French Drawings in D.C.

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 13, 2009

It’s shaping up to be quite an autumn for French drawing exhibitions in the United States. In addition to the shows at the Getty, the Frick, and the Morgan, the National Gallery presents a sampling from its permanent collection. As noted in a press release from the museum’s website:

Renaissance to Revolution: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500–1800
National Gallery, Washington D.C., 1 October 2009 — 31 January 2010

Margaret Grasselli, $75

Margaret Grasselli, ISBN 978-1848220430

Some 135 of the most significant and beautiful drawings made over a period of three centuries by the best French artists working at home and abroad and by foreign artists working in France will be on view in Renaissance to Revolution: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500–1800 in the Gallery’s West Building from October 1, 2009, through January 31, 2010. This is the first comprehensive exhibition and catalogue to focus on the Gallery’s permanent collection of French old master drawings, which is remarkable for its breadth, depth, and individual masterpieces. “One of the true glories of the National Gallery of Art’s holdings of graphic art is its outstanding collection of French old master drawings,” said Earl Powell, director, National Gallery of Art. “The exhibition Renaissance to Revolution and the accompanying catalogue celebrate the singular originality, elegance, and spirit of French draftsmanship.”


Antoine Coypel, "Seated Faun," 1700/1705, red and black chalk heightened with white chalk on blue paper, 16 x 11 inches (DC: NGA)

Among the National Gallery of Art’s extensive holdings of approximately 100,000 works on paper, the collection of 6,000 European drawings includes more than 900 French old master drawings which stand out as a particular treasure. The French group has deep roots in the earliest days of the museum’s existence, with the first of these works arriving in 1942, just a year after the Gallery opened its doors to the public. Over the next 67 years, thanks to the generosity of innumerable donors, the collection has evolved into one the Gallery’s strongest and most comprehensive, and one of the finest in the Western Hemisphere.

Organized chronologically, Renaissance to Revolution presents a visual journey through the development of drawing in France, from its first flowering during the Renaissance through its neoclassical incarnation during the political and social upheavals of the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Lorrain, and Antoine Watteau, as well as many less well-known artists. All major stylistic trends and many of the greatest and best-known artists from these centuries are represented by a rich array of works executed in a variety of styles and media and covering a wide range of functions, subjects, and genres. . . .


François-André Vincent, "The Drawing Lesson," 1777, brush and brown wash over graphite, 13 x 15 inches (DC: NGA)

Within the exceptionally rich collection of eighteenth-century drawings, the major artists—Boucher, Fragonard, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, Hubert Robert, and Watteau, among others—are each represented by several works of outstanding quality. Some magnificent pieces by less familiar masters are featured as well, including François-André Vincent’s Drawing Lesson (1777), arguably the most perfect representation of eighteenth-century French elegance, taste, and gallantry; Étienne-Louis Boullée’s monumental neoclassical design for a metropolitan church from 1780/1781; and a large and beautiful pastoral scene executed in pastel and gouache, Shepherds Resting by a Stream (1779) by Jean-Baptiste Pillement. Also noteworthy is a striking group of portraits by several of the leading pastellists of the period, including outstanding examples by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour and Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, as well as a particularly dashing portrait of a young woman by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard from 1787. One of the youngest drawings in the exhibition is the neoclassical portrait Thirius de Pautrizel (1795) by David, an active participant in the revolution, made when he was imprisoned for his radical politics.

A particular strength within the Gallery’s collection of French drawings is the genre of book illustration. This is represented throughout the exhibition beginning with the work by Poyet and includes distinctive pieces by such famous masters as Boucher, Fragonard, Jean-Michel Moreau the Younger, and Saint-Aubin, as well as outstanding examples by other supremely gifted but less widely known artists, such as Hubert-François Gravelot and Charles Eisen.

Margaret Morgan Grasselli, curator of old master drawings, National Gallery of Art, is curator of the exhibition. Published by the National Gallery of Art in association with Lund Humphries, Renaissance to Revolution: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500-1800 features an introductory essay and comprehensive entries on the exhibited drawings with 260 full-color illustrations.

On Sunday, 13 December 2009, at 2pm, Grasselli will deliver the lecture Playing Favorites: A Personal Selection of French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art and sign copies of the catalogue.

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