THE narrative of art is, like the complex web of lines in an
etching, a fascinating pattern of crosscurrents, or convergences
Art is nourished by art as much as by other forms of experience,
and artists have carried on intriguing, if one-way, conversations
across the centuries. The later conduct a kind of dialogue with the
earlier, since every artist has the entire scope of previous art on
which to call.
This chronological narrative of art is only partly an
"evolution" - only to the degree that every artist is involuntarily
a child of his period. But the idea of some clear line of
development, like scientific knowledge refining or replacing
previously held theories, is not necessarily the way art happens.
Nor is it the way artists always think about art. They enjoy a
freedom of choice with regard to their sources of inspiration,
which may as easily mean an intense fraternity with an
ecclesiastical artist of the 12th century or an anonymous Nigerian
woodcarver as with a notable Western painter of the previous
Art historians inevitably investigate the "influence" of other
artists on the artist they are studying. It helps understanding.
But "influence" has an extraordinary number of different faces,
from slavish (and flattering) imitation, to ironic adoption or
distortion; from useful suggestions of technique or manner to a
stimulation that has to do with intuition and feeling rather than
style. There are cases, too, of artists approaching the art of the
past as if it were some kind of gauntlet thrown down.
Most artists go through a period when they are moving toward the
discovery of their own unmistakable individuality. At that stage
you can see the work of other artists being tasted, swallowed, and
digested most openly. But few artists, even in maturity, stop
looking at other art. They probably won't be consciously thinking
about Velazquez's "Meninas" or a Pompeiian wall painting as they
work - there's enough to keep their attention fully occupied with
the process on hand. But the dialogue is still there.
THE works shown here - by Rembrandt van Rijn, Georges Seurat,
and Giorgio Morandi - are all on paper and all in black and white.
Morandi, the most contemporary of the three, admired and studied
works by both Seurat and Rembrandt. Seurat is known to have been
interested enough in Rembrandt to have among very few reproductions
of old masters in his possession, reproductions of 13 of the Dutch
artist's etchings, including the "Self-Portrait Drawing at a
Window" of 1648.
The times and places to which each of these artists belongs
could hardly be farther apart. The Italian Giorgio Morandi belongs
to our century (1890-1964). A quiet, somewhat secluded artist, he
worked with a virtually religious dedication, on an intimate scale.
He transmuted the simplest objects - groups of bottles, tins, jugs
- into small paintings, drawings, and prints that are unusual in
composition, intensely sensitive in treatment, and surprisingly
Georges Seurat was French and lived from 1859 to one year after
Morandi was born. He was painter of some of the most classically
ordered, carefully constructed figure compositions in Western art.
He brought a systematic organization to the sketch-like freedoms of
French Impressionism by meticulously applying color spots and
scrupulously observed tonal values. And he made some of the most
beautiful drawings ever made.
Rembrandt, that giant of 17th-century Holland, was a great
individualist, vigorous, unmannered, humane. He was a painter of
"history," of Bible stories notably, and a portraitist. He was an
outstanding, almost obsessive self-portraitist. He painted
landscapes also, but only rarely did he paint, draw, or etch "still
life," a genre special to his Dutch contemporaries. Rembrandt was a
highly original etcher; his etchings are given as much importance
as his paintings. …