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First NYC Museum Exhibition on the Tradition of Spanish Draftsmanship Opens at the Frick Collection
Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), Studies of a Head in Profile, c. 1622. Chalk, 9 13/16 x 8 1/8 inches. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Laura P. Hall Memorial Fund and Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund (2002-97)

NEW YORK, NY.- Spanish drawings have been collected in New York and the surrounding area for more than a century. In fact, the exceptionally rich collections in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Hispanic Society of America make New York second only to Madrid in the depth and quality of its holdings. Remarkably, The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya is the first museum exhibition to be held in this city devoted to the broad tradition of Spanish draftsmanship. With generous loans from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hispanic Society of America, and extraordinary sheets from The Morgan Library & Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and individual collectors, this exhibition of more than fifty works presents a sampling of the rich, diverse legacy of the Spanish draftsman from the early seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. Included are rare sheets by Francisco Pacheco and Vicente Carducho, and a number of spectacular red chalk drawings by the celebrated draftsman Jusepe de Ribera. The exhibition continues with rapid sketches and painting-like wash drawings from the rich oeuvre of the Andalusian master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, along with lively drawings by Francisco de Herrera the Elder and his son and the Madrid court artist Juan Carreño de Miranda, among others. The second part of the exhibition will present twenty-two sheets by the great draftsman Francisco de Goya, whose drawings are rarely studied in the illuminating context of the Spanish draftsmen who came before him. These works, mostly from his private albums, attest to the continuity between his thematic interests and those of his Spanish forebears, as well as to his enormously fertile imagination. The exhibition is organized by Jonathan Brown, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Lisa A. Banner, independent scholar and expert on Spanish drawings; and Susan Grace Galassi, Senior Curator at The Frick Collection.

In his introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue, Jonathan Brown attributes the delay in focus on Spanish drawings to various factors. One has to do with a misperception. Some of the preeminent masters of Spain’s Golden Age—such as El Greco, Velázquez, and Zurbarán—painted directly on the canvas and left behind few drawings. Their bypassing of the traditional means of developing a composition through preparatory studies led to an assumption that their contemporaries were not particularly interested in drawing. Yet, Professor Brown notes, the Golden Age artists’ deep investment in drawing is found not only in the substantial material evidence, but also in the texts of influential theorists who stressed its importance: “Draw, speculate, and draw some more” is the master painter’s directive to his student when asked what it takes to become a great painter in the 1634 treatise Diálogos de la Pintura by Vicente Carducho. The Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid was founded in 1752, and its curriculum placed drawing at the root of all artistic activity, a system of education that remained unchanged from Goya’s time to Picasso’s. The relatively late interest in Spanish draftsmanship also has to do with the use of drawings on the Iberian Peninsula. In the seventeenth century, drawings were often bundled into lots at an artist’s death and bought by other artists as working material. They were frequently tacked up to walls as models for motifs, styles, and techniques, and many eventually disintegrated through rough handling. Furthermore, in seventeenth-century Spain there were few connoisseurs interested in preserving the work of their countrymen, although some collected drawings by Italian masters. It was not until the period of the Enlightenment that collectors of Spanish drawings emerged. Among the most notable were Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos and Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez , who acquired drawings by earlier and contemporary Spanish masters; both were important patrons of Goya. The work of these pioneering collectors continues today, although tragic losses have occurred along the way. The collection of Ceán Bermúdez was dispersed after his death, and the historic Jovellanos collection was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Yet there is no dearth of examples of Spanish drawings, even if they are fewer in number than those of the Italian and Dutch schools.

The works selected for the exhibition reflect a bias for what the curators identify as a specifically “Spanish manner” of draftsmanship, which sets them apart from Italianate examples produced in Spain at the same time. Many Spanish artists traveled to Italy and acquired the principles of figure drawing and rules of perspective that emerged in Rome and Florence during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Spanish theorists and academicians promoted classical ideals. Yet, as Brown notes, without the intellectual substratum of humanism in which these ideals were founded, artists from the Peninsula often took a more independent course, making use of classicism as one option among other representational modes. They developed original and idiosyncratic techniques, delved into a wide range of emotional experience, and freely departed from conventions of representing the human figure—all components of this “Spanish manner.” The pull of the disciplined and rigorous system of classicism, and the freedom with which Spanish artists made use of and resisted it, plays out in a variety of ways in this selection.

An interesting case study is Vicente Carducho’s large drawing, Martyrdom of Father Andrés, one of several preparatory drawings for a series of paintings at the Charterhouse of El Paular commemorating the lives of martyred Carthusian monks. This sheet depicts the torture and death of Father Andrés, who was taken prisoner by the Turks. In the foreground, the saint is hoisted on a pulley by his wrists, while his captors look on dispassionately, swords at the ready. Balanced groups of figures are arranged in a perspectival space, as if on a stage. Gestures and emotions are restrained; the saint appears to be levitating upward even as his body is wrenched downward, arms pulled from their sockets. Here, the artist makes use of aspects of the classical manner of representation to mitigate the directness of the emotional content of the work.

Unconventional subjects and original treatment of the human form are hallmarks of the work of Jusepe de Ribera, one of Spain’s greatest artists and a brilliant draftsman. Ribera spent most of his career in Naples, then under Spanish rule, supplying religious paintings for his ecclesiastical patrons. While drawing served a vital role in the preparatory stages of his commissioned work, he also used it as a release from the demands of his patrons to vent his prodigious imagination in flights of fantasy and inventive reworkings of the human body. In his unsettling and humorous Head of a Man with Little Figures on His Head, a man with malformed features is depicted bust length in profile, staring vacantly. He seems unaware of the tribe of happy, naked “little men”—who appear in many of Ribera’s drawings—swarming over his Phrygian cap, performing acrobatic feats. One of the most powerful works in this exhibition, Studies of a Head in Profile, demonstrates the extraordinary plasticity of Ribera’s imagination. Forged together in a profile of a man’s head are four separate studies of his features. Ribera pits his powers of formal invention against his mastery of the conventions of naturalistic representation and his virtuoso handling of the red chalk medium, which gives his composite image a startling sense of realism.

The exhibition offers many beautiful examples of the use of chalk, but the Spanish draftsman’s most characteristic medium, as Professor Brown notes, was pen and ink and wash: “This technique flattened the forms, to be sure, but . . . the artists were able to discharge sizzling bolts of energy on the surface of the paper.” Techniques of pen and ink varied from region to region in Spain according to the materials the artist used. As Lisa Banner describes, in Andalusia, reed pens made from native plants were favored for the particular quality of line they produced, while artists at the court of Madrid preferred quill pens. The flexibility of the reed made it possible to vary the thickness of each stroke to create effects of shading without the use of wash. Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra made use of a reed pen, as seen in his Four Heads of Men, one of forty sheets he made of heads seen from different points of view. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was as influential a draftsman as he was a painter, and his works on paper were collected and prized in his lifetime. Along with his fellow Sevillian, Herrera the Younger (also represented in the exhibition), Murillo founded an informal drawing academy in 1660 to improve the standards of draftsmanship in their native city. The six works included in this show demonstrate his technical versatility and expressive range, from rapid first thoughts for a composition to works that may be considered monochromatic paintings. Murillo’s pen and ink drawing Standing Man Holding a Hat reveals in all its looseness and haste the sureness of the artist’s vision acquired over a lifetime. There are few portraits in Murillo’s work, and none that correspond to this drawing. In this impetuous tangle of lines, he conveys a powerful and immediate impression of his stout subject standing in a swagger pose. Very different in style is the work of the eighteenth-century Zaragoza master Francisco Bayeu, whose life and career overlapped with his brother-in-law and fellow townsman Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Bayeu was selected by the celebrated painter Anton Raphael Mengs to be his assistant. He rose quickly to fame and official positions, eventually attaining the rank of royal painter and director of the Royal Academy. The spirit of eighteenth-century European neoclassical art is apparent in his Dove of the Holy Spirit, a preparatory drawing for his magnum opus, a ceiling fresco for the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza.

The work of one of the world’s most brilliant and prolific draftsmen, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828), brings the exhibition full circle, and back to the Frick, which houses four paintings by the master and one drawing. Goya’s work has long been revered, and several exhibitions in the New York area have been dedicated to his career. Rarely, however, have his drawings appeared in the context of those of his Spanish predecessors, as they do here. Goya’s highly original drawings, remarkable for their freedom, expressiveness, and range of subject matter, represent the culmination in the nineteenth century of the “Spanish manner.” Goya did not have as swift an ascent to official recognition as did his brother-in-law Francisco Bayeu, though he quickly surpassed him. Goya studied with a local master in Zaragoza and completed his education with a trip to Italy in 1770–71. His notebooks from the trip reveal his familiarity with the classical system of representation. Back at home, he assisted Bayeu on commissions for frescoes and as a designer of cartoons for tapestries for the many royal residences. Appointed Painter to the King in 1786, he served Charles III, Charles IV, and Ferdinand VII, as well as the occupying French king, Joseph Bonaparte, and earned a reputation among aristocrats and members of the Enlightenment as a brilliant portraitist. As Director of Painting at the Royal Academy of San Fernando, he was asked by the king in 1792 to evaluate the state of the curriculum. Goya showed his independence by delivering a scathing attack on the academy’s formulaic approach to education and set forth his credo of artistic freedom, stressing the role of imagination and invention, declaring “there are no rules in painting.” Illness left Goya deaf at age forty-two, an experience that altered the course of his art. He began to sketch for his own pleasure and created eight cycles of drawings, which have been described as “albums.” They were made over thirty years against a backdrop of continuous war, suffering, repression, deprivation, and fear instilled in citizens by the Inquisition—all of which fueled Goya’s fertile imagination as revealed particularly in his graphic work. Eight of these “albums” were inherited by his only child, Javier, who rearranged them; after Javier’s death, they were broken up and dispersed by his son, Mariano, the artist’s only grandchild. Scholars have looked at these private works as a form of Goya’s talking to himself. He also made drawings as preparatory studies for work in other media. All but one of the twenty-two sheets by Goya in this exhibition are from these eight albums, six of which are represented.

The Anglers, a drawing in The Frick Collection from Album F, demonstrates Goya’s use of improvisation. He began the drawing on a sheet of paper covered with writing at the top that pertains to a financial matter dating from many years earlier. Goya’s reuse of the sheet was clearly not motivated by wartime shortages of paper, as some have suggested—otherwise he would have used the clean reverse side—but by a desire to spur his imagination with the marking. He dragged his brush down the side of the paper, creating a kind of enclosure or stage on which his actors will appear. From improvisation, we turn to another aspect of Goya’s visual thinking: the working out of a multipart composition. Three Men Digging from Album F, has long been connected with Goya’s oil painting The Forge of 1815–1820 in The Frick Collection. When beginning The Forge, Goya may have looked back through his stock of drawings and found in this sheet a solution for the interrelation of the three iron workers. He imports the trio of diggers into the painting, moving them indoors and giving them new implements and identities. In the transference, however, he retains the central feature of the drawing—the rising and falling of their bodies in unison.

Goya is perhaps best known for his depictions of the unimaginable horror of man’s inhumanity to man. This is bleakly and directly expressed in a drawing made during his years of exile in Bordeaux between 1824 and 1828, the year of his death. A figure—dead or alive—is hung up in a sack-like form suspended from a hook on a wall. The delicately rendered head of an old man protrudes from one side, and his legs from the bottom. The work bears the legend that may be translated as He Appeared Like This, Mutilated, in Zaragoza, Early in 1700. In old age, Goya apparently drew from an amalgam of fact and legend, creating what, as Professor Reva Wolf proposes, might be considered a historical counterpart to his series of prints, the Disasters of War, made in the 1810s during the French occupation of Spain. The theme, however, is at the core of Goya’s art—human brutality in the name of religion and/or patriotism. It is instructive to compare this modern image to that of another theme in which a man is tortured: Vicente Carducho’s Martyrdom of Father Andrés, discussed earlier. In Goya’s image, the classical apparatus has been removed—the stagelike setting, perspective, narrative, action, and time—to concentrate on one figure alone and to convey directly the horror through the visual properties of shape and weight.

Yet Goya’s art was not unremittingly dark. The drawings on view show the many facets of his personality and his keen powers of observation, translated into quick takes rendered with economy and precision. As intrinsic to his worldview are his buoyancy, tenderness, and love of the absurd, revealed in the many drawings in which he invites us to laugh with him at the comédie humaine. This he does in his superbly fluid brush and ink drawing Regozijo (Mirth), in which an aging pair, castanets in hand, ascend upward, carried away by music and their levity, and the rhythms of Goya’s hand. As compared with the art of his predecessors, Goya’s is more unencumbered and direct—more modern. Yet in ways that may not have been fully appreciated until his drawings could be seen within the context of those of his compatriots, as they are here, it is also a distillation of a particularly fertile, inventive, and original form of draftsmanship that developed on the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish manner.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art | The Hispanic Society of America | The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya | Susan Grace Galassi |

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