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Frick presents a selection of 19th century French drawings and prints from the Clark Art Institute
Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), Boulevard de Rochechouart, 1880. Pastel on beige wove paper, 23 9/16 x 28 15/16 inches© Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1996.5.
NEW YORK, NY.- This spring the Frick will present a selection of nineteenth-century French drawings and prints from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Remarkable sheets by Jean-François Millet, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and other masters will be on view in the lower-level galleries and Cabinet. Ranging widely in subject matter and technique and spanning the entire second half of the nineteenth century, the fifty-eight works represent the diverse interests of Realist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist artists in a rapidly changing world. The exhibition is organized by Colin B. Bailey and Susan Grace Galassi of The Frick Collection and by Jay A. Clarke of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation. Comments Colin Bailey, “the Clark is an internationally renowned and respected institution with significant and enviable holdings in many areas, above all in nineteenth-century French art. We are very pleased to share with New York audiences such a large and comprehensive selection of their Impressionist and Post-Impressionist drawings and prints—many of which are travelling to New York for the first time.” The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication on the Clark’s holdings in nineteenth-century French drawings and prints. Related education programs hosted by the Frick during this presentation include lectures, seminars, gallery conversations, and special events.

A PERIOD OF CHANGE IN THE ARTS REFLECTED IN WORKS ON PAPER
The profound changes revolutionizing the arts during the second half of the nineteenth century were no less significant for works on paper than for painting. This period witnessed an enormous expansion of the art market with affordable prices and a burgeoning middle-class eager to buy into the unfolding modern movement; the revival of old and the emergence of new techniques and media; and a productive tension between high and low art. With challenges to the academic tradition and to long-accepted hierarchies of genre and subject matter, scenes of gritty reality replaced morally uplifting themes, and mythological goddesses were pushed aside by frankly sexual nudes. Landscape, now ascendant as a genre, flourished in scenes of labor and leisure in the remote countryside, urban parks, or idylls on far-flung islands. At the same time, traditional standards of finish and correctness of form gave way to an emphasis on expression and the mark of the artist’s hand. As Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark, discusses in her introductory essay to the exhibition’s catalogue, nineteenth-century literature on drawings and prints emphasized qualities of spontaneity, creative freedom, and expressiveness over polished form. This stress on the originality of the hand-drawn arts served to differentiate these forms from photography and photomechanical reproductive processes, and fine art publications and exhibitions dedicated to promoting drawings and prints proliferated. Nevertheless, artists borrowed freely from commercial and popular forms, quickly absorbing new procedures and techniques in the flexible media of drawing and printmaking.

DEGAS, FROM VIRTUOSO EXERCISE TO AUDACIOUS EXPERIMENTS
One of the earliest works in the exhibition is a sheet made by Edgar Degas while still a student of the École des Beaux-Arts. Since the founding of the Academy in the seventeenth century, generations of students followed a prescribed curriculum in order to acquire the shared language and subjects of classical representation. While the Academy’s prestige waned in the later nineteenth century, its methods still formed the educational foundation of many of the most progressive artists. Here, Degas depicts the half-length figure of a model in profile and full face, each exhibiting a different expression. The clenched hand emerging from the sleeve of the figure in profile positioned in the center of the sheet ingeniously serves both views of the man. This beautiful study sheet attests to Degas’s early mastery of composition and the methods of classical draftsmanship, as seen in the subtle range of light and dark and polished finish that rivals Ingres. From such virtuoso exercises sprang Degas’s later audacious experiments with the human figure in motion, as demonstrated in the many examples in this exhibition.

MILLET’S EXPRESSIVE EXECUTION OF HIS SUBJECT MATTER
Virtuosity gives way to a more expressive, rough-hewn execution suitable to the subject matter of Jean-François Millet’s Sower—a paean to the heroic laborer. This pastel reprieves the subject of one of Millet’s most famous paintings of fifteen years earlier (now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and is one of several versions commissioned by clients trying to corner the market for his pastels. In the Clark sheet, the sower’s powerful striding body is dramatically silhouetted against the vast expanse of dark furrowed earth, the brim of his hat intersecting with the high horizon line. Above, distinct curvilinear strokes of light-colored pastel suggest the last rays of the setting sun in a dramatic windswept sky, underlying the significance of the sower’s activity. Tinges of blue and rose in the clouds echo the colors of the peasant’s clothing and unite the celestial and terrestrial realms through the laborer. A small figure on the horizon with a team of horses and a harrow provides a sense of scale and the enormity of the sower’s task. The timeless figure echoes earlier representations of rural laborers such as those found in the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry and the bucolic landscapes of Poussin.

PISARRO CHALLENGES NOTIONS OF FINISH
Like Millet, Camille Pissarro spent much of his career depicting peasants and unembellished scenes of rural life, although the urban cityscape seized his imagination as well. His large pastel Boulevard de Rochechouart depicts a slice of Paris in the years following Baron Haussman’s renewal of the city. For the writers and artists of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the pulse and rhythm of the grands boulevards symbolized modernity, as eloquently expressed in Baudelaire’s famous essay of 1863 “Peintre de la Vie Moderne.” Through hatched, unblended strokes in a multitude of colors, Pissarro achieves a sense of transparency that captures the shifting sensations of a city in constant flux. His high viewpoint plunges the viewer into the melee of a tree-lined place, with carriages and omnibuses circulating and pedestrians dispersing into the streets. These anonymous urban dwellers dressed in dark clothing are mere blurs in the lively milieu, a world away from Millet’s monumental figure who commands the space of his environment. Although the pastel appears closer to a sketch than a completed work, Pissarro deliberately challenged accepted notions of finish. He signed and dated the sheet and exhibited it as an independent work alongside his paintings and smaller drawings in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881.

GAUGUIN EXPERIMENTS WITH PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES
In Paul Gauguin’s Joys of Brittany, the scene shifts from urban modernity to rural utopia. Here Gauguin extends his bold, simplified manner of drawing to the technique of zincography. Although a novice printmaker, Gauguin chose to work on a grained zinc plate in crayon and tusche wash applied with a brush, a challenging method that afforded him a subtle range of tonal and textural effects. In this sheet, one of eleven zincographs printed on striking canary yellow paper, Breton girls in clogs and traditional headdresses perform a country dance. The work forms part of the so-called Volpini Suite, named for the proprietor of the Café des Arts, where Gauguin and his friends staged a show in direct opposition to the officially sanctioned exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts during the run of the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Based loosely on works in other media that Gauguin made in Martinique, Arles, and Brittany over the previous two years, the suite depicts figures engaged in simple pleasures in changing landscape settings, themes underscored in his deliberately crude, expressive manner. His choice of commercially produced yellow paper—very different from the pale tones of the more expensive, handmade papers typically used by artists—contributes to the liveliness of his images and a sense of displacement from the realm of traditional printmaking.

TOULOUSE-LAUTREC CREATED AN INDELIBLE IMAGE OF LIFE IN PARIS
Along with his paintings and drawings, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters and prints created an indelible image of the Parisian underclass that inhabited the world of brothels, cabarets, and dance halls. His dynamic compositions and brilliant color combinations raised the bar of artistic expression for color lithography, a technique championed as a fine art beginning only in the 1890s. One of Lautrec’s most famous prints, The Seated Clowness (front), epitomizes these qualities, along with the artist’s sardonic humor. Here, a performer at the Moulin Rouge known as Miss Cha-U-Kao (a name derived from “chaotic Can-can”) sits alone in an outlandish yellow ruff and black tights, provocatively posing for both the artist and passers-by at what appears to be a masked ball. Lautrec’s genius for composition can be appreciated in the relationship of the figure’s bent and extended legs to her arms, which mirror her lower limbs in inverted form. The sheet is part of Lautrec’s magnificent Elles Portfolio, an album of prints that has traditionally been thought to depict the stages of a prostitute’s day—a common theme in Japanese prints, which also were a source of inspiration for the high-keyed color and simplified perspective often used in his prints. More recently, the suite has been interpreted as portraying the domestic life of lesbian entertainers and prostitutes. Several sheets feature Cha-U-Kao and her lover. While commissioned for a purveyor of erotic and pornographic prints, the album is surprisingly free of salacious content, showing instead Lautrec’s affection for his beloved denizens of the demimonde, a world he himself inhabited. This work and several others by Toulouse-Lautrec, are shown together in the Cabinet, offering a striking conclusion to the exhibition.



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