Saturday, January 24, 2009

From Raphael to Renoir

150 drawings from the collection of Swiss Jean Bonna are on display at the Met. Drawn from a variety of artistic schools in Italy, Northern Europe, France and Great Britain, they map a traditional art history chronology--Italian Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish Mannerism, French Rococo, classicism and Impressionism, British Decadence. 

Among the earlier pieces, the head portraits were most interesting to me. Head of a man wearing a turban. Head of a young girl. Though these were preparatory sketches for oil paintings, they are drawn with delicacy and feeling. In red, black and white chalk. In brown ink and wash. I wish they had put up a picture of the oil painting next to its preparatory sketch, for the sake of comparison, but I guess that would have reduced the space for the drawings themselves. Not all the drawings on exhibit were preparatory sketches; some were drawn for sale after a painting gained a following. Among the Italians, I was most taken by the drawings of Andrea del Sarto; among the French, Boucher.

Of the later drawings, I was drawn to those executed with boldness and simplicity. I love a Degas that depicts a woman bent over her basin, washing the back of her neck. I don't like Gauguin's paintings, but his drawing of the head of a Tahitian woman is noble. After looking at so many fine faces, I was happy to come upon Goya's grotesque figures in a small drawing. There is no Hogarth in the exhibition. 

The landscape drawings, curiously, were of little interest to me. They seemed entirely preparatory work, whereas the figures, even the sketchiest ones, convey the charm, and pathos, of ephemerality. 

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