German Drawings in Washington

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 9, 2010

Press release from the National Gallery:

German Master Drawings from the Wolfgang Ratjen Collection, 1580-1900
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 16 May — 28 November 2010

Curated by Andrew Robison, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, will present for the first time worldwide 120 stunning German watercolors and drawings from the Wolfgang Ratjen Collection—one of the finest private European holdings of old master drawings. On view in the Gallery’s West Building from May 16 to November 28, 2010, German Master Drawings from the Wolfgang Ratjen Collection, 1580–1900 will include rare and influential examples of German works on paper encompassing 16th-century mannerism, the 17th-century baroque, the 18th-century rococo, early 19th-century romanticism, and late 19th-century realism.

In 2007, the National Gallery of Art acquired 185 German and Italian works from the Ratjen Collection with the help of a dozen generous private donors as well as the Paul Mellon Fund and the Patrons’ Permanent Fund. Works included in the exhibition are by artists from Germany and German-speaking areas of Europe, German-born artists practicing abroad, and artists born in other areas who spent time working in Germany and adapting to German culture.

Organized chronologically throughout five rooms, the exhibition begins with outstanding early works by three of the most notable German mannerists: Friedrich Sustris (c. 1540–1599), living primarily in Munich; Hans von Aachen (1552–1615), working at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague; and Hans Rottenhammer (1564/1565–1625), living in Venice and Augsburg. Sustris’ sophisticated drawing An Elaborate Altar with the Resurrection of Christ and the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew (1570/1580) is one of the earliest Bavarian responses to Italian mannerist altars. Von Aachen’s The Madonna Enthroned with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist (1589), a sacra conversazione (devotional scene) produced soon after his return from Venice, was a favored Venetian motif at the time. Rottenhammer’s colorful watercolor Minerva and the Muses (c. 1610) is directly inspired by Tintoretto, whose work he studied in Venice.

From the baroque period, Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610), a favorite artist of both Rubens and Rembrandt, is represented by an extremely rare atmospheric gouache—Ceres Changes Stellio into a Lizard (1605/1608)—perhaps his finest work in the United States.

Ratjen especially pursued watercolors from the 18th century by the great painters—including Cosmas Damian Asam (1686–1739), Matthäus Günther (1705–1788), and Johann Baptist Enderle (1725–1798)—who filled Bavarian churches and palaces with elaborate rococo altarpieces and stunning ceiling frescoes. A remarkable series of Augsburg rococo drawings includes Johann Elias Ridinger’s (1698–1767) charming portrait of the first rhinoceros to come to northern Europe, endearingly nicknamed “Miss Clara” (1748).

Around the turn of the 18th century, German artists developed a particular fondness for nature, as represented here by an extensive series of luminous drawings and watercolors. Highlights include five evocative landscape watercolors by Johann Georg von Dillis (1759–1841) as well as Caspar David Friedrich’s (1774–1840) romantic masterpiece New Moon above the Riesengebirge Mountains (1810 or 1828/1835). (more…)