Master Drawings With A Spontaneous Edge
Museum in Rotterdam sends some of its prized collection to United States for the first time. ART: REVIEW
NEW YORK — AN exquisite exhibition of master drawings from the Netherlands - spanning the 14th through the 18th centuries - has come to the United States. Totaling 104 sheets, ``Five Centuries of Master Drawings From the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam'' provides an excellent survey of the history of European drawing. Included are the works of such revered Old Masters as Giorgione, Rembrandt, Rubens, Tiepolo, and of Goya, Ingres, and Delacroix. The show has just completed a stint at the Pierpont Morgan Library here and will open Aug. 18 at the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
This show also marks the first time the drawings from the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen have been loaned en masse to a museum in the US.
Some of the drawings have never been exhibited here, including five each by D"urer and Rubens, three each by Rembrandt and Tiepolo, and two by Goya. Other drawings have not been to the States for more than 50 or 100 years.
``Five Centuries of Drawing'' is organized into seven schools: German, Dutch, Flemish, French, Early Netherlandish, Italian, and Spanish. Drawings by artists from the first four schools predominate. Only the Spanish school is under-represented; the two drawings by Francisco de Goya, though wonderful, do not account for Spain's contribution to Western drawing.
Viewers may be confused by the strong emphasis upon some schools and their artists over others in a show that attempts to be a survey. Yet ``Five Centuries of Master Drawings'' is as much about the famous collection of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen as it is about anything else surveyed; the traveling drawings were selected to reflect the museum's larger holdings.
At the heart of the exhibition are works by Albrecht D"urer, the greatest draftsman of the 15th century, who drew forms of striking solidity and depth, with lines of the greatest delicacy. He undertook a lifetime study of human proportion and geometry and figured both into his drawing and painting.
D"urer's ``Study of Two Feet'' depicts the upturned feet of a kneeling saint seen from close behind. Drawn on green paper in gray and white brush, the three-dimensional image with precise and fragile woven and hatched lines reveals D"urer's remarkable ability to capture reality. D"urer used the study to paint the feet of a figure in the Helleralter piece, and they were so highly esteemed that large sums of money were offered to have them sawed from the panel.
A number of important 16th- and 17th-century Dutch drawings are included in the exhibition. There are five brown ink and brush drawings by Rembrandt. The drawings span his artistic career and illustrate the sensitivity and spontaneity of his hand. His radiant drawing of a recumbent lion is brought to life by the skillfully rendered twitch of its tail.
A portrait of the artist's wife, Saskia, seated in a window and seen from outside their house, is charmed by the serene stare she returns to the viewer. In a biblical study, thick brush strokes outline three figures, while smudges of brown ink perfectly capture a fold of drapery and the gesture of a hand.
Among the Dutch drawings is a wonderful landscape by Hendrick Goltzius titled ``Dune Landscape With a Farmhouse.'' The brown pen-drawing depicts the farms, fields, roads, and gentle hills of the Dutch countryside. There is a sense of depth to the fields in the background, and of motion to the trees and grass in the foreground. According to one of the exhibit's curators, Ger Luijten, ``Dune Landscape With a Farmhouse'' helped steer other landscape artists away from supernatural details like gnarled trees and towering crags, and toward a more realistic style.
A number of beautiful portrait drawings and figure studies by the 17th-century artist Peter Paul Rubens dominate the Flemish school. Rubens's portraits, often of his immediate family and close friends, are brilliant displays of technique. ``Young Woman With Folded Hands,'' a portrait in red and black chalk, is notable for its gentleness and the softness in the lines of the hair and the puffed sleeves.
Rubens's tendency to exaggerate the anatomy of his models is evidenced in his study ``Kneeling Man Seen From the Back.'' It is interesting to compare this drawing with a similar one by his prot'eg'e, Anthony Van Dyke, which hangs a few feet away.
The collection is also very strong in examples of French and Italian drawing. The only existing drawing by the 15th-century Italian artist Giorgione hangs alongside figure studies by Fra Bartolommeo and a Venician cityscape by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Four drawings by the Frenchman Jean-Antoine Watteau emphasize his influence upon French drawing. Watteau sketched everything from soldiers at rest to costumed dancers.
The most modern drawings in the collection are also French. There is a romantic study of two charging horsemen by Eugene Delacroix that contrasts nicely with the neo-classic portraits of his 19th-century contemporary, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
A drawing by one of Ingres's admirers, Edgar Degas, is also on display. The quality of the long and thinly spaced lines in Degas's ``Dancer With a Fan'' echoes Ingres's style and demonstrates how much Degas learned from the older artist's example.
Before returning to the Netherlands, ``Master Drawings From the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam'' will stop at the Cleveland Museum of Art Nov. 13 through Jan. 13.