View of Toledo, a rare landscape in El Greco’s oeuvre, is often remembered as a favorite from high school art class, maybe rivaling a canvas by the equally expressive Van Gogh. But perhaps this is unfair. Between visiting the Met and the Frick, you can now see all the El Grecos in New York City, an impressive 18 works, and consider for yourself whether there is more to be said.
Certainly both in View of Toledo and his portrait of Cardinal Guevara I was struck by how of our own time they both seemed. Consider how strange they must have seemed to contemporaries and even poorly made, considering how expressiveness is cherished over proper execution and draftsmanship. A modern taste appreciates being able to psychologize these works and read into them a visionary persona in a way that the Renaissance patron typically would not.
Those two examples aside, El Greco primarily painted religious scenes. Proper figuration is subsumed by flowing shapes in the overall composition, which seem simplified for more direct and iconic appeal. Although these are the more typical of his works, I don’t find them as appealing as the first examples. However, the liquid eyes of the Christ above are touching. Although I’m not sure how I feel about El Greco, I appreciate the current opportunity to reconsider the artist and see his body of work more holistically.