SIN – just what is it? We think of the Seven Deadly Sins with troublesome things like gluttony, pride and lust but artists have made more subtle interpretations. A small but perfectly formed show at the National Gallery, London, brings together some of its most famous ‘sin-centred’ paintings along with loans from other galleries. Humans will transgress but what really is a sin? How should it be defined? Intriguing stuff.

This is a small exhibition for such a huge topic. Sin can come in so many forms and can be interpreted in so many ways. Humans are hardwired to spot and disdain human transgression and most of us have a pretty acute sense of what is right and wrong. But being bad is so much more fun than being good! And in terms of art, it makes for better pictures.

So, at this small but very enchanting show at the National Gallery, there’s chance to greet a few ‘old friends’. Without having to tour the whole gallery you may be just a step away from some of the most intriguing and thought-provoking pieces in the collection.

For me it’s always a joy to see Hogarth’s work and here we have the naughty couple at the heart of Marriage a la Mode – both guilty of marital transgression and really not bothered. Hogarth is so brilliant at capturing moments of conversation and drama, not just in the expression of the main players but in the whole set piece. I do like the bust on the mantlepiece which has clearly had his nose broken off and crudely stuck back on.

There’s also a painting by Jan Steen called The Effects of Intemperance. Oh dear, mother is drunk again and the children are running riot. It’s a very amusing narrative painting which provides far more visual fun than an perfectly well-behaved family staring politely out of the frame.

Jan Steen The Effects of Intemperance about 1663-5 Oil on wood, 76 x 106.5 cm Bought, 1977 NG6442 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6442

I was intrigued by the small sculpture by Ron Mueck. It’s called Youth and shows a young man examining a bloodied stab wound in his abdomen. Shocking yet strangely calming too. The hyper-realism of the piece is quite mesmerising. Yes, he’s been sinned against – a near death experience – and yet the art is sublime.

A curious but intriguing show. It’s free to see and will be at the National Gallery until 3 January 2021.

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