WASHINGTON, DC.- Since 2003, the National Gallery of Art has acquired an exceptional group of drawings, prints, and rare illustrated books, which are the focus of the upcoming exhibition Medieval to Modern: Recent Acquisitions of Drawings, Prints, and Illustrated Books, on view May 4 through November 2, 2008, in the West Building Prints and Drawings Galleries.
The 209 objects on view range from the 15th century, including one of the earliest European engravings and the first image printed in multiple colors to 21st century works by Chuck Close (b. 1940), Martin Puryear (b. 1941), Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), and Fred Wilson (b. 1954). Among the most important works exhibited will be the finest surviving drawing by Antonio Canaletto (16971768), The Maundy Thursday Festival before the Ducal Palace in Venice (c. 1765), from the recently acquired Wolfgang Ratjen Collection of 185 Italian and German drawings from 1530 through 1900.
"We have been incredibly fortunate in the past few years to have acquired so many outstanding works on paper," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "This exhibition offers visitors a chance to see these recent acquisitions, which reflect the quality and breadth of our larger collection of works on paper."
The exhibition is arranged chronologically through eight rooms. The first room will feature late Gothic and Renaissance works, including Hieronymus de Sanctis' The Eclipse of the Moon and The Eclipse of the Sun (1485), printed in multiple colors by innovative publisher Erhard Radolt. One of the earliest European engravings by the Master of Saint John the Baptist (1440s) and one of the first European books with printed illustrations, the blockbook Biblia Pauperum, (1460s) are also on view.
Drawings will include Albrecht Dürer's (14711528) exquisite gouache heightened with gold, A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds Playing a Viola and Panpipes (1496/1497), and one of the earliest French drawings on paper, the delicate and sensitive landscape watercolor The Coronation of Solomon by the Spring of Gihon (c. 1500) by Jean Poyet (c. 1445before 1504). Among the German and Italian Renaissance drawings exhibited will be works by Fra Bartolommeo (14721517), Lucas Cranach the Elder (14721553), Domenico Beccafumi (c. 14851551), and Giulio Clovio (14981578).
The second room will feature works from the 17th century, including two etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn (16061669): the charming, light-filled A Peasant Family Walking (c. 1634) and the moving Abraham Entertaining the Angels (1656). Jean Morin's (c. 16001650) etching with engraving Still Life with a Skull and a Vase of Roses (after Philippe de Champagne) (1645/1650) is both rare and filled with symbolic realism.
The third room will highlight 18th century works, including a stunning chalk drawing by François Boucher, Aurora Heralding the Arrival of the Morning Sun (1765/1767), Johann Christoph Deitzsch's (17101769) prickly still life A Thistle with Insects (c. 1750), and Richard Cosway's (17411821) portrait of his wife Maria, who had infatuated Thomas Jefferson. Charles Moette's etching The Dog Paddle (1696) from Melchisedech Thevenot's (1620 or 16211692) L'Art de Nager, is one of the first books to teach people how to swim.
The fourth room will present works from the early 19th century, including one of Joseph Mallord William Turner's (17751851) most beautiful late watercolors, Oberwesel, (1840), recently on view in last fall's J.M.W. Turner exhibition. Early panoramas of New York City are interpreted in John Hill's (17701850) hand-colored etchings New York from Weehawk (1823) and New York from the Heights near Brooklyn (1823), which are widely considered among the most beautiful views of the city from the period. Charles de Wolf Brownell's (18221909) dreamlike watercolor East River, Sunrise (1862) offers an impressionistic perspective of the city and the river.
The fifth room will include works from the second half of the 19th century and will introduce a series of masterworks in pastel by Edgar Degas (18341917), Paul Gauguin (18481903), Lovis Corinth (18581925), and William Merritt Chase (18491916). Dante Gabriel Rossetti's (18281882) eerie and emotionally intense chalk drawing Desdemona's Death-Song (c. 1875/1880) will be surrounded by two haunting symbolist drawings by Frederick Trap Friis. A series of intriguing and unique works by Jacques Villon (18751963) will reveal how he reused plates over time, altering form and color to simplify his etching La Parisienne (1902/1903). Another group of Villon images depicts the artist's stylistic transition from art nouveau to cubism. In Camille Pissarro's (18301903) Trees and Meadows at Eragny (1895/1900), the artist gently moves chalk across the uneven surface of his paper, creating a shimmering pointillist-like effect for this post impressionist landscape.
The sixth room will contain classic works from the early 20th century. Key among these will be a portfolio of constructivist lithographs from Kurt Schwitters (18871948) entitled Merz 3 (1923). It is the only known surviving complete proof set and is the set Schwitters' kept for himself and has been in his family since that time. Major cubist works are represented in Still Life with a Bottle of Marc (1911) by Pablo Picasso (18811973), Nude (1906) by Henri Matisse (18691954), Mental Reactions (1915) by Agnes Ernst Meyer and Marius de Zayas, Yvonne D. from the Front (1913) by Jacques Villon, and Solar Prism (1914) by Sonia Delaunay-Terk. A dramatic watercolor, Stormy Sea (c. 1930) by Emil Nolde (18671956), expertly uses the medium to create roiling clouds and heaving waves.
The seventh room will offer works from 1920 through 1960, including a series of Russian constructivist works. The photocollage All-Soviet Military Railroad (1930) by Solomon Telingater celebrates modern transportation, while Propaganda Stand (Workers of the World Unite) (1922) by Gustav Klutsis (1895c.1944) creates a dynamic composition of diagonal lines and multiple languages to convey its message. Surrealists are well represented, through works by Max Ernst (18911976) and Kurt Seligmann (19001962), while developments from surrealism to abstract expressionism will be illustrated through major drawings by Adolph Gottlieb (19031974), Franz Kline (19101962), and Philip Guston (19131980).
The eighth room will showcase works from 1960 through the present. Highlights include selections from a unique complex of artist's working proofs by Jasper Johns (b. 1930); outstanding prints of the 1990s by Kiki Smith (b. 1954) and Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911); 21st-century prints by Martin Puryear and Sean Scully (b. 1945); and powerful drawings by Philip Guston (19131980), Franz Kline, and Robert Morris (b. 1931), concluding with Ed Ruscha's The End #68, (2006).