Just a few steps from the crowds at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the calm beauty of the Frick Museum. Until June 16, 2013, it’s presenting The Impressionist Line from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Prints from the Clark. The exhibition presents fifty-eight nineteenth-century French drawings and prints from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Works by Millet, Courbet, Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and other masters are displayed.
Many of the drawings are finished works of art made for sale and exhibition rather than studies for larger works. Drawing was a medium that suited the Impressionists’ style of spontaneity and interest in showing modern life. Drawings and prints fed the growing art market brought about by an expanding middle class in the second half of the nineteenth-century.
According to the exhibition notes, “images of peasants and laborers appear as both social critiques and utopian visions of an idealized past or future.” Parisian dancehalls and brothels are contrasted with rural scenes that glorify a world that was quickly changing. The influence of the French Academy was also waning, but traces of rigorous academic training remain in the virtuoso draftsmanship evident in these drawings.
Dessin à main levée (dessahn ah mahn luhvay) means “free-hand drawing.” I can’t draw at all, so I admire those who can. The Frick Museum always has beautiful exhibits, not to mention an exceptional permanent collection. Check this one out if you can.