El Greco, st John the evangelist. Circa. 1590 

This surprising El Greco painting in gallery 8 at the Fitzwilliam Museum offers the confident lucidity of a mature artist’s skill. The loose brush strokes and beguiling simplicity of composition draw the viewer in. With his downward gaze St John seems both vulnerable and contemplative. His open handed gesture questions our own capacity for compassion and generousity. If I was asked who was the first modernist, I might well be tempted to offer El Greco and his vision of what painting can be.

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