Saturday, 22 June 2013

Master Drawings, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (25 May-18 August 2013)

Head Study of an Old Man, Rembrandt (c, 1630)

Tucked away in two galleries on the third floor within the behemoth which is the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, seventy-one  drawings from the museum’s collection of works on paper which include artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Holbein to name but four, are guaranteed to take your breath away.  I have visited many, many exhibitions over the years and I have to say that this is the first one which I can, in complete truth and without any embarrassment say, was as close to a spiritual experience I have ever had.  It really is a feast for the eyes and it also reminded me how much I love drawing as a medium.  The immediacy of the line from a pencil or piece of charcoal or chalk on paper can convey as much emotion and power as any over-sized oil painting.  Drawing also seems to allow the viewer an instant connection and insight into the mind of the artist.  Who could not failed to be moved when faced with the exquisite skill contained in drawings such as Michelangelo’s Ideal Head or Rembrandt’s Head Study of an Old Man.  With some of the unfinished sketches on display, such as Ingres’ Portrait of Jean-François-Antoine Forest, it felt as it both artist and model had just left the room a few moments before.  The sense of history and legacy was also very humbling to experience in this exhibition, with the earliest drawing dating back to the late fifteenth century it proved how fundamental drawing was, and continues to be, for artistic practice.  Holbein’s simple, yet exquisite A Young Englishwoman is a fashion plate of its day and gives us a glimpse into an almost unimaginable ere.  Given its Pre-raphaelite connections, surprisingly the exhibition only contained one example from the group, Rossetti’s sumptuous Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Wedding Feast.  I was disappointed to see only one female artist represented here, Gwen John, and given her prolific drawing output and skill, it would have been nice to see more examples of her work if the museum had more in its collection.  For any real lover of art and history I cannot recommend this exhibition enough, it really is one not to be missed.

A Young Englishwoman, Hans Holbein (c. 1527)
St Jerome, Lucas Van Leyden (c. 1519)
Ideal Head, Michelangelo (c. 1520)

Portrait of Jean-François-Antoine Forest, Ingres (c. 1820)
A House and Garden at Tintern, Samuel Palmer (c. 1835)
Study of a Kingfisher, John Ruskin (c. 1870)
Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Wedding Feast, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (c. 1855)
A Seated Girl, Gwen John (c. 1918)