Recently named the world’s #1 museum for three years in a row, The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomes some seven million visitors each year across its three locations, The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Cloisters and The Met Breur.
The Met it seems has gone mad for Master Drawings the old, and the not so old. Is it any wonder; they represent a period of time in world history when creative minds thrived on an extraordinary spirit of scientific inquiry and brilliant inventiveness, much like today.
Currently they are showcasing the Gilded Age of Drawings, created during America’s so-called Gilded Age (1870 – 1890s).
Upcoming exhibitions include Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection (opening October 4, 2017) and the potential blockbuster Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer (opening November 13, 2017 until January 7, 2018).
The Robert Lehman Collection at The Met includes 2,600 works include paintings, manuscript illumination, sculpture, glass, textiles, antique frames, majolica, enamels, and precious jewelled objects as well as a vast and distinguished drawings collection, numbering over 700 sheets.
Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection includes 55+ works by Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Georges Seurat, and Henri Matisse, artists who all produced works that entertained the notion, as Sir Kenneth Clark (Civilisation) said could ‘… reconcile the two parts of our being, the physical and the intellectual.’
Art is a language in images and drawing at the foundation of the visual arts.
During the Renaissance era in Italy (14 – 17 centuries) artists sought truth in nature. Gradually, the secular world as a society, freed itself from a theological agenda that had limited its progress for hundreds of years.
As the artist emerged as an individual a rise in social status went hand in hand with making a distinction and signing their work meant they now became valued, both monetarily and intrinsically.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) believed sight was a man’s highest sense because it alone allowed him to enjoy an experience immediately.
Applying his own creativity to every realm of his imagination through his unusual powers of observation da Vinci mastered the art of drawing.
Observing the human body became all about reminding people of the beauty of creation and the fragility of life, and in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova he performed dissections to broaden his study of the structure and function of the human body.
Being able to paint a picture or produce a building using principles of perspective, also discovered at this time, brought about a revolution, a vividness and realism as never before.
Illustrating the different facets of the artists’ creative processes the exhibition will encompass works from Leonardo’s keen anatomical observation in his Study of a Bear, to Durer’s awakening artistic self-consciousness in his Christ like Self-Portrait study, to Rembrandt’s re-interpretation of Leonardo’s painted masterpiece, The Last Supper.
All the skills that made Leonardo da Vinci the best man in all his fields of endeavour come into play in his extraordinary anatomical drawings.
Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists says of da Vinci that he ‘… displayed infinite grace in everything he did…he was a man of regal spirit and tremendous breadth of mind; and his name became so famous that no only was he esteemed during his lifetime, but his reputation endured and became even greater after his death’. The humanist ideals of his age saw the rebirth of the individual, which in turn awakened a desire for beauty.
The strong social contact people had with one another helped transmit humanist ideals, which created a dawning of consciousness.
An exploration of the relationship of the individual to the natural world, with nature becoming the embodiment of truth and proportion, whether in the human body or in a sacred building came to be considered a distinctive mark of beauty as well as a reflection of God’s cosmic order.
The circumference of a circle is the same as the perimeter of the square, thereby ‘sparing the circle’ a famous drawing of the time, had the human body sited in that the place where the synthesis of earth represented by a square, which is man-made and that of heaven where the natural shape of a sphere or circle occurred.
Over 500 years have passed since Leonardo da Vinci lived and it’s still astonishing to realise his groundbreaking investigations into human anatomy, when placed side by side with images prepared using the latest medical technology today, serve to prove his accuracy.
Those who came after him had an exemplary role model. North European spokesman Albrecht Durer (1471-1628) was deeply engaged in exploring the power of the human psyche.
Like Leonardo da Vinci, direct observation for him was the path to truth.
Early self-portraits were a statement of wealth and status, relaying to the viewer he was obviously pleased with his own appearance.
He wore textiles and accessories proclaiming his monetary and social success, distancing him entirely from the view for that of a ‘poor artist’.
Durer established himself as a painter and colourist and anxious to learn from the Italians, he visited Venice in 1505 where he advanced his knowledge of perspective and became the intimate friend of humanist scholars.
Some thirty painted portraits are attributed to Durer with many more portrait drawings. His artist’s theoretical treatises on perspective, architecture and human anatomy, as well as his natural history studies rival those of the best scholars of the High Renaissance.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was a government-appointed painter for Napoleon Bonaparte, who survived his downfall and after a period of hardship and was caught up in the tension between the advocates of classicism vs romanticism over the following decades.
His drawings are considered among the most perfect in the history of art, with him declaring that drawing was the probity of art – upright and honest.
Principal proponent of the French Neoclassical style in painting after Jacques Louis David, who had been his mentor, he also admired the historical works of Renaissance master Raphael and the eighteenth century works of Nicolas Poussin.
He had secured his status as France’s greatest living artist by the 1840’s. He became renowned for his female nudes and his death marked the end of history painting in France as there was no one to carry his vision forward.
During the late nineteenth century Edgar Degas and Pierre Auguste Renoir were inspired by his works, and while he may not have been fashionable for a long time, there has always been a certain fascination by scholars with his oeuvre; he bequeathed 4000 drawings to Montauban where he had been born, all of which is housed today in the Ingres Museum.
The modernisation program for the city of Paris, which took place during the 1860’s under the direction of Napoleon III saw the city gaining safer and far more hospitable streets, one with shopper friendly areas that allowed for better traffic flow and were wide enough to ensure rebels would ever build barricades in them again.
Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) during the last half of the 1890s at Paris painted a charming gouache of pedestrian traffic on a bustling boulevard. In an extraordinary series of prints and drawings.
They were snapshots and a sharp visual critique of modern bourgeois society.
He emerged as a force to be reckoned with among Nabis artists during the 1890s along with Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, among others. The Nabis openly drew inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints, all the rage at the time.
Henri-Émile Benoît Matisse (1869 – 1954) receptive to a broad range of influences, worked on theories of colour, spirituality, psychology, perception, ideas behind art that sometimes become more important than the image itself.
“From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
As part of Matisse’s early training he copied ‘old masters’ at the Musée du Louvre and in the process discovered the work of painters he admired observing …’art has its value; it is a search after truth and truth is all that counts’.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Leonardo to Matisse
Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection
The Met Fifth Avenue
October 4, 2017 – January 7, 2017