Nineteenth-Century French Drawings from the Morgan Library & Museum
and the Menil Collection
Paul Cézanne, Montagne (Mountain), ca. 1895, The Menil Collection
February 20 - May 17, 2015
This exhibition celebrates the remarkable holdings of nineteenth-century French drawings at The Morgan Library & Museum and The Menil Collection, institutions with an ongoing collaboration to foster meaningful conversation about drawing. The show includes works on paper by five artists who importantly impacted the development of drawing at the formative beginnings of modernism: Eugène Delacroix, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, and Odilon Redon.
Becoming Modern posits that some of the most exciting breakthroughs in the medium took place in the nineteenth century, as academic models of draftsmanship, traditionally practiced as a preparatory means of study and in anticipation of sculpture or painting, gave rise to the production of independent drawings. Artists were regarding drawing as a space of invention and as a crucible for new ways of thinking about artistic process and the formation of thought, not simply as a space of representation and description. Eugène Delacroix wrote, “I believe that a simple drawing is sufficient to allow one to brood over an idea, so to speak, and at the same time to bring it to birth.”
The diverse range of techniques, styles, and methods found in the presented works exemplifies this desire for innovation. Experimenting with materials, artists were beginning to use drawing as vehicle for personal expression. For example, manufactured Conté crayon led Georges Seurat to develop a manner that pushed form to its limits and defied the traditional mode of disegno with its blurred contours and vaguely defined spaces on rough, textured paper. Odilon Redon used charcoal to create his noirs. Their velvety surface was an essential element of his often mystical or sinister themes. Artists were also seeking new ways of making a line, using color and developing an artistic language that was uniquely their own. Delacroix, the most senior artist included in the exhibition, is considered the last of the Old Masters. Yet as a highly original draftsman he is also, arguably, one of the earliest modern artists. Taking a novel and independent approach to the discipline, he was deeply admired by younger artists, including Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne who were looking for ways to discover a greater truth through drawing and to capture sensations of light and space. Van Gogh’s expressive vocabulary of marks and Cézanne’s use of line and color, stripped away the trappings of tradition.
At the end of a century transformed by new technologies and industrialization, drawing became a means to respond to a rapidly transforming cultural and urban landscape. Paving the way for the avant-garde, these French artists anticipated, through drawing, the radical artistic developments to come in the twentieth century.
This exhibition is curated by Jennifer Tonkovich, Curator, Drawings and Prints at the Morgan Museum & Library, and Michelle White, Curator at the Menil Collection.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.