Published: October 26, 2004
“A View to the Past: Old Master Prints and Drawings” offers a rare opportunity to peer into the distant past. The 85 works on view in this presentation, drawn from the New Orleans Museum of Art’s holdings and several private collections, range from the early Sixteenth to the mid-Nineteenth Century. The show will run through January 2.
The exhibition will unveil three newly donated and very important prints by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669). “An anonymous New York benefactor has honored NOMA with a generous gift of three early Rembrandt etchings of exceptional quality,” said Daniel Piersol NOMA’s Doris Zemurray Stone Curator of Prints and Drawings. “These marvelous impressions are the first Rembrandts to enter the permanent collection and are the stars among stars in this exhibition.”
While many often associate the term “Old Master” with paintings and sculpture, it applies no less to drawings and prints created in a broad range of media. To be sure, such drawings are the result of diverse aesthetic intents. For instance, the undated sanguine rendering “Romulus et Remus” by Jean-Jacques-Francois Le Barbier (1738-1826) is an image intended to be transformed into a print. Eugene Delacroix’s (1798-1863) ink ‘Studies of Sculptures,” circa 1830, is this creator’s interpretation of existing three-dimensional objects. “Portrait of a Gentleman,” 1809, by Virginie Hue de Bravel (1780-1840), is a fully realized, finished work, complete in and of itself.
Old Master prints, like the drawings, served a variety of purposes. For instance, “Portrait of Louis XVI,” 1790, by Johann Gotthard Muller (circa 1747-1830), is an engraving after a painting. The purpose of this reproductive print was to make available for distribution throughout his domain the official image of the King of France.
Francisco Goya (1746-1828) and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), in contrast, conceived of and executed their prints as multiple, original compositions, independent from their unique creations in painting. Durer’s great pictorial inventiveness and powerful content are apparent in the woodcut entitled “Hercules Conquering Cacus,” circa 1496-98, while Goya’s emotional distress and sense of outrage nearly burst from his haunting etching “Tampoco,” circa 1819.
Of special interest among the many noteworthy works on view are those by the preeminent Dutch etcher Rembrandt and Jean-Marc Nattier (1683-1766), a favored portrait painter of the French court and aristocracy.
Three small, jewel-like biblical impressions, “The Circumcision of Christ: Small Plate,” circa 1630; “The Holy Family,” 1632; and the nocturne entitled “The Flight into Egypt: Small Plate,” 1633, glow with dramatic, ethereal contrasts of light and shadow. Dark prints such as these, derived from the Caravaggioesque approach explored by Seventeenth Century Dutch artists, were prized by collectors of the day.
“The circumcision,” with its careful draftsmanship, grand costumes and the slightly equivocal spatial relationships between the figures who crowd into the temple, is characteristic of this master’s early etched work. Typical of Rembrandt’s early religious work is a heightened sense of physical and emotional tension, evoked here by the frightened child’s scream.
Nattier’s “Portrait of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (After a Self-Portrait of the Artist),” 1707, reveals Nattier’s high regard for Rubens. This image was executed at the same point that the artist and his brother had assumed from their father the task of copying the great series of Rubens paintings, “History of Marie de Medici,” which then hung at the Palais du Luxembourg. Their drawings were published as engravings in 1710 as La Galerie du Palais du Luxembourg Peintre par Rubens. The current drawings, engraved as the volume’s frontispiece by Jean Audran (1661-1721), will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, to be written by Nattier authority Joseph Baillol and published by the Wildenstein Foundation.
For information, noma.org or 504-488-2631.
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