Albrecht Dürer: Genius of Real Life

National Gallery of Art’s exhibit “the greatest exhibition of Dürer ever held in this country.”

By: Sophie Gilbert

When it comes to Albrecht Dürer, some things are apparently worth waiting for. Seven years after the National Gallery of Art first hoped to present “Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints From the Albertina,” the exhibit finally opens March 24 in the East Building. Curator Andrew Robison calls the show “the greatest exhibition of Dürer ever held in this country.”

Dürer, who lived in Germany from 1471 to 1528, spanned the medieval and Renaissance eras in his work, which included paintings, prints, autobiographical texts, mathematical treatises, and more. Robison compares the artist to Leonardo da Vinci in the scope of his accomplishments: “He was a very curious man, and like Leonardo he was very aware of the changing notion of what an artist could be—this transition from being a craftsperson to being a kind of genius with a special sort of inspiration.”

The Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria, has the world’s most extensive Dürer collection, and more than a decade ago Robison started discussing a collaboration. But the Albertina didn’t want to expose the fragile works to light too soon after its own Dürer retrospective in 2003, so the National Gallery agreed to wait. The exhibit, which explores Dürer as a draftsman, covers the whole of his career, from 91 drawings and watercolors—including masterpieces such as “The Praying Hands”—to 27 engravings and woodcuts.

“Dürer was above all a realist,” says Robison. “He’s interested in real objects, real aspects of nature, real human beings, and that’s what makes him a great portraitist. It’s a very colorful exhibition and a knockout visually. We’ll be able to survey the whole of this very intelligent, very complex, and supremely gifted human being.”

“Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints From the Albertina” at the National Gallery of Art through June 9. More information is at

This article appears in the March 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.