The Passion for Drawing

Written by:
Arthur Lazere
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Collectors and art dealers for over thirty years, Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski have specialized in works on paper. A selection of nearly 200 drawings from their collection, spanning five centuries of European art, has been exhibited in various venues in Europe, currently at the elegant Jacquemart-Andre Museum in Paris. The exhibit is expected to be shown in the United States in 2003.

While museum visitors have become accustomed to blockbuster exhibits of painting and sculpture, drawings are, more often than not, relegated to a minor position. This exhibit of drawings is of such unusual quality and scope that it will win new appreciation for these works which may be small in physical scale, but are huge in aesthetic accomplishment. It features a roster of many of the greatest names in the history of western art, from Mantegna to Matisse, from Durer to Degas. What is especially rewarding is to see works by familiar masters which, in the drawings, have a particular freshness, enhanced by the very special qualities of intimacy and immediacy.

As would be expected, some of these works are studies for paintings, such as Tintoretto’s mid-16th century drawing that twice pictures a nude male figure seen from the back, examining the pattern of musculature when positioned with the left leg bent at the knee, the left arm raised. The power and energy of such figures full-scale in Tintoretto’s paintings can be felt gestating here. Familiar to many will be Gericault’s drawing of the Raft of the Medusa, a miniature version of the iconic master painting.

The subject matter of the drawings ranges from the historical (Jacques Callot’s An Execution, 1633) to the religious (Bellini’s Funeral Procession of the Virgin, 1460; Fra Bartolommeo’s Saint Simon, 1516) to landscapes (Friedrich’s intricately detailed Vue d’Arkona au Soleil Levant, 1803, showing trees, a distant cliff, a boat and fishing nets, but mysteriously devoid of the presence of people).

There are many fine portraits: Tiepolo’s 1760 head of a man (a few lines and a bit of wash and a character is masterfully defined); Ingres’ 1850 La Famille Gatteaux, memorably portraying four members of an haute bourgeois family; a Cezanne portrait of his wife seated at a table, giving evidence of the weightiness and style of his paintings; the incredibly sure hand and powerful line of Picasso’s 1902 portrait of a woman.

There are nudes from Ingres and Matisse and Manet, abstractions from Klee, cubism from Braque, and the eternal charm of the dancers of Degas.

In short, there is something to please all interests here, with the unifying element of discriminating taste and impeccable quality. And, finally, there is the element of surprise–the discovery of an artist or work with which one may not have previously been familiar, but that strikes the imagination and remains in the memory. John Martin’s 1829 The Valley of the Shadow of Death pictures a lone man, a very small figure standing in a deep, huge cavern, with water to cross and the promise of light in the distance. A small work (about 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches) that broaches big subject matter, capturing the mythology of life and death in a thoroughly accessible image, perfectly rendered.

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