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Master Drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery at the Smart Museum of Art
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Punchinello Feeding the Peacocks, c. 1800, Pen and brown ink and brown wash over black chalk. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Paul Wick and her children, Paul M. Wick, William A. Wick, Peter A. Wick, and Mrs. Osborne Howes, in honor of Paul Wick.

CHICAGO, IL.-Whether made as preparatory studies or stand-alone works, drawings offer an intimate glimpse of an artist’s personality and talents. They reward close examination for their insight into the various stages of the creative process. This exhibition, organized by the Yale University Art Gallery and traveling to the Smart Museum of Art, provides a compelling survey of European draftsmanship, with masterworks by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Edgar Degas, Guercino, Jacob Jordaens, and Jean-Antoine Watteau, among many others. The selections come from the Yale University Art Gallery’s substantial collection of European drawings and include examples of nearly every artistic movement and drawing technique used by European artists from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century.

Master Drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery opened at the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. The eighty-four works represent all types of drawings—not only finished sheets, but also studies for paintings and other preparatory works meant for a variety of purposes. While tracing the history of European drawings, the exhibition showcases the distinguished collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Drawing is an enduring practice in the history of European art, and Master Drawings provides examples of drawings from nearly every artistic movement or style from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century. Selected from the Yale University Art Gallery’s holdings of more than one thousand old master drawings, the exhibition features drawings from all of Europe, with France, Italy, and the Netherlands prominently represented.

Organized chronologically, Master Drawings opens with a Lion by a Venetian artist of the late fifteenth century. It is an early example of the late-medieval drawing-book tradition in which models were derived from previous works of art rather than from the direct study of nature. In the sixteenth century, a new approach in the process of creating a work of art developed, as artists based their drawings on nature rather than following established imagery. Artists in Italy developed the practice of producing a sequence of preparatory studies for a painting, starting with compositional and figure studies, progressing to a modello (a small version of the finished work), and finally a full-size drawing. Polidoro da Caravaggio’s Study of a Seated Old Man (c. 1520)—executed in preparation for a painted frieze at the Palazzo Baldassini in Rome—is an example of the figure studies in red chalk that were produced by the school of Raphael. This standard process for preparing a finished work was widespread through the seventeenth century as well, and similarly conceived figure studies by Domenico Zampieri (called Domenichino), Simon Vouet, and others are also featured in the exhibition.

The Mannerist style that arose throughout Europe in the mid-sixteenth century, characterized by a stylized (or “mannered”) view of the natural world, is represented in the elongated figures used in the Old Testament Prophet (c. 1550) by Francesco Salviati, Jan Harmensz. Muller’s Neptune (c. 1589), and Bartholomaeus Spranger’s Venus and Mercury (1600).

This period also saw the development of drawings created as preparation for prints or for stained glass, tapestries, and embroideries. Maarten van Heemskerck’s Mars and the Choleric Temperament (1565) was meant to be copied—and was, line for line—and made into a print by a professional engraver, whereas Jacques Bellange’s Holy Family with Saints (1611–12) is preparatory for his own etching. Designs for stained glass include Bernard van Orley’s The Resurrection of Christ (c. 1525–30), for an ecclesiastical setting, and Jörg Breu the Elder’s Circe Changing the Men of Ulysses into Animals (c. 1525–35), most likely for a scholar’s study. Likewise, The Last Supper (1589), by Diego López de Escuriaz, was the preparatory drawing for one of the richly embroidered vestments produced for the Escorial.

Seventeenth-century works such as Jacques de Gheyn II’s informal sketch of a Youth Seated at a Table (c. 1604) demonstrate the rediscovery of naturalism, while Giovanni Battista Caracciolo’s Compositional Study (c. 1616–20) shows the drama associated with Baroque style. Other highlights from this period include Claude Lorrain’s idyllic Pastoral Landscape (1639) and Jacob Jordaens’s study of a complacent Goat (c. 1657). The experimentation with caricature that was also common in the seventeenth century is demonstrated with Caricature of a Man in a Large Hat (c. 1630–40) by Giovanni Battista Barbieri (called Guercino).

Exhibition highlights from the eighteenth century include an informal sketch of Two Recruits (c. 1715), by Jean-Antoine Watteau, and a finished drawing of A Farmyard Scene (c. 1740), by François Boucher, which reflects this artist’s affinity for Dutch landscape and genre scenes of the seventeenth century. Extraordinary sheets from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries include one of Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello drawings (1800), Bartolomeo Pinelli’s neoclassical Achilles Swears an Oath to Avenge the Dead Patroclus, Killed by Hector (1808), in which Patroclus’s pose, reminiscent of the dead Christ, melds Christian and classical associations, and a study by Théodore Géricault for his Raft of the Medusa (1819).

Later in the exhibition, a watercolor by Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseau, The Stone Bridge (c. 1830), reveals the immediacy and spontaneity that characterize the plein-air sketch, which would become the hallmark of Impressionism. The exhibition closes with a charming early work by Edgar Degas, Portrait of Giulia Bellelli (c. 1858–59), and a masterful view of Nôtre Dame seen from the Quai de la Tournelle by Johan Barthold Jongkind (1863).

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