​Master Drawings
Indian Economy & Market|February 2018

The cultural life of New York City is forever vibrant.

William J. Dean

In my pocket notebook, where I record critical personal information -- blood pressure, names of favorite wines and cheeses -- I devote a full page to listing “must see” art exhibitions, among them, Michelangelo, Rodin, Munch, Hockney, along with the closing date for each. Too often, I arrive to find that the show has ended. This almost happened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, “Leonardo to Matisse, Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection.” I arrived on the final day with less than two hours remaining, making for a breathless viewing experience.

A favorite drawing of mine in the Lehman Collection is Rembrandt’s red-chalk drawing after Leonardo da Vinci’s mural of the “Last Supper,” described as Rembrandt’s “moving interpretation of a Renaissance masterpiece.” Here a master honors a master from another age and from another land.

I am drawn to Goya’s, “Self-Portrait in a Cocked Hat.” Much of Goya’s work has dark themes, an example being his 54 etchings in “Disasters of War,” bearing grim captions such as,”Bury them and be silent.” “Why?” The etchings could be scenes of present-day Syria or Yemen. In “Self-Portrait,” how thrilling to come upon a dashing Goya in his tricorne hat.

Rembrandt, like Goya, was drawn to people living lives of desperation. They were a lifelong interest of his. He was not unique in selecting beggars as subjects. The originality lay in his approach. He never represented beggars as comical figures, intended to amuse the viewer. As Jakob Rosenberg writes in “Rembrandt, Life and Work,” “His emphasis lies on their deplorable condition, on their loneliness, exhaustion, and tragic degradation....”

I attend a second exhibition of master drawings, this one at the Morgan Library and Museum: “Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection.” A number of the drawings evoke personal memories.

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