A PROPER introduction to the discussion of the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum may be considered a look at the fast increasing collection of Drawings, Etchings and Engravings.
Drawing is the foundation of all artistic expression. It is the skeleton on which the composition hangs, to be clothed with the artist’s conception his skill and his begeisterung.
If all the words of language are in the dictionary, eloquence is only in the soul of the writer; and if all truths are in nature, the elements of expression must thence be drawn by the artist to the triumph of the sentiment that animates him. And no form of art expression so spontaneously conveys the tempo of the artist’s heartbeats as the ready line and curve put on paper by pen or crayon or etching-needle. It may be a short-hand note of his artistic impulse, or an elaborately executed composition in drawings we find the initiative of artistic creation.
Over a thousand of such inspiring sheets form the collection of the Metropolitan some of supreme mastery, others dainty tit-bits for the epicurean connoisseur.
Although drawings by the Italian Primitives are becoming exceedingly scarce, there are several of these to be seen, as well as sheets that come from the later Renaissance painters. The Dutch school is rich in examples, while the French and British masters are well represented. The Spanish, German and other schools are not neglected.
An anonymous drawing of the end of the 15th century shows the Mantegna influence on the North Italian schools. A study of trees, in pen and ink, which used to be attributed to Giorgione, is more likely of Titian’s earlier years. The drawing of these trees has finer quality, freer and more vital line than those in another landscape by Titian’s close imitator, Domenico Campagnola, also found here. A black-chalk head of a bearded old man is by Cesare da Cesto; on the reverse of the sheet is another head of a younger man. The drawing displays Raphael’s influence, and was apparently made after da Cesto had left Leonardo da Vinci and Milan, and had come under the influence of the greater master.
Giovanni Franceso Barbieri, called Guercino, was strongly influenced by Titian. This is seen in the sketch of his painting of ” St. William of Burgundy taking the habit of an Anchorite at the hands of St. Bernard,” which is in Bologna. It has a brilliant improvised quality, and a skilful distribution of light and shade. His other drawing, the ” Adoration of the Magi,” is more elaborate and complete.
A sketch of ” Peasants and Cattle ” in a romantic landscape, is assigned to Francesco Bassano. It is drawn with great refinement and taste, and with a genuinely pictorial sense of the value of tone. A sheet containing a head of a youth, together with a study for a composition that might illustrate Esther before Ahasuerus, must be by Leandro Bassano. The single head is entirely in his manner, but the composition must have been merely an attempt to create something much in vogue in his lifetime.
Of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione there are some drawings in gouache, some in varnished tempera, which fully declare his excellent draughtsmanship of animals. He had caught from van Dyck, when the Fleming visited Genoa, some of the Rubens characteristics which van Dyck then practised a certain robustness and brilliancy.
The idea of a large Bacchanalia, by Lorenzo Lombrino, was apparently cribbed from Mantegna’s well-known engraving of the Wine-fat. It shows clever technical excellence, but the artist lacked originative power, as demonstrated in his other works here, which all bear the cachet of someone else. There are also drawings by Parmigiano and by Annibale Carracci, studies by Correggio, Perugino and Tiepolo, and sheets that must have come from the studio of Raphael as the work of his pupils.
The ideal draughtsman, as he was the king of etchers, was Rembrandt. Not because of impeccable correctness of truly adjusted lines, but because of the eloquent expressiveness which he gives to each scratch. Rembrandt has never been surpassed in conveying his whole meaning with an astounding economy of means. It is seen in a pen and ink sketch of a man leading a laden camel even the slightest indication, the most rapid and least conscious line, becomes functional and expressive. Another pen drawing, ” Tobias and Sara,” slightly more elaborate, is of equally definite significance. Jacob Jordaens carries out his composition more fully, it being solidly coloured in gouache. His characteristic of broad and summary handling is conspicuous in a sheet which is supposed to represent the Sacrifice at Lystra.
There are leaves from the book or board of van Goyen, van Ostade, van de Velde, Pieter Breughel, and of the humorous caricaturist of the comedy of manners of the end of the 18th century, Cornelis Troost.
Dürer’s sheets may be studied, how he analyzes a figure, how he builds up his drawing bit by bit until, as a German proverb has it, ” the trees prevent one seeing the forest.” Dürer’s work has the rugged force that is more stimulating than captivating. He has a sinewy quality that passes charm, but speaks plain truths, not with palliation.
In the French school there are silver points and chalk drawings by Alphonse LeGros, and we further note the freedom and elegance of the figures of Watteau; the movement and grace of line of a nude figure by Charles Leandre ; the expressive gestures in ” Les Misereaux,” by Steinlin ; as well as landscapes by Claude, and leaves from Calot and Ingres.
The English artists are well represented. Be-ginning with those of the 18th century we have three important examples of Rowlandson. Although Rowlandson was a professed caricaturist, there is largeness of conception and genuine feeling for landscape in his ” Epsom on Derby Day ” and in ” The Review.” The third sketch is more characteristic, ” The Connoisseur ” viewing a lady’s treasures. It is a delightfully humorous pasquil.
Hoppner’s drawing of a lady, seated in an attitude of sentimental distress, is an agreeable and charming expression of his art. Drawings by Gainsborough and Constable are helpful in understanding the technique of their work.
David Wilkie, the first, in point of time, of the British anecdotal painters, has here four sketches for the well-known picture, ” The Bride at her Toilet on the Day of her Wedding,” which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838.
William Blake’s intensely imaginative style is best shown in his drawings, which are all suffused with almost incomprehensible mysticism. We need not discuss here the subjects of his creations, the manner in which he pictures his mental peregrinations may always be regarded as in a style of Michelangelesque fortitude and elemental individuality. Several of his drawings here give evidence of the poignant and haunting quality of his genius.
John Ruskin, as is well known, had at first the ambition of becoming an artist, but early recognizing his own lack of talent in painting, he set himself up as a teacher to painters — an anomaly which has had imitators since his time. That he, nevertheless, was an exceedingly clever architectural draughtsman is shown in a large drawing of the Colonnade of the Ducal Palace at Venice. It has a nervous vitality of line and rhythm that places it among the best works of its kind. Drawings, by Turner and Cotman ; studies of the draped figure, by Lord Leighton; a nude figure, in sanguine, by Alfred Stevens, denoting his sculpturesque style and purity of line, may be noted, as well as the first design for the famous ” Bath of Venus,” by Burne-Jones. This drawing has a peculiar technique, being in dull earth-red mono-chrome, the light picked out in gold, which gives it a rich decorative effect. There are also sheets by Wilson, Girtin and Cozens. A portrait of Rodin is by William Rothenstein, a young English artist of considerable power.
A fine representation of the work of the needle and burin is found in a collection of etchings by Seymour-Haden, and by Whistler. Seymour-Haden’s talent produces many pleasant effects outside the limitations of the commonplace; his firm surgeon’s touch is his besttt”asset as an etcher. And no one has carried suggestion and abstraction to so high a point as Whistler.
Among the few drawings and etchings by American artists the etchings by Robert Blum should be noted for their sharp delineation and velvety softness. Remarkable, however, are some half dozen drawings in coloured chalk by Arthur B. Davies. The superficial criticism raised against the work of this artist is that in his painting there is an apparent neglect of the academically correct -drawn lines of the human figure although no one will deny the potency of these ill-drawn lines.
That these vagaries of draughtsmanship are intentional preachments of the artist’s ideas, and not to be ascribed to a lack of anatomical knowledge, or of skill, is shown in this series of drawings of the nude figure, which display a remarkable familiarity with the life model, to which is added the artist’s own interpretation of strength, intensity, delicacy or grace.
A number of engravings and mezzotints belong to this section, which it is to be hoped will soon have sufficient space provided to be seen and appreciated in its entirety.