One of the pleasures of summer is having the time to kick back, slow down and spend some extra time savoring the world around you. Several drawing shows in New York invite just such savoring.
The Frick Collection is hosting a selection of works from the Smith College Museum of Art. It's their only venue before being swept across the Atlantic to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The selection of 68 sheets begins with a silverpoint Portrait of a Young Man from ca. 1460-70 attributed to Dieric Bouts and ends with an ethereal abstract watercolor by the American Mark Tobey from 1954.
In between, two Italian pastels are particularly gorgeous. Head of a Young Woman, a study for a painting by Federico Barocci from around 1574, is a peaches-and-cream concoction. Lazy irregular circles of brown chalk suggest stray ringlets by the lady's right cheek, adding liveliness and specificity to a generalized facial type. The suffused warmth of the flesh is miraculous.
Benedetto Luti, a Florentine who made his name in Rome, would have seen colored chalk heads by Barocci in the Medici Collection in Florence. His Head of an Apostle (1712), one of a set of 12 dispersed at auction in 1987, is another ideal type. Luti, like Barocci, breathes life into this bearded male with his deft use of both blended and pure color. The result is another richly hued and deeply felt pastel.
Among the 19th century pieces are two conté crayon studies by Georges Seurat for his masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. One shows a woman in a hat, another three women and a parasol. They are two of the 27 drawings, 27 painted panels and three canvases that Seurat made in perfecting his monumental oil, now at Chicago's Art Institute.
Vincent van Gogh is represented by two early drawings of "orphan men." Van Gogh broke with his parents and moved to the Hague in 1881 to take classes with his cousin, Anton Mauve. It didn't take him long to throw up his hands at the academic practice of copying from plaster casts. Instead, he invited elderly men from the almshouse to be his models. Both works date from 1882 and are done with a carpenter's pencil with thick, dark lines. Van Gogh wanted to create a portfolio of such works and turn them into lithographs. Some were, but not the two from Smith, although each is lightly squared for transfer.
There are many notable English pieces -- landscapes by Paul Sandby, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Rowlandson (better known for bawdy satires than the picturesque scene here). Yet what would we do without Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for Le Morte D'Arthur? His black india ink How Guinever Made Her a Nun (1893) is a real show-stopper. The brilliantly orchestrated rhythms of black and white left me happily buzzed.
Equally dramatic for its use of black and white from the 20th-century is an untitled work from 1948 by abstract painter and sculptor Barnett Newman. Broad vertical slashes of black ink descend as irrevocably as any waterfall. The authority of the artist is simply overwhelming. At first glance, it made me gasp.
Leave lots of time to enjoy this exhibition. You'll soon see why the Smith College Museum of Art is considered a major repository of drawings.
Through Aug. 12. "Master Drawings from the Smith College Museum of Art." The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th St.
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A second great place to hang out and soak up some drawings is at the Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is inaugurating a new series of annual summer exhibitions featuring American drawings, concentrating on pieces dating 1780 to 1900. All the works in the series will be drawn from the 1,500 American works on paper in the Met's collection. The shows will take place in the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art on the mezzanine of the American Wing.
First up in its "Summer Selections" series is "American Landscape Drawings and Watercolors." The more than 50 pieces encompass old friends and rarely seen works.
Early views of Manhattan offering topographical insights, like Irish-born William Guy Wall's New York from Heights near Brooklyn (ca. 1832) with a windmill, will appeal to history buffs as well as art lovers. John Hill, a transplanted Brit, depicts a View from My Work Window in Hammond Street, NYC (ca. 1826-30). Hill noted that he was near West 11th Street, presenting a good idea of what the Village looked like at the time.
Eerie and haunting is the earliest known work by self-taught Henry Farrer, Winter Scene in Moonlight (1869). The flattened forms and spooky, airless atmosphere is an intoxicating blend of René Magritte and Henri Rousseau. A later more academic watercolor by Farrer, Woman Walking beside a River (1901), is well-executed but considerably less enchanting.
Works by better-known artists include a jaunty peopled promenade by the sea by Maurice Prendergast, Excursionists, Nahant (ca. 1896-97), and two spectacular watercolors by Winslow Homer, both records of his summer visits to the southern U.S. and the Caribbean.
In Homer's A Wall, Nassau (1898), brilliant red poinsettias set off a flat wall bristling with glass shards on top. But it's alluring, too, with an open gate. Water is never far away in Homer's work, and here you can see white sails in the distance. It's a wonderful substitute for a crowded airplane ride to the Bahamas.
Through Sept. 2. "Summer Selections: American Landscape Drawings and Watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue at 82nd St.
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Tibor de Nagy has eight gallery artists in its current "Works on Paper" show, although "paper" comes in many varieties.
Sharon Horvath's abstract Trap Chart is an oil and graphite on mylar work from this year. Map-like areas are overlaid with amoeboid forms conjuring up snakes, intestines, the Nazca lines and pre-Columbian deities. Attractive with splatterings of paint, Trap Chart measures almost six by three feet, big enough to easily pull you into its heavily worked surface. It costs $6,000 to take home.
The spare abstractions of Thomas Nozkowski's oils on museum board ($5,000 each) have their own overlayerings. The artist uses drizzles of oil over oil to pattern the surface, as in his Untitled Y-91 (2000) with its vaguely architectonic forms that are suggestive of a figure, a plane, and any number of other associations.
Amy Sillman, who made such an impression in a group show at the Drawing Center not long ago, is showing an untitled triptych dealing with fertility and birth. It is filled with figures and womblike shapes in widely spaced vignettes. Her gouache-on-paper threesome from this year can be had for $8,000.
Donald Evans continues to create his own stamps for exotic worlds of his own making. His watercolors borrow the look of postage stamps and stamp collecting pages. One of the most interesting of his takes on this area is a souvenir postcard of an Indian pipe plant which he repaints then "mails," franking the postcard with his own home-made stamp. Several pieces of his are not for sale, but the Indian pipe can be had for $12,000.
The late Joe Brainard has four great collage pieces in the show. His Untitled (Player's Navy Cut) from 1977 has a jazzy sense of design with cut-up bits of playing cards fitted into an overall blue, black, and white color scheme. A really sweet three-dimensional rose of crumpled tissue paper highlights another. All date from the mid-1970s. Sadly, none are for sale.
Bright collage studies for paintings by Trevor Winkfield, drawings whose titles echo them in witty ways by Tom Burckhardt, and Stephen Mueller's combinations of simple forms and plaids round out the show, another summer delight.
Through July 27. "Works on Paper." Tibor de Nagy, 724 Fifth Avenue.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.