French Drawings; Masterpieces from Five Centuries

French Drawings; Masterpieces from Five Centuries

French Drawings; Masterpieces from Five Centuries

French Drawings; Masterpieces from Five Centuries

Excerpt

Five Centuries of French drawing . . . This title, though ambitious, does have limitations, since it includes neither illustrations of medieval manuscripts nor works of the past half century. Even the Merovingian, Carolingian or Romanesque illuminations would not have been truly primitive drawings, as these would ultimately have to be found on the walls of prehistoric caves. As for the contemporary masters or their immediate elders, they have frequently been studied in exhibitions of modern art, and the American public is well acquainted with the drawings of such artists as Dunoyer de Segonzac, Rouault, Braque, and Matisse. The purpose of the present exhibition is to define the unity and permanent character of the French national temperament, above and beyond the various tendencies of individual artists.

During the past half century the history of art has attracted the interest of a steadily growing public, and this is most gratifying. Is it going too far to believe that exhibitions, often criticized because they entail the transportation of art works, are responsible for this curiosity that extends to all classes of society? By this I mean that enjoyment of a work of art no longer is the prerogative of a small and privileged group; now everyone can bring more beauty to his life, however modest. If this rewarding result could be achieved then the aim of exhibition organizers would be amply fulfilled.

The development of art history has fostered a scientific understanding of the works of the past; these far-reaching efforts, which have already produced remarkable discoveries and offer promise of even greater knowledge, might well have the dangerous effect of diverting the uninitiated spectator from direct contact with the work of art. All those who enjoy visiting an art exhibition are not necessarily prepared to enter into the historical or philosophical speculations of art historians, which are often more intellectual than emotional.

Origin and environment, of course, do frequently play a part in the development of an artist--as we have tried to indicate in the brief biographies and catalogue notes; but the spirit and the natural temperament of the artist assert themselves in his drawings without any need for intellectual interpretation. It is precisely through drawings that contact between the art lover and the artist is most readily established; at this stage of creation differences in period do not act as a screen, for even artists who maintain their full independence in their drawings at times yield to the influence of their environment in the final stage of their work, whether painting or sculpture. When looking at a drawing in which the artist has surrendered completely to the spontaneity of his inspiration, we must therefore find new eyes to understand, to search, to penetrate his meaning in its utmost sincerity. Is it possible for us in this XXth century to recreate for ourselves a new vision? I hope that this exhibition will help our friends in the United States in this endeavor.

French drawing--these two words evoke an idea of balance. In the French School, which has not faltered from the Middle Ages to our time, the quality of the plastic master-

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