press release

The Courtauld Gallery holds one of the most important collections of drawings in Britain. Organised in collaboration with The Frick Collection in New York, this exhibition presents a magnificent selection of some sixty of its finest works. It offers a rare opportunity to consider the art of drawing in the hands of its greatest masters, including Dürer, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne and Matisse. The Courtauld last displayed a comparable selection of its masterpieces more than twenty years ago and this exhibition will bring the collection to new audiences nationally and internationally.

The exhibition opens with a group of works dating from the 15th century, from both Northern and Southern Europe. An exquisite and extremely rare early Netherlandish drawing of a seated female saint from around 1475-85 is rooted in late medieval workshop traditions (fig. 1). It was also at this time that drawing assumed a new central role in nourishing individual creativity, exemplified by two rapid pen and ink sketches by Leonardo da Vinci. These remarkably free and exploratory sketches show the artist experimenting with the dynamic twisting pose of a female figure for a painting of Mary Magdalene (fig. 2). For Renaissance artists such as Leonardo, drawing or disegno was the fundamental basis of all the arts: the expression not just of manual dexterity but of the artist’s mind and intellect. These ideas about the nature of drawing achieved their full expression in the flowering of draughtsmanship in the 16th century. At the heart of this section of the exhibition is Michelangelo’s magisterial The Dream (fig. 3). Created in 1533, this highly complex allegory was made by Michelangelo as a gift for a close friend and it was one of the earliest drawings to be produced as an independent work of art. More typically, drawings were made in preparation for other works, including paintings, sculptures and prints. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engaging scene of drunken peasants cavorting at a festival in the Flemish village of Hoboken was drawn in 1559 in preparation for a print (fig. 4). Whereas Michelangelo sought ideal divinely inspired beauty in the human figure, Bruegel here revels in the disorder of everyday life.

Despite the important preparatory function of drawing, many of the most appealing works in the exhibition were unplanned and resulted from artists reaching for their sketchbooks to capture a scene for their own pleasure – Parmigianino’s Seated woman asleep is a wonderful example of such an informal study surviving from the early 16th century. Drawn approximately 100 years later in around 1625, Guercino’s Child seen from behind retains the remarkable freshness and immediacy of momentary observation (fig. 5). Guercino was a compulsive and brilliantly gifted draughtsman. Here the red chalk lends itself perfectly to the play of light on the soft flesh of the child sheltering in its mother’s lap. No less appealing in its informality is Rembrandt’s spontaneous and affectionate sketch of his wife, Saskia, sitting in bed cradling one of her children (fig. 6). The exhibition offers a striking contrast between this modest domestic image and Peter Paul Rubens’s contemporaneous depiction of his own wife, the beautiful young Helena Fourment (fig. 7). Celebrated as one of the great drawings of the 17th century, this unusually large work shows the richly dressed Helena – who was then about 17 – moving aside her veil to look directly at the viewer. Created with a dazzling combination of red, black and white chalks, this drawing was made as an independent work of art and was not intended for sale or public display. In its imposing presence, mesmerising skill and subtle characterisation, it is the equal of any painted portrait.

only in german

Mantegna to Matisse
Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery
Kooperation mit The Frick Collection in New York

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri_il Guercino, Pieter Bruegel der Ältere, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Albrecht Dürer, Thomas Gainsborough, Théodore Géricault, Vincent van Gogh, Francisco de Goya, Leonardo da Vinci, Édouard Manet, Andrea Mantegna, Henri Matisse, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pablo Picasso, Charles-Joseph Natoire, José de Ribera, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Georges Seurat, William Turner, Antoine Watteau ...

Stephanie Buck, Colin B. Bailey