Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Master drawings by Picasso, Renoir, and Gericault

This endearing "Jester on Horseback" by Picasso commandeered my gaze as I entered the room devoted to a traveling exhibit of French drawings from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Paul Mellon collection. This figure from the commedia dell'arte pantheon was a favorite of the artist—witness the image-bestrewn pages in Picasso Harlequin: 1917–1937, which weighs in at more than 300 pages. Pierrots are usually wistful and woebegone, while Harlequins are typically bouncy and mischievous, making this presentation all the more special. Picasso has caught this fellow in a graceful moment of waiting or repose before heading into action, presumably in a circus ring. I just love the dangling foot and the drooping cap, as well as the lovely composition, with the horse's head turned away.
“Preliminary drawings or sketches in oil or pastel often have an immediacy and emotional appeal far greater than the final canvas,” commented Mellon, who collected more than 1,000 of them. One can see what he's talking about in comparing Renoir's "Milliner" sketch of 1879 with his "Umbrellas" painting in London's National Gallery. Many of the drawings in this exhibit had impacts that belied their relatively small dimensions, such as this depiction of a tiger by Gericault. I wish I could show you more, but they're not reproduced online and I was not clever enough to snap surreptitiously with my phone!

Finally, here are several more Picasso harlequins (which he went on to depict in his cubist period as well).

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