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DRAWING NOTEBOOK
by N.F. Karlins
 
Lovers of drawings were in heaven when the third annual edition of "Master Drawings New York," a one-week showcase of drawings by dealers in Old and Modern Masters from London and New York, arrived on Jan. 23, 2009. It opened with a jammed preview, followed by a week of regular hours.

As if that were not enough, drawing connoisseurs could also see important shows of drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan library and Museum.

This year’s outing of "Master Drawings New York" brought together 18 dealers, eight from the UK. Some took over galleries; others shared spaces. The various arrangements around the Upper East Side lent a pleasant informality to the event. I noted bigger crowds than at the two earlier annuals and lots of sales. Little red dots were everywhere, and I found good value at all price points, from four to seven figures, plus the occasional bargain.

Diversity has been and continued to be a hallmark of "Master Drawings New York." Crispian Riley-Smith, one of the founders of "Master Drawings New York," showed a newly rediscovered Head of a Boy by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, a lively drawing of a curly-haired, wide-eyed young man in pastel and brown ink on blue paper, a handsome addition for any major collector. He also had watercolors by the 18th-century Dutch draughtsman and engraver Hermanus Numan.

One glance at Numan’s Rupelmonde near Nieursluis, a river scene showing a large country house with boys fishing in the foreground, was what falling into a black hole must be like. The exquisite details of the small watercolor with chalk and ink were so precise, so packed with information of the most amusing sort, that I could barely draw my eyes from it. This work, which Numan eventually turned into an engraving, was the kind of discovery that punctuated my gallery tours.

At James Mackinnon, a small Greek Warriors in graphite by Jacques-Louis David shared the room with a large Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier Infantryman in watercolor, but I was most fascinated by a strange gouache-on-vellum of a winged-stem passion flower (1799) by Sydenham Teak Edwards. The artist made a similar image for a book of botanical illustrations, I was told by Mr. Mackinnon. But here this British artist had compressed the flower, twisting and coiling on the page, and placed it before a landscape, pushing the image into the surreal.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I saw was a red, black and white chalk of a young girl by François Boucher at Day & Faber. Richard Day, a born raconteur, recounted how Boucher had kept this drawing for himself for many years. Count Carl Gustaf Tessin of Sweden had been visiting Paris with his niece, the charming subject of the drawing, and had offered to buy it, but was refused. Much later the Count, knowing of Boucher’s passion for Dutch art, dangled two Dutch paintings before Boucher, who finally agreed to give him the work. Sadly, the Count had financial reverses that forced him to sell the drawing late in life.

The drawing, Charlotta Sparre, Aged Twenty-One (1741) was in exceptional condition with bright, true colors. Last year it was seen in "Boucher and Chardin: Masters of Modern Manners" at the Wallace Collection in London. It’s presence at Day & Faber, which bought the drawing from a private collection in 2004, was the first time the work had been seen in the United States since it was made. I only hope a public collection here buys it, so I can see it again.

One of the most successful dealers, Jean-Luc Baroni, sold not only many fine early Italian drawings but also two important paintings, Tintoretto’s Portrait of a Bearded Man (mid-1500s) and Jacques-Louis David’s General Baron Claude-Marie Meunier, David’s son-in-law (1809), which had not been seen since 1914. Other dealers had smaller oils, prints, small metalwork or ceramics in addition to their inventories of drawings.

David Tunick sold three drawings by Edgar Degas almost immediately. All included renderings of Degas’s Italian cousin Giovanna Bellelli and date from the 1850s, when the artist was in Italy. Tunick was showing a significant number of modern masters. I admired a highly finished Henri Matisse drawing of a Nice interior with two women, one nude, done in pencil, and Picasso’s powerful image of a head, Visage, a collage and cut-out from 1961.

Mary-Anne Martin, a specialist in Latin American art, had enough Diego Rivera independent drawings and studies for murals to amount to a mini-retrospective, while Dickinson presented a show devoted to three Minimalists, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin and Wes Mills.

One of my favorite shows was at Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, which had a particularly broad array of work. You could have purchased a major Degas dancer in pastel if you had missed the Degas’ at Tunick or a dreamy Claude Monet pastel of Waterloo Bridge, London or a double-sided Carlo Maratta in red chalk, with the head of a young boy on one side and the penitent Saint Peter on the other, both in red chalk, from the late 1670s.

While not everyone is going to be able to afford a Degas pastel, for example, I found a number of bargains, several still available in the middle of the week. My favorites were The Artist’s Son, Jean-Louis (1906) by Henry de Waroquier, a Parisian artist whose mixed media Art Nouveau-ish baby portrait was colorful and exceptionally appealing. It was being offered framed for $6,000 at Nissman, Abromson Ltd.

At Mia N. Weiner’s I spotted a small colored chalk Head of a Cleric (mid-1660s) by the Baroque artist Carlo Dolci for under $10,000, and a vigorous Study of Eagles by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, the French 18th-century animal painter, for under $20,000 at L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur.

This year’s "Master Drawings New York" had something for everyone, often several somethings.

*     *     *
At the Morgan Library and Museum, two shows, "Studying Nature: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection" and "The Thaw Collection of Master Drawings: Acquisitions since 2002," demonstrate the on-going generosity of patron, dealer and collector Eugene V. Thaw and his wife Clare Eddy Thaw.

More than 30 of the 135 oil sketches that the Thaws have promised jointly to the Morgan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are being presented through Aug. 30, 2009. All date from the late 18th to the early 19th century, when doing oil sketches from nature was common preparation for a painting.

A John Constable of Hampstead Heath with Bathers (ca. 1821-2) shows a group of bathers who disappear into the landscape while the clouds above receive intense scrutiny.

The sky plays an even greater role in Johan Christian Clausen Dahl’s scene in which ominous purple-gray billows seem to be pressing down on a cowering central group of trees. It’s wonderful, moody piece.

Not far away are about 80 drawings, bringing the total number of drawings, not counting oil sketches, that the Thaws have given or will give to the Morgan to several hundred. Though comprising many German and Austrian works that fill gaps in the collection, this tranche is as broad-based as previous groups from the Thaws.

Among the impressive Germanic works in "Acquisitions since 2000," on view through May 3, 2009, is a Romantic image of the bay of Naples by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a prolific draughtsman as well as writer. The brown-pen-and-ink drawing pictures a lone traveler looking across the Bay to the hills beyond.

Other striking sheets include a fine head of a bearded man in colored chalks by Federico Barocci (1588-91) and a pair of very fine, larger than usual, full-length portraits in pencil by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Ingres’s Portrait of Adolphe-Marcellin Defresne (1825) and Portrait of Mme Adolphe -Marcellin Defresne, née Sophie Leroy (1826) have not been seen in public since 1911.

A late Henri Matisse brushed in thick strokes of India ink is among the treasures here that push the drawings collection of the Morgan firmly into the 20th century. This late work, Grand Visage I (Lydia) (1952) is a bold portrait of Matisse’s secretary, studio assistant, and model, made two years before the artist’s death.

Other 20th-century pieces range from a fiercely worked enamel paint and ink drawing by Jackson Pollock from around 1944 to a cool Agnes Martin grid from around 1962. The latest work is Jim Dine’s Blind Owl in charcoal and oil on a serigraph from 2000.

At the Metropolitan Museum is "Raphael to Renoir: Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna," now through Apr. 26, 2009. It encompasses 120 drawings.

The exhibition is anchored by Raphael’s Study of Soldiers in "The Conversion of Saul" (1515-16). A red chalk with three figures, it has great energy while displaying the "grace and harmony" that this Swiss collector has said he prizes most in drawings.

Great technique seems another criterion in looking at the pen work of A Man in a Turban from around 1500 and attributed to the Circle of Giovanni Bellini and of Dominico Campagnola’s Horseman of the Apocalypse (mid-1500s).

A beautiful pastel and chalk Head of Young Woman by Federico Barocci and Jacopo Ligozzi’s Full-Length Portrait of the Sultan Selim II with a Dragon (1580-85) show that medium makes no difference to Mr. Bonna’s as long as beauty and skill are present.

Amid the mostly Italian and French works in the collection, Hans Hoffmann’s Dürer-esque A Wild Boar Piglet (1578) is striking, but has the same refinement, which conjures up a pleasurable frisson considering the sheet’s feral subject.

French 18th- and 19th-century masters are almost all represented, often by multiple sheets. The large number by Théodore Gericault is noteworthy, especially his affecting watercolor and chalk Three Horses in a Stable (ca. 1822-23), more of a multiple portrait than a simple animal picture.

With these delightful works, those at the Morgan, and at Master Drawings New York, lovers of drawings were well rewarded in braving the January weather.


N.F. KARLINS is a New York critic and art historian.



 



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