Laura Cumming: best art of 2016

By Laura Cumming

Portraits woke up, the tiny Goldfinch flew in, the Switch House switched on, and junk art triumphed

• Observer critics' reviews of the year in full

It was a year of dramatic arrivals and departures. Masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Delacroix and the elusive Giorgione flew in from round the world – who can forget Giorgione's glowering 1510 man, head moving, eyes turning: like watching portraiture wake up. The National Portrait Gallery swapped its Chandos Shakespeare with Moscow's Tretyakov Museum for mesmerising portraits of Chekhov, Tolstoy, an irate Turgenev and the only image of Dostoevsky from the life, shattered but unbowed after Siberian solitary confinement.

The Royal Academy mustered the biggest canvases it has ever displayed – Jackson Pollock's magnificent Blue Poles from Australia, Clyfford Still's monumental crags from Colorado – for its Abstract Expressionism blockbuster. And Lord knows how they did it, but the Scottish National Gallery managed to entice the tiniest of masterpieces, Carel Fabritius's legendary Goldfinch, out of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Catch it in Edinburgh for another fortnight before it flies away.

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