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How Van Gogh: influenced--and was influenced by--the art of drawing: while Rembrandt, Delacroix, and Daumier had a great impact on him, others, such as Matisse and Klee, were early beneficiaries of his example.

VINCENT VAN GOGH cultivated a large appetite for pictures and developed a very broad knowledge of art. While working as a young art dealer in The Hague, Paris, and London between 1869-76, as well as in Amsterdam, where he was training to be a preacher between 1877-78, Van Gogh took every opportunity he could to visit museums and galleries and acquaint himself with the works of old masters and his contemporaries. Many of these artists particularly Rembrandt van Rijn, Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Francois Millet, Honore Daumier, and the Japanese masters of ukiyo-e had a resounding impact on his choice of subject matter and the evolution of his extraordinary drawing style while others, like Henri Matisse and Paul Klee, were early beneficiaries of his example.

Van Gogh greatly admired Rembrandt and repeatedly turned to the work of the 17th-century master whom he called the "magician of magicians" and the "great and universal master portrait painter of the Dutch Republic." Rembrandt's drypoints and etchings no doubt were an influence on Van Gogh's expressive freedom with the reed pen, as well as on his choice of subject matter. His experience of the French countryside was informed by his memory of the works of Jacob van Ruisdael, Aelbert Cuyp, and other 17th-century Dutch landscapists.

Van Gogh also closely studied the work of French painters. The realist Millet was a great source of inspiration. Both at the beginning and end of his career, Van Gogh made numerous copies and variants of Millet's compositions, inspired by their realism and respect for rural life. In the works of the 19th-century French landscape painter Theodore Rousseau, he recognized a sincere appreciation of nature and their kinship with the work of van Ruisdael. Delacroix's art inspired and consoled Van Gogh throughout his life and he was particularly responsive to Delacroix's rejection of the academic approach in favor of expressive line. While he was working to improve his command of figure drawing, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo of his admiration for Daumier.

Like many of his contemporaries, Van Gogh was fascinated with the pictorial novelty of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, which flooded Europe after trade routes were reopened in the 1850s. He collected them avidly and tacked them up on the walls of his studio in Antwerp. In Paris, as the collection of prints he and his brother amassed grew into the hundreds, Van Gogh organized an exhibition of them at the Cafe Ee Tambourin and even copied works by Kesai Eisen and Utagawa Hiroshige in several of his paintings. He must have leafed many times through his volumes of Katsushika Hokusal's One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji. The full extent of ukiyo-e's influence on Van Gogh did not become clear until he took up drawing in earnest in Provence. Brandishing a fresh supply of locally cut reed pens, the artist seized upon an ingenious graphic vocabulary inspired by the flattened space and abbreviated calligraphy of the Japanese as embodied in the prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige.

The exhibition, "In Line with Van Gogh," featuring 59 drawings and prints by artists whose work influenced Van Gogh as well as pieces by his contemporaries and followers (including Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac, Georges Seurat, and Edvard Munch), can be seen through Jan. 8 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Also at The Met (through Jan. 29) is "From Clouet to Seurat: French Drawings from The British Museum," which includes drawings by artists Van Gogh admired, such as Jean Clouet and Paul Cezanne and even by several artists whom he knew personally--Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec--during the time he was in Paris.

The latter exhibition features nearly 100 masterpieces, ranging from rare Renaissance portraits by Jean and Francois Clouet to the stellar 19th-century works of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Delacroix to Degas, Cezanne, and Seurat. A majority of these works have never been exhibited in the U.S., as the Department of Prints and Drawings at The British Museum oversees one of the oldest and most extensive collections of works on paper in the world. Founded in 1753 with the bequest of Sir Hans Sloan, which contained more than 200 French drawings--and built up over subsequent centuries through bequests and acquisitions--the collection now contains over 3,500 drawings by French artists. Nonetheless, the British Museum's extensive holdings of French drawings are comparatively little known, having long been overshadowed by its works from the Italian and Northern schools.

"This exhibition presents ... visitors with a truly remarkable opportunity to see rarely exhibited drawings by master draftsmen, and to witness the development of French art unfold before them," says Philippe de Montebello, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Surveying such a broad period allows one to appreciate the cyclical nature of stylistic development. For instance, the battles waged in the 17th century between the Rubenistes, who favored color and naturalism, and the Poussinistes, proponents of line and the study of antiquity, are echoed in the contrast between the classicism of Ingres and the Romanticism of Delacroix in the early 19th century."

Organized chronologically, "Clouet to Seu rat" creates a visually compelling picture of the evolution of French draftsmanship from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Whether the drawings were made as part of a working process or as pieces of art in their own right, they reveal the mastery and exquisite beauty of the French artistic tradition in the artists' most direct and immediate means of expression. Among the works on view are two of a group of royal portraits from the 16th century by Jean Clouet and his son Francois that are rare examples of the early use of different colored chalks to produce naturalistic effects. Under Queen Catherine de Medici, such royal portraits in colored chalks were collected and valued as independent works of art.

A more unified national style developed in the 17th century, in part due to the establishment in 1648 of the French Royal Academy (Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture), where the influence of Nicolas Poussin gave rise to a cool and classicizing Baroque idiom. Another formulation of the Baroque style reached its apogee in the work of landscape painter Claude Lorrain, who spent his working career in Rome. Indisputably the French Baroque artist most beloved by British collectors, Lorrain is represented in the exhibition by five works--selected from among 500 in The British Museum's collection--which demonstrate the range of his production, from free plein air studies to the breathtakingly fresh images from Liber Veritatis, in which he made record drawings of his completed paintings.

The French Enlightenment is represented, on the one hand, by the sparkling trois crayons drawings by Antoine Watteau, the most original and influential Rococo draftsman and, on the other hand, by the more cerebral works of Jacques-Louis David. Tendencies inspired by Watteau's informal and accessible style were stifled by the French Revolution of 1789, and with David at the helm, French art returned to a conservative classicism.

During the 19th century, great innovation often co-existed with a deep respect for the art of the past. Artists such as Ingres, David's leading pupil, and Jean-Leon Gerome continued the academic tradition. Romantics such as Delacroix and Theodore Gericault and Realists like Gustave Courbet, all represented in the exhibition, laid the foundations for the groundbreaking movements of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, among others. Drawings continued to play an integral role in this evolution, even as artistic traditions were challenged and reinvented.
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Title Annotation:Museums Today
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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