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Violinist and Young Woman Edgar Degas
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Violinist and Young Woman (70.167) — Edgar Degas

Learning by Line: The Role of Drawing in the Eighteenth Century

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 – Sunday, June 14, 2009

  • For Everyone

The eighteenth century, characterized by social and political unrest culminating in the French Revolution (1789–99), was also marked by artistic innovations. Artists and collectors traveled throughout Europe in great numbers, creating and purchasing works of art, many of them drawings. The art of drawing was more than an aesthetic exercise; it also became a way of obtaining and conveying knowledge and of ordering and understanding a quickly changing world.

The approximately 100 drawings in this show, all from the permanent collection, trace the changes in styles and techniques throughout the century.
One of the most remarkable changes was the sheer number of professional and amateur artists interacting with the market on all levels. Not only did
these two groups create and collect drawings in large numbers, their activity increased demand for a wide variety of art materials—papers, chalks, inks, watercolors, and pastels—that enabled their pursuits.

The exhibition is arranged thematically to illuminate the goals of artists and collectors and their expectations of different genres. Among the most highly regarded categories were history subjects, portraiture, and landscape. History subjects, stories from mythological, religious, or historical sources, were most often represented in large-scale paintings, but drawing was the first step in making sense of complicated compositions and grandiose themes. The network of lines that covers Francois Boucher’s study for The Magnanimity of Scipio shows how artists used drawing to think on paper (above, left).

Landscapes that depicted country idylls or famous landmarks were sought after by collectors, although many examples were not exact representations of a specific scene. Rather, they encouraged voyages of the imagination. For example, Claude Joseph Vernet’s view of the Ruins of the Temple of Serapis at Pozzouli captures the wonder travelers experienced when visiting ancient sites in Italy.

Portraiture speaks to a widespread fascination with character and personal history through complex stories about sitters, relating social class, political
affiliation, and personality. Rosalba Carriera’s richly colored pastel portrait of Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo (above, right), shown for the first time in this exhibition, was designed to hold its own against oil paintings. Carriera and Barbarigo were both famed personalities, Barbarigo for her beauty and wit and Carriera for her considerable skill in working with pastel.

Francois Boucher, French; The Magnanimity of Scipio, 1760/1769; chalk on paper. Founders Society Purchase, Laura H. Murphy Fund

Rosalba Giovanna Carriera, Italian; Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo as Bernice,
ca.1741; pastel on paper mounted onto canvas. Gift of Mrs. William D. Vogel in memory of her mother, Mrs. Ralph Harman Booth

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