British Baroque: Power and Illusion; Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium

By Laura Cumming
Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, probably Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child, c1664 by Peter Lely. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London/Courtesy of Tate
Charles II, otherwise known as the “Merry Monarch”, was 6ft 2in in his stockings but taller still in the royal wig. He is tossing his wigged head with such melodrama, in the stone bust that opens this show, you can almost feel the heavy swing of the curls. The positioning is perfect. For this wig is an emblem of everything you are about to see in Tate Britain’s lavish blockbuster – from diamond-encrusted miniatures to soaring murals and blazing candelabra: room after room of outrageous pomp and theatricality. There are 40 paintings here, some coining enthralling new forms (Michael Armitage in particular), but others rebarbatively eye-poking or spurious. It feels, at times, like the kind of show Charles Saatchi used to put on – and, come to think of it, actually did, back in 2013, with some of the same artists. It had the better title Body Language. [More]

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