Published: August 7, 2001
NEW YORK CITY – Among the most innovative and influential artists of his age, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1527-1569) was a remarkable draftsman and designer of prints as well as a painter. On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 25 through December 2, this landmark exhibition will include 54 of the 61 extant drawings by Bruegel, a larger number than has ever been assembled for any previous exhibition. In addition, the exhibition will also include some 60 prints designed by him, and another 20 drawings by his contemporaries.
Renowned for his sketches of Alpine scenery and his allegorical depictions of human behavior, Bruegel’s spirited drawings and prints, based in traditional imagery as well as a keen observation of nature, are beloved for their novel and highly independent perspectives. His graphic work has captivated both scholars and the public from the Sixteenth Century to this day and he remains among the most popular artists of any era.
The exhibition is made possible in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The exhibition has been organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the exhibition, “The Metropolitan is privileged to present his extraordinary exhibition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s drawings and prints, the largest such survey ever assembled. Although his splendid paintings of peasant life and allegorical themes have long ranked among the most celebrated images in Western art, it was through the many graphic works on view in this exhibition that Bruegel achieved widespread fame and influence during his own time.”
Among Bruegel’s foremost artistic achievements is the naturalistic rendering of landscape in pen drawings and engravings, which capture vast expanses of mountains and valleys. Many of his landscapes were created during and just after the artist’s journey to Italy in 1552-53. The expansive Alpine vistas that he witnessed during that trip left a lasting impression on his work.
Most of Bruegel’s non-landscape drawings were created as designs for prints that were engraved by some of the leading printmakers of his day. These scenes of allegories and proverbs consist of humorous and pointed critiques of human nature, universal characterizations that are still relevant today. Tumultuous demon-filled scenes inspired by Hieronymus Bosch depict man’s vices; faceless peasants working the earth illustrate the seasons. Bruegel’s drawings and prints changed the way both contemporary and subsequent artists conceived of the land and its inhabitants.
During the past two decades our conception of Bruegel’s graphic oeuvre has changed dramatically. Most importantly, in the early 1990s, a large group of Alpine studies, long considered pivotal masterpieces of the artist’s work, were removed from his oeuvre because it was discovered that they were drawn on paper produced after the artist’s death. In turn, a number of drawings that were once not considered to have been made by Bruegel are now accepted as by his hand. This exhibition will examine the newly defined Bruegel and reassess his importance and impact as a graphic artist.
“Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Drawings and Prints” will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue to be published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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