Drawings by masters old and new -- French, Spanish and German-American -- can be found within walking distance on the Upper East Side of New York this summer. Many have never been seen in New York or even this country before.
The Frick Collection offers another winning show with about 70 French 17th- and 18th-century drawings in its special exhibition galleries. "From Callot to Greuze: French Drawings from Weimar" draws on the collections assembled by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the famous German poet, playwright, novelist and privy councilor to the Grand Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The drawings that Goethe encouraged the crown to assemble as a study collection, along with the collection he formed on his own behalf, have since 2003 been combined into the Stiftung Weimarer Klassik and Kunstsammlunger in Weimar, Germany, which is the source of this little-seen group of works.
While not encyclopedic, the selections at the Frick are broad in scope and very fresh, as most of these sheets have not previously been exhibited beyond the former Eastern Bloc countries.
The most beautiful drawing is a trois crayons (three chalk) work of two dancers by Antoine Watteau from around 1716-17. It unites a female dancer looking left, holding her voluminous dress, and engrossed in a step, and a male dancer in the midst of a bow. Lost in their concentration on their work, they are fated never to see one another, but we can and so are allowed to enjoy the surety of line and the elegant, slightly elongated bodies suggested by Watteau’s rippling fabrics.
Almost as good, but a long way from Watteau’s secular delights, is Jacques Bellange’s The Lamentation over Christ, a pen-and-ink from the early 1600s. The body of Christ is less a corpse than a huge lump of dissipating energy turning, alarmingly, into an amorphous puddle before our eyes.
After that harrowing sheet, a bucolic Shepherd Playing his Flute, with Herd, in front of a Coastal Town by Claude Lorrain is just the thing. Two other studies of trees by the same artist are equally agreeable.
A fourth Claude Lorrain, The Reconciliation of Cephalus and Procris in the Presence of Diana, ca. 1640, is a pen-and-ink with wash drawing with more disturbing undertones than its Acadian setting would seem to imply. Cephalus, an avid hunter, is being presented with a hunting dog and spear by his wife. He has returned from going away and testing her fidelity in disguise. Unfortunately, the recently reunited lovers are not fated to stay together. Procris, now jealous, will follow her husband as he hunts, and later he will kill her accidentally with the spear she gives him.
More sensual and/or light-hearted are five drawings from François Boucher, a favorite of Henry Clay Frick. Boucher manages to make a ramshackle farmyard look delightful. His Triton Holding a Stoup in his Hands, a majestic male nude, is actually a study for a Gobelin tapestry for Madame de Pompadour.
But perhaps even better is Boucher’s Two Standing Young Women: Studies for "The Amorous Quarrel by Molière" an illustration for an edition of Molière’s works. One young lady is whispering some juicy tidbit of gossip into the other’s ear, while the listener is unable to hide her shock. A few squiggles were added by a later hand, but they can’t detract from the marvelous facial expressions in this witty black chalk drawings.
I don’t think that I ever saw a work by Lagneau or Lanneau before, but after seeing his Portrait of an Unknown Man from the early 17th-century, I’d certainly like to see more by this sensitive artist. Executed in black and red chalk and watercolor, this bust portrait captures bemused determination and quiet resolve in a delicately drawn and shaded elderly face. It’s one of the highlights of the show.
An upturned Head of Woman, In Profile… by Jean-Baptiste Greuze is an affecting visage, but affecting in a different way is the Head of a Young Woman. . . by Greuze’s apprentice, Pierre-Alexandre Willie. Her appraising look in this sumptuous red chalk from the late 1760s both withholds and offers a powerful sensuality.
Of the later works in the upstairs gallery, a natural history specimen, A Plush-Crested Jay on a Branch is so intensely blue, so realistically painted in watercolor on vellum, that this bird of South America looks as if he has taken up residence at the Frick. Pauline Knip, born Rifer de Courcelles, is a specialist in birds like this one. The drawing may have been made as late as the early 19th century. Even if it’s a little beyond the show’s dates, it’s wonderful that it was included in this stimulating group exhibition.
Other must-sees are a highly finished double portrait by Nattier, red chalk studies by Le Brun, a great tousled head by Parrocel -- presumably that of the editor of Mercure de France, Antoine de La Roque -- and a fine historical tableau by Callot.
Co-organized by the Stiftung Wiemarer Klassik and Kunstsammlungen, where "From Callot to Greuze" was seen earlier, and The Frick Collection, the exhibition will remain on view in New York until Aug. 7, 2005. The show’s final venue is the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, Mar. 14-June 26, 2006. A handsome catalogue with additional works is available.
Tucked into a couple of vitrines, however, are 11 sheets, mostly in pencil, by Goya from all phases of his career. From Majas and Majos Conversing to Majas Fighting, from Old Man on a Swing to Torture of a Man, Goya gives us all sides of human existence.
There is also a single oil, Portrait of Pedro Mocarte, by Goya from around 1804-06. The subject, a chorister at the Toledo Cathedral, is dressed as a bullfighter or dandy. A later hand has added a black cap or scarf to his head, but his face is pure Goya, a decent, worn visage that stares at you as much as you stare at it.
The convenience of seeing the treasures of the Hispanic Society’s museum in another spot will undoubtedly inspire many more art-lovers to make an excursion to the Hispanic Society’s home on the Upper West Side to revisit them. The exhibition is up through July 30, 2005.
Feininger was a successful caricaturist before deciding to become a painter in 1907, when he was already 36 years old. He drew incessantly, always carrying a notebook with him, and translated his sketches into many compositions in a variety of media. Many of the works here are early and date from 1909 and 1910 when Feininger spent his summers in the Baltic and from 1911 when he worked in villages in Weimar. But work from every decade of his career is present.
The most impressive piece is Golden Sunrise from 1944 in watercolor, charcoal and ink. Feininger’s touch with watercolor is as dazzling as the resulting drawing.
The show is up until Sept. 2, 2005. The sale of works will benefit the Lyonel Feininger catalogue raisonné project that Achim Moeller started in the 1980s and which will bear fruit next year when volume one of the paintings is published on the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death.
N.F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.