benefactors Andrew W. Mellon, Samuel H. Kress, Joseph Widener, and Chester Dale. Ignored for centuries, El Greco was rediscovered in Spain by Picasso and other artists at the close of the 19th century. His fame spread quickly to the United States, where artists, critics, and collectors regarded his idiosyncratic style of painting as a precursor of the latest trends in modern art. While El Greco continued to have his detractors, his popularity skyrocketed, leading to what some would label a cult. To honor the exhibition opening on November 2, 2014, Richard Kagan examines the craze for El Greco and how several of his masterpieces came to the Gallery’s collection. El Greco in the National Gallery of Art and Washington-Area Collections: A 400th Anniversary Celebration is on view through February 16, 2015.