Saturday, March 23, 2013

Color, Line, Light: French Drawings, Watercolors, and Pastels from Delacroix to Signac

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through May 26, 2013

In the 1800s, almost all French artists drew, in addition to painting, and some of them drew quite a bit.  The improvements in papers and writing instruments made this more than merely pencil and paper exercises.  Artists were able to try out ideas for paintings without having to use up their canvases or oil paints, and many of the drawings were quite good.  Good enough, in fact, to warrant collecting on their own merits, aside from their famous creators.  James Dyke and Helen Porter did just that, and this exhibit is a selection of 100 drawings taken from their private collection and their gifts to the National Gallery.  The show gives a "tantalizing sense of the range of drawings" created by French painters in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The show is divided into five sections, the first of which is "Romantic Impulse" - these works are meant to evoke feelings in the viewer with the use of color, sentiment and emotion.   Two drawings I liked very much were "Coastal Landscape" by Gustav Dore (I liked the purple color) and "Normandy Cliffs" by Eugene Delacroix (a simple watercolor, but it holds your attention).  In fact, although I was unfamiliar with Dore's works previously, I saw several drawings by him that I liked quite well.

The second section is "Natural Landscape and Everyday Life."  These artists sought to show nature and people as they really were, warts and all.  They wanted to show the natural world as it actually appeared, not as it might be idealized.

The third section is "Impressionist Drawings."  Although best known for their painting, the Impressionists drew as well.  I, of course, knew this already, having seen the "Pissarro on Paper" exhibit several weeks ago.  In fact, his "A Country Girl Seated on the Ground" appears here.  I know I've seen this before, and it must have been in the small Pissarro display.  I like seeing things I recognize; it reminds me of what I'm learning on these visits.

"The Nabis and Symbolists" move beyond a realistic portrayal of the natural world to show a less objective depiction of reality.  As you might guess from the name, these works are more symbolic than natural.

The show finishes with a section on the "Neo-Impressionists," who used dots of pure color in their works.  If you're thinking of Georges Seurat, you've got the right idea.  I was reminded of my trip to the Art Institute of Chicago in this room.  The idea is that, as you stand farther away from the work,   the colors blend optically to make the piece come together.  I liked several pieces by Paul Signac, another artists with whom I was previously unfamiliar.

Verdict: Certainly not a splashy as the Pre-Raphaelites exhibit (about which more presently), but interesting nonetheless and far more manageable on a lunch hour.

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