March 1, 2011

French drawings US traveling exhibition - Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art at The Frick, Pittsburg, The Blanton, Austin and Stanford University Center for Visual Arts

Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art 

This traveling  Exhibition featuring 56 drawings chronicling a 400-year period in France, between 1500 and 1900, makes its debut at the Frick in Pittsburgh, where it is on view through April 17, 2011. Following its showing at the Frick, the exhibition will be on view at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas from September 18 - December 31, 2011, and the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University from May 28 - August 24, 2012.

The Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburg
February 5 - April 17, 2011 
The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas
September 18 - December 31, 2011 
Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University
May 28 - August 24, 2012 

Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art chronicles the full range of artistic uses of the medium, from quick sketches to finished compositional studies, to drawing as an end in itself. The Blanton Museum at the University of Texas at Austin has organized the exhibition from their permanent collection, which was supplemented a bit more than a decade ago by a large gift of drawings. The French drawings from this gift had not received systematic academic study, nor had most of them been published. 

Especially rich in 17th and 18th century drawings, the exhibition illustrates the rise to dominance of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture as one of the most dominant cultural and political institutions in Europe.  

The exhibition includes works by François Boucher (1703-1770), Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), and Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), among others, with the nineteenth century represented by choice sheets from François-Marius Granet (1777-1849), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Jean Forain (1852-1931), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923), and others who reflect shifts in the approach to drawing in the modern era. 

At the Frick, the exhibition find a perfect counterpart in the museum’s permanent collection, which visitors enter as they exit the traveling drawings show. Paintings by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), Lancret (1690-1743), Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736), Boucher, Hubert Robert (1733-1808), and Nicolas-Bernard Lepicié (1735-1784), are displayed with examples of decorative arts from the period. Interpretation links the Frick’s collection to the Blanton exhibition through specific Collection Connection labels, and with a printed gallery guide. 
Frick Director Bill Bodine comments, “The Frick’s presentation of Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art reflects an institutional interest in French art established by Helen Clay Frick, founder and benefactor of the museum. We are delighted to be the first museum to host this exhibition of the Blanton’s magnificent drawings, many of which are unpublished and unfamiliar to the art world at large. This exhibition also provides us with the opportunity to highlight select French drawings and paintings in our collection that were purchased by Miss Frick and relate to the body of work on loan from the Blanton Museum of Art.”


The exhibition begins in a period of transition from the mannerism of the late Renaissance to the Baroque period. Two sheets showing designs for a powder flask made by an artist associated with the School of Fontainebleau show the sophisticated sense of decoration that prevailed among artists working around the court of Francis I. Two drawings attributed to seminal printmaker Jacques Callot (1592-1635) and his circle date to the period he spent in Florence, and show his interest in melding his observations of life around him into his expressive and inventive finished compositions. The fluid chalk Study of a Man with a Turban, c. 1617, attributed to Callot, is characteristic of his elegant figures and displays a masterful ability at controlling light and shade and swiftly capturing the spirit of a figure, as well as its contours.  

The Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture was founded in 1648. Modeled on Italian examples, the Académie provided training for and official recognition of artists, and allowed for artists to categorize themselves more highly than craftsman or tradespeople. Instruction at the Académie was based on a combination of lectures and studio classes. By the 1680s the Académie royale was an extremely influential organization, with well-established rules, a code of practice, lectures, regular competitions and prizes, exhibitions, and life-drawing-classes.  

The Académie, like those in Italy, considered drawing a fundamental part of the training of an artist and a necessary skill for a successful painter. Engrained in the academic system was a hierarchy of importance with history painting (narrative painting of religious, classical or mythological subject matter) being the most important, followed by portraiture, genre, landscape, and still-life painting. As the exhibition progresses through the Baroque period, examples of typical classical, mythological and religious subjects are prevalent, featuring an annunciation by Michel Dorigny (1616-1665) and a fascinating Elevation of the Cross attributed to Raymond LaFage (1656-1684). Religious and mythological subjects, along with the occasional classical landscape, dominate for about 50 years, until the emergence of the Rococo. 

The style of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) is represented in this exhibition by Landscape in a Venetian Manner, c. 1715-1716 (Circle of Watteau). Watteau is best known for his fêtes galantes, a term invented by the Académie in 1717 to describe the artist's variation on the traditional theme of outdoor feasts. This drawing depicts the type of classicized, pastoral setting that might have been populated by fashionable couples in one of Watteau’s finished paintings. The artist kept bound albums of his landscape drawings —some made from nature and others copied from earlier artists— which he later incorporated into his painted compositions. This drawing exhibits the distinctive featherlike touch and delicacy of Watteau that suggests life's fragility and transience. 

The drawings of the Rococo period have exceptional crossover in artists and subject matter with the permanent collection at the Frick, both collections include Watteau’s contemporary Lancret, as well as Jean-Marc Nattier and François Boucher, and demonstrate the period’s interest in portraiture, allegory, mythology, and idealized landscapes. The favorite painter of Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Boucher is represented by two drawings in this exhibition. Mucius Scaevola Putting His Hand in the Fire, c. 1726-1728, an early drawing, shows the influence of his teacher, François Le Moyne (1688-1737), whose work is also included in the exhibition. A later sheet by Boucher, Juno Commanding Aeolus to Unleash the Winds,1769, is executed in a markedly different style than the earlier drawing and was made in preparation for a painting now in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. 

The neoclassical period is exemplified by François-Marius Granet, who studied in the studio of Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) along with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). Granet traveled to Italy early in the 19th century and there developed a market for his works focusing on church interiors, ruins, and monuments. His drawing Monks Entering a Cloister, c. 1802-1819, shows his fascination with the atmosphere of classical architecture, and his typical skill at employing dramatic light effects.

By the mid-19th century, the hold of academic training on the art world began to weaken, and the lure of Italy as the land of both ideal landscape and ideal architecture collapsed as younger artists, like Théodore Rousseau, began to find deeper meaning in creating images of their own landscape. Rousseau’s small charcoal drawing on pink paper A Marshy River Landscape, c. 1845, illustrates his interest in responding directly to nature. The decidedly unpicturesque view of scrubby growth and wintry trees growing alongside a chill and grey looking river bordered by swampy land, has his characteristic manner of close observation combined with sketchy, more poetic passages. The pink paper and the use of white chalk on the horizon create an effect of either sunrise or sunset, and an atmosphere of sublimity and transcendence. As the exhibition concludes at the cusp of the 20th century we see artists exploring a variety of more moderns subjects—from the late realism of Workers Loading Ballast by Frédéric Jacque (1859-1931), to the more academic and conservative orientalism of Alexandre-Louis Leloir (1843-1884) and his Moroccan Girl Playing a Stringed Instrument, 1875, to the graphic sensibility employed by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen in preparatory drawings for his famous lithographs.


A catalogue published by Hudson Hills Press accompanies the exhibition. Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art includes essays by Cheryl K. Snay, the Blanton’s former Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings; Jonathan Bober, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and European Paintings; and Kenneth M. Grant, Paper Conservator, Harry Ransom Center. The catalogue includes entries on all works, which are accompanied by full-color images. 

Four Centuries of French Drawings from The Blanton Museum of Art
By Jonathan Bober, Kenneth M. Grant, and Cheryl K. Snay
Hudson Hills Press, March 2011 
Hardcover - 304 pages - 10 x 11 in. - 25 x 27 cm 
100 color plates - 30 black & white

Storied Past: Four Centuries of French Drawings from the Blanton Museum of Art is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. Support for the exhibition is provided by Continental Airlines and the Still Water Foundation.  

Upcoming exhibitions at the Frick

A Closer Look: France and the Automobile, 1890-1925
March 8 - April 17, 2011

PAN–Fin de Siècle Prints: Art Nouveau on Paper 
May 21 - September 11, 2011 

Fabergé: The Hodges Family Collection
October 22, 2011 - January 15, 2012 

Pittsburgh, PA 15208