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Stunning Drawings from Weimar Museums
Jean-Marc Nattier, Madame de Marsolier and Her Daughter, 1757. Black chalk, stump, heightened with white chalk, on brown paper, 428 x 324 mm. Schlossmuseum.

NEW YORK.- From Callot to Greuze: French Drawings from Weimar, an exhibition opening on June 1, 2005, at The Frick Collection presents to American audiences a selection of approximately seventy drawings from the Schlossmuseum and the Goethe-Nationalmuseum in Weimar, Germany, and offers a unique viewing opportunity as many of these works have never before been seen outside of the former Eastern bloc countries. (The two institutions — with their collections, gardens, and buildings — united in 2003 and are now known as Stiftung Weimarer Klassik und Kunstammlungen.) The accompanying catalogue also marks the first time that many of these masterworks have been published. Sheets by Jacques Callot, Charles Lebrun, Claude Lorrain, Jacques Bellange, Simon Vouet, Jean-Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, Charles-Joseph Natoire, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Charles-Louis Clérisseau, among others, are included, promising to shed new light on the individual oeuvres of these artists as well as deepen our understanding of their practice as draftsmen within the context of other French masters. Comments Anne L. Poulet, Director of The Frick Collection, “this project presents the most complete assessment to date of Weimar’s French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century drawings, and we are pleased to offer most of our visitors — with both the exhibition and publication — their first viewing of this incredible collection. Indeed, the level of quality found in these works will delight and engage the general public and connoisseurs alike.”

From Callot to Greuze: French Drawings from Weimar is co-organized by the Schlossmuseum, Weimar, where it is on view this spring before traveling to The Frick Collection this summer. The exhibition’s final venue is the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris (March 14 through June 26, 2006). Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey is coordinating the exhibition at The Frick Collection. Presentation of the exhibition in New York is made possible, in part, through the generous support of The Christian Humann Foundation, The Florence Gould Foundation, and The Helen Clay Frick Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Fellows of The Frick Collection.

Goethe: An Extraordinary Eye Involved in Core Gatherings

In some sense, both groups of drawings claim a kinship much older than their new joint identity, since at the origin of both collections was the renowned novelist, poet, playwright, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)—a passionate collector of works on paper. In his role as privy councilor to Grand Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach — a post he assumed in 1776 — Goethe was responsible for encouraging the Crown to establish an encyclopedic study collection of prints and drawings that would survey the history of European art and provide aspiring artists with models and examples. As early as 1809, a public gallery, the Schlossmuseum, was established in the prince’s residence, with rooms set aside for the display of drawings. Long after Goethe’s death — indeed, until the final years of the nineteenth century — members of the house of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach continued to add drawings to the royal collection, and in 1885 Goethe’s own collection, along with his house and its contents, was bequeathed by his grandson to the state. Today, Weimar’s former grand ducal collections number some thirty thousand drawings, while those in the Goethe-Nationalmuseum account for just over two thousand sheets.

Although Goethe never visited Paris, he was a Francophile; an early enthusiast of Diderot’s art criticism, he particularly admired the “new energy under [Jacques-Louis] David.” He later became fascinated with Napoleon, with whom he had a personal interview in 1808. Through agents in Paris and, above all, the Leipzig dealer Carl Gustav Boerner, Goethe was able to acquire seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French drawings at relatively low prices. In May 1818 he commented to a fellow collector that “The French school is worth nothing at the moment.” Records show that he continued to make purchases at auction until well into his seventies.

Highlights from the Exhibition

Claude Lorrain (one of Goethe’s seventeenth-century heroes) is represented by three sheets, the most beautiful of which, The Reconciliation of Cephalus and Procris in the Presence of Diana, shows the doomed lovers in a majestic landscape, reunited by the goddess Diana. At left, Procris, the virtuous wife, presents her husband with gifts from the goddess of the hunt. Viewers familiar with Ovid’s tale would have known that the spear held upright by the young attendant will eventually cause her death. Even more than the dignified presentation of this mythological scene, it is the luminosity and nobility of Claude’s atmospheric landscapes that appealed to Goethe and his contemporaries. For them, Claude was the “poet of an idyllic Arcadian antiquity.”

An exceptionally beautiful and important sheet by the Lorrain master Jacques Callot, which entered the Schlossmuseum in 1898, is one of several preparatory compositions for the monumental engraving Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of the Isle de Ré, commemorating Louis XIII’s conquest of the port city of La Rochelle in October 1628. Cardinal Richelieu, who initiated this project — for which Callot received payment in diamonds and rubies — is shown, mounted on his horse, baton in hand. Clad in his biretta and cape, Richelieu appears to be receiving orders from his young monarch, the twenty-seven-year-old Louis XIII. In the background, the French troops hasten to their boats in preparation for the attack on the island. In the finished engraving, where this motif appears at the lower left-hand corner of the composition, the figure of Richelieu was replaced by that of Gaston d’Orléans, the king’s younger brother and an avowed enemy of the cardinal. D’Orléans, who lived in Nancy while the copperplate was in the final stage of completion and took drawing lessons from Callot, evidently prevailed on the printmaker to remove his rival from the scene.

The most beautiful sheet that Goethe acquired for his collection is Watteau’s Two Dancers, a Man and a Woman, studies in the artist’s distinctive trois-crayons technique that date from around 1717. The figure of the woman, who is attired in mixed costume (her dress is contemporary fashion but the ruff around her neck and her cape are elements of fancy dress) was used for the heroine of Watteau’s Fêtes vénitiennes of c. 1718–19, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. Her bearded companion — who seems to be taking a bow and is also shown in theatrical costume — cannot be associated with a figure in any known painting by the artist. This is consistent with Watteau’s method of sketching figures from life (often in costumes that he himself provided) and keeping them as a repository of images with which to populate his fêtes galantes. Conceived independently and without a composition in mind, these two studies nonetheless cohere to create an image of considerable refinement: the evanescent dancers, each fully absorbed in their courtly duet, respond by gesture and expression to partners we see only in our imagination.

Compositional studies, figure studies, and landscapes predominate in Weimar’s collection of eighteenth-century drawings, but Jean-Marc Nattier’s Madame de Marsollier and Her Daughter, which entered the museum in 1839, is a rare example of a highly finished portrait drawing, perhaps made by the artist to commemorate one of his most successful commissions. Nattier had painted the portrait of the beautiful and socially ambitious wife of a wealthy silk merchant and her daughter in 1749 and exhib

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