European Master Drawings from the Allen Memorial Art Museum

Ripin Gallery
October 29, 2002 - June 9, 2003

Filippino Lippi - Lamentation of Christ at the Tomb
c. 1485 (pen and ink)

Drawing is perhaps the most spontaneous and direct expression of the artist; and some believe that it reflects the true spirit of the creator. Whether it be through the first, swift notation, the detailed exploration of a form, or the laying out of a composition, the visual articulation is at its strongest in the act of drawing. Often the collector or connoisseur seeks out the drawing before the painting or sculpture. Since the Renaissance, draughtsmanship has been regarded as an independent artistic activity, and the drawing as a work of art in its own right. As artists rose from medieval craftsmen to learned individuals with social standing during the 15th century, the artmaking process also evolved. At its root was the "idea" of the work of art as embodied in the drawing or sketch, a concept to be esteemed as highly as the finished object.

All of the major European schools are represented in the drawings collection at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, including the French, Italian, Dutch, Flemish, German, and British schools. The works in this exhibition fall into two general categories: drawings intended to serve as preparatory steps towards the completion of another work of art or architecture; and those drawings produced as works of art in themselves and meant to be exhibited. Within these categories are further types such as: presentation drawings, caricatures, observational and academic studies, and highly finished compositions. However, all of these examples, from the fanciful sketch intended for only the creator's eye to the brilliant cabinet drawing bound for private consumption, offer us a rare glimpse into the artistic genius. (continued below)

Peter Paul Rubens, Head of an Old Man
c. 1605 (red chalk and wash)

The first European drawings entered the museum's collection with the Charles F. Olney bequest of 1904, but it was another twenty years before the first purchases were made. With endowed funds furnished by R. T. Miller, Jr. and Mrs. F. F. Prentiss, the museum made several outstanding acquisitions in the 1940's and 1950's. Two significant gifts of groups of drawings from Mrs. Malcolm L. McBride and Robert Lehman also came in the 1940's, laying the path for subsequent donations. As a result, over half of the museum's drawings collection is comprised of gifts. Another important acquisition mode for the museum was through the Friends of Art, a membership group that held annual purchase parties in which the drawings were selected by ballot from a group of artworks on approval. The museum's Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolours, published in 1976, includes 370 works; however, more than eighty European drawings have been added to the collection since then, and most of them are included in the Masterworks for Learning CD-Rom, published in 1998.

Because of their fragility and sensitivity to light and fluctuations in temperature and humidity, drawings cannot be exhibited for extended periods of time. Consequently it is a rare occasion for the museum to display so many of its drawings at once. But at the same time, this is an excellent opportunity for viewers to acquaint themselves with the rich, diverse collection of master drawings at the Allen Memorial Art Museum.

Curator: Stephen D. Borys

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, View of a Park
c. 1770 (black chalk and grey wash)
(1951.17 )