Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from The Courtauld Gallery

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Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from The Courtauld Gallery
14 June to 9 September 2012
Sponsors: International Music and Art Foundation, Friends of The Courtauld, the
Tavolozza Foundation and the Doris Pacey Charitable Foundation.
The exhibition opens with a group of rare works from the 15th century, a time
when drawing moved beyond the workshop traditions of the late medieval
period to assume a new central role in individual creativity. For Renaissance
artists such as Dürer, Mantegna and Leonardo, drawing was the fundamental
basis of all the arts: the expression not just of manual dexterity but of the
artist’s mind and intellect. These ideas achieved their full expression in the
flowering of draughtsmanship in the 16th century. At the heart of this section
is Michelangelo’s magisterial The Dream, c. 1533. Another highlight is
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engaging scene of drunken peasants cavorting at a
festival in the Flemish village of Hoboken. Whereas Michelangelo sought
ideal divinely-inspired beauty in the human figure, Bruegel revels in the
disorder of everyday life.
Despite the important preparatory function of drawing, many of the most
appealing works in the exhibition were unplanned and resulted from artists
reaching for their sketchbooks to capture a scene for their own pleasure.
Rembrandt’s spontaneous and affectionate sketch of his wife shows Saskia
sitting in bed cradling one of their children. Rubens’s magnificent large
drawing of his own wife, the beautiful young Helena Fourment, has a very
different character. In its imposing presence, mesmerising skill and subtle
characterisation, it is the equal of any painted portrait. A strong selection of
works exploring the relationship between drawing and the landscape includes
J.M.W. Turner’s unforgettable late masterpiece Dawn after the Wreck, which
was immortalised by the critic John Ruskin as one of the artist’s ‘saddest and
most tender works’.
The Courtauld collection includes an outstanding selection of drawings and
watercolours by the great Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists for
which the Gallery is most famous. Apples, Bottle and Chairback is one of
Cézanne’s finest late works in any technique. Here we see the artist pushing
watercolour to its extreme through his intuitive but masterful handling of
successive layers of coloured washes over luminous white paper. Another
highlight is the large crayon drawing by Cézanne’s younger contemporary,
Georges Seurat, whose standing female nude materialises in an almost
unfathomable manner from an intricate web of curving crayon lines. The
exhibition concludes with work by the two greatest artists of the 20th century,
Picasso and Matisse, who reinvented the art of drawing for the modern age.
Following its debut at The Courtauld Gallery, the exhibition will go on view
at The Frick Collection, New York, from 2 October 2012 to 27 January 2013.

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