Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Drawings and Prints

Among the most innovative and influential artists of his age, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1527—1569), was a remarkable draftsman and designer of prints as well as a painter. On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 25 through December 2, 2001, this landmark exhibition included 54 of the 61 extant drawings by Bruegel – a larger number than has ever been assembled for any previous exhibition. In addition, the exhibition will also include some 60 prints designed by him, and another 20 drawings by his contemporaries.

Renowned for his sketches of Alpine scenery and his allegorical depictions of human behavior, Bruegel's spirited drawings and prints, based in traditional imagery as well as a keen observation of nature, are beloved for their novel and highly independent perspectives. His graphic work has captivated both scholars and the public from the 16th century to this day and he remains among the most popular artists of any era.

The exhibition wasn organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

Among Bruegel's foremost artistic achievements is the naturalistic rendering of landscape in pen drawings and engravings, which capture vast expanses of mountains and valleys. Many of his landscapes were created during and just after the artist's journey to Italy in 1552-53. The expansive Alpine vistas that he witnessed during that trip left a lasting impression on his work.

Most of Bruegel's non-landscape drawings were created as designs for prints that were engraved by some of the leading printmakers of his day. These scenes of allegories and proverbs consist of humorous and pointed critiques of human nature, universal characterizations that are still relevant today. Tumultuous demon-filled scenes inspired by Hieronymus Bosch depict man's vices; faceless peasants working the earth illustrate the seasons. Bruegel's drawings and prints changed the way both contemporary and subsequent artists conceived of the land and its inhabitants.

From (some images added):

Most of the drawings are in pen and brown ink with which a range of lines, curves, dots and hatchings are used, the seemingly simple strokes together rendering the subject matter with masterful economy and an uncanny sense of immediacy. A unique standout is a

"Wooded Landscape with a Distant View toward the Sea," in which the brown ink is complemented by brown wash, white gouache, and black chalk--all on blue paper, a startlingly different effect.

In the large selection of drawings as designs for prints are many surrealistic images, clearly influenced by Bosch. Indeed, Bruegel has been called the "second Bosch."

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish," a widely known image, is one of many that illustrate proverbs. Not only the fish are eating; the men are using knives to cut the fish open. Only the fish with wings, flying in the sky, seems to have escaped the cycle.

"The Ass at School" has a satirical slant, showing both the animal (reading a sheet of music) and the exposed buttocks of a student about to be whipped, just one of the unruly crowd of children. Just how much learning is going on? The inscription: "If you send a stupid ass to Paris, if it is an ass here, it will not be a horse there.

A series of prints covers the seven deadly sins and the virtues as well. The sins delve deeply into Bosch territory, with multiple figures, animals, and grotesques graphically illustrating each.

"Greed" is seated among bags of money. a huge purse, and a coffer, counting the wealth, in the midst of revelers, devilish figures, a frog prominently placed in front center.

"Pride" is a woman admiring herself in a mirror, a peacock in full display beside her.

"Anger" emerges from an army tent, sword in one hand, a torch in the other, together with armed soldiers attacking innocent and defenseless people.

On the virtuous side, "Justice" is as expected, blindfolded and holding her sword and scales, the punishment of wrongdoers illustrated on all sides.

"Temperance," on the other hand, surprises with a clock on her head and a bit in her mouth.

A perennial favorite is the drawing

"The Painter and the Connoisseur,"

in which the painter (perhaps a self-portrait?) seems interrupted by the potential buyer, who has his hand on his purse and examines the work in progress through his spectacles. It's a symbiotic relationship fraught with complications, that between art and commerce--one that hasn't changed noticeably since Breugel's drawing more than four centuries ago.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Drawings and Prints was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue to be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Prior to the Metropolitan's presentation, the exhibition will be on view at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, from May 24 to August 5, 2001.