Drawing Conclusions

Drawing Conclusions

The brilliant exhibition Old Masters, Newly Acquired proves (as if proof were needed) that The Morgan Library & Museum’s permanent collection of drawings made before 1900 is alive, well and growing—thanks to important gifts, generous bequests and judicious purchases. More than 100 drawings are on view, and these include late-19th-century French works from Eugene V. Thaw, both gifts and promised gifts made since 2010. Standouts here are two small yet intensely evocative black-chalk self-portraits by Edgar Degas. Honoré Daumier’s “The Schoolmaster and the Drowning Child” turns the La Fontaine fable into a wonderfully droll morality in typical Daumier style (the schoolmaster’s holier-than-thou expression is priceless). The Charles Ryskamp Bequest of Scandinavian and Northern European works is full of happy discoveries, including a sheet of Caspar David Friedrich “Cottage Studies.” Jean-Louis Forain’s “Men Groveling Before a Haughty Gentleman” from the Joseph F. McCrindle Bequest echoes the Daumier above in attitude and economy of execution. The most pleasure for this viewer comes from a group of mainly British purchases on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund. John Martin’s epic watercolor landscape with figure, “Diogenes Throwing Away His Cup;” “The Valley of Jehosaphat, Jerusalem” by the master of Holy Land scenes, David Roberts; and for those obsessed by Orientalism, as I am, John Frederick Lewis’ slice of Middle Eastern life, “A Bedouin Encampment at Gebel Tor in the Sinai Desert.” William Holman Hunt’s luminous small-scale “Landscape by Moonlight, Devon” sings with Pre-Raphaelite fervor. Followers of New York society may be drawn to the handful of sheets from the estate of Mrs. Vincent (Brooke) Astor. The truth is—before this exhibition—most of us would only have seen Théodore Géricault’s handsome black chalk “Study of an Officer of the Guard, Seated” and Joseph Ducreux’s debonair “Portrait of a Gentleman” (Ducreux’s deft handling of black, brown, red and white chalk is masterful) if Mrs. Astor had invited us to tea or dinner. Accompanying photographs show donors to this exhibit at home, surrounded by their beloved drawings, and in the case of Charles Ryskamp, practically engulfed by the fruits of his lifelong passion for the most intimate and immediate of artistic expressions. Once again, The Morgan scores a game-winning home run. Old Masters, Newly Acquired is on view thru Aug. 11.

» The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave., 212.685.0008