The Draftsman's Art: Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland
Naves, Mario, New Criterion
"The Draftsman's Art: Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland," at the Frick Collection, New York. December 12, 2000--February 25, 2001
While I was leafing through the catalogue for "The Draftsman's Art: Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland" a phrase leaped out at me. In the introduction, Michael Clarke, Keeper of the National Gallery of Scotland, writes of the "intimacy of intuition and appreciation between creator and viewer." Although Clarke was specifically describing how we experience Old Master drawings, his statement is applicable to all forms and epochs of art (provided, of course, that we're speaking of good art: a necessary hedge in this age of slippery standards). That a museum curator should underline and, implicitly, honor the significance of aesthetics may not seem like a big deal--it goes with the job, right? Yet the obviousness of Clarke's statement shouldn't shield us from its truth or rarity. In an age when art is too often an adjunct of fashion requiring only a token nod of approval, the reaffirmation of intimacy, intuition, and appreciation deserves not only our attention, but also a veritable round of applause.
If Clarke deserves a hand, then "The Draftsman's Art" demands a standing ovation. With the intention of putting the museum's best foot forward, Clarke has culled eighty drawings from its collection and many of them arc, to put it mildly, choice. Among its stellar attractions are pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Francois Boucher, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Joseph Mallord William Turner, William Blake, and Georges Seurat. There are also exquisite works by figures of more specialty interest--Parmigianino, Agostino Carracci, Jacob Jordaens, Roelant Savory, and Hubert Robert to name just a few. It should, as a cautionary measure, be noted that the Leonardo, a double-sided study of dog paws, as well as the two drawings by Rubens-one a pastiche by a twenty-something master-in-training, the other a copy after Raphael by an unknown hand and "customized" by the artist--are more fascinating as curios than as art. Similarly, many of the pieces by English and Scottish artists are unlikely to send us scurrying to see more of their work.
Having made those qualifications, let me add that the aforementioned Rubens pastiche is still pretty astonishing and two of the finest pieces in "The Draftsman's Art" do the home team proud. David Paton's Portrait of Two Gentlemen (c. 1660-65) is the earliest example of Scottish drawing in the National Gallery's collection and a work of stringent intricacy. …