Monday, March 10, 2014

Clouet to Seurat: French Drawings from The British Museum

Four centuries of French draftsmanship were on view in Clouet to Seurat: French Drawings from The British Museum, opening November 8, 2005, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition featured nearly 100 masterpieces, ranging from rare Renaissance portraits by Jean and François Clouet to selections from The British Museum's incomparable holdings of Claude Lorrain and Antoine Watteau, through stellar works of the 19th century, from Ingres and Delacroix to Degas, Cézanne, and Seurat. A majority of these works had never before been exhibited in the United States. Clouet to Seurat remained on view at the Metropolitan through January 29, 2006.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The British Museum.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan, commented: "This exhibition presents Metropolitan Museum visitors with a truly remarkable opportunity to see rarely exhibited drawings by master draftsmen, and to witness the development of French art unfold before them. Surveying such a broad period allows one to appreciate the cyclical nature of stylistic development. For instance, the battles waged in the 17th century between the Rubénistes, who favored color and naturalism, and the Poussinistes, proponents of line and the study of antiquity, are echoed in the contrast between the classicism of Ingres and the Romanticism of Delacroix in the early 19th century."

Exhibition Organization and Contents

Organized chronologically, Clouet to Seurat created a visually compelling picture of the evolution of French draftsmanship from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Whether the drawings were made as part of a working process or as works of art in their own right, they reveal the mastery and exquisite beauty of the French artistic tradition in the artists' most direct and immediate means of expression. Among the works on view were two of a group of royal portraits from the 16th century by Jean Clouet (1485/90–1541) and his son François Clouet (ca. 1516–1572) that are rare examples of the early use of different colored chalks to produce naturalistic effects. Under Queen Catherine de Médici such royal portraits in colored chalks were collected and valued as independent works of art.

A more unified national style developed in the 17th century, in part due to the establishment in 1648 of the French Royal Academy (Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture), where the influence of Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) gave rise to a cool and classicizing Baroque idiom. Another formulation of the Baroque style reached its apogee in the work of landscape painter Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682) who spent his working career in Rome. Indisputably the French Baroque artist most beloved by British collectors, Claude is represented in the exhibition by five works — selected from among 500 in The British Museum's collection — which demonstrate the range of his production, from free plein air studies to the breathtakingly fresh drawings from his Liber Veritatis, in which he made record drawings of his completed paintings.

Head of Hebe, Study for the "Apotheosis of Hercules", ca. 1733–36
François Lemoyne
© The Trustees of the British Museum (2005). All rights reserved

The French Enlightenment was represented, on the one hand, by the sparkling trois crayons drawings by Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), the most original and influential Rococo draftsman, and on the other hand by the more cerebral drawings of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825). Tendencies inspired by Watteau's informal and accessible style were stifled by the French Revolution of 1789, and with David at the helm, French art returned to a conservative classicism.

During the 19th century, great innovation often co-existed with a deep respect for the art of the past. Artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), David's leading pupil, and Jean-Louis Gérôme (1824–1904) continued the academic tradition. Romantics like Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) and Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) and Realists like Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), all represented in the exhibition, laid the foundations for ground-breaking movements such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Drawings continued to play an integral role in this evolution, even as artistic traditions were challenged and re-invented. Two studies for La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (1859–1891) were on view, as were drawings by Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), among others.

The British Museum Collection

The Department of Prints and Drawings at The British Museum oversees one of the oldest and finest collections of works on paper in the world. Founded in 1753 with the bequest of Sir Hans Sloan (1660–1753), which contained more than 200 French drawings, and built up over subsequent centuries through bequests and judicious acquisitions, the collection now contains over 3,500 drawings by French artists. In 1965, an important bequest of 16 works from César Mange de Hauke (1900–1965) enriched the collection significantly, including 13 masterpieces of the 19th century. Nonetheless, The British Museum's splendid holdings of French drawings are comparatively little known having long been overshadowed by its works from the Italian and Northern schools.

Exhibition Credits and Catalogue

The exhibition is organized by Perrin Stein, Curator, in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Drawings and Prints, and Martin Royalton-Kisch, Senior Curator, Department of Prints and Drawings at The British Museum. Following its showing at the Metropolitan, Clouet to Seurat was exhibited at The British Museum.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with entries by Perrin Stein and an essay on French drawing and the history of the collection at The British Museum by Martin Royalton-Kisch. Published by The British Museum Press and distributed by Yale University Press.

From a review: (images added)

Nearly a hundred of the British Museum’s vast collection of French drawings, many of which are rarely displayed because of their sensitivity to light, are on view in this fine accompaniment to the van Gogh shows. Also running chronologically, "Clouet to Seurat" begins in the sixteenth century, including splendid works by the relatively unknown

Francesco Primaticcio ("A Seated River God with a Nymph, Two Dogs, and the Banished Callisto"),

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues ("Oak and Dragonfly"),

and Pierre Dumonstier II ("Right Hand of Artemisia Gentileschi Holding a Brush").

Nicolas Poussin’s "The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth, the Infant St. John and Putti" is one of the highlights of the seventeenth-century gallery,

as well as Claude Lorrain’s "Coast View with Perseus and the Origin of Coral."

Several pieces by Antoine Watteau represent the Rococco style of the early eighteenth century, in addition to pieces by François Le Moyne and François Boucher.

A particular favorite is Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s "Return from the Wet Nurse."

The early nineteenth century brought neoclassicism and works by Jacques-Louis David, Camille Corot, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Théodore Géricault,

and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (the marvelous chalk drawing "Standing Female Nude").

Realism took hold after the 1848 revolution, exemplified by

Victor Hugo’s "Landscape with a Castle on a Cliff,"

Honoré Daumier’s "Clown Playing a Drum,"

and Gustave Courbet’s "Self-Portrait" of the artist revealing a knowing glance.

Impressionism followed, with Edgar Degas’s very green "Dancers at the Barre,"

Georges Seurat’s studies for "La Grande Jatte:

(Georges Seurat, The Couple: Study for "La Grande Jatte", 1884, © British Museum)

(Georges Seurat, Landscape with dog: study for 'La Grande Jatte', 1884 Conté crayon, © British Museum)

Odilon Redon’s mysterious "Christ Crowned with Thorns,"

and Paul Cézanne’s "The Apotheosis of Delacroix," which features Degas, Pissarro, Monet, and Cézanne himself.