One hundred master works that chronicle the genius of French draftsmanship over the course of three tumultuous centuries provide the focus for an exhibition showcasing one of the world's foremost private collections of French drawings. From July 16 through September 25, 2005, the Museum will present Poussin to Cézanne: French Drawings from the Prat Collection. Selected from the collection adventurously assembled over the last three decades by the novelist and curator Louis-Antoine Prat and his wife, journalist Véronique Prat, the exhibition is a choice selection of 100 works by 66 artists. These drawings by great masters and superb lesser-known artists were chosen by Pierre Rosenberg, former director of the Louvre, member of the Académie Française, and guest curator for this project.
The drawings comprise a panorama of French draftsmanship. Included are a marvelous array of subjects, styles, and drawing techniques: landscapes and portraits; meticulously finished drawings and brilliant sketches; and techniques such as graphite, watercolor, and colored chalks. The exhibition begins with the late mannerist French style of Jacques Callot (1592-1635) and extends through the masterful drawings of such 18th century artists as Watteau (1684-1721), Boucher (1703-1770), and Fragonard (1780-1850), early 19th century figures such as Ingres (1780-1867) and Delacroix (1798-1863), and concludes with the flowering of Impressionism in works by Manet (1832-1883)), Degas (1834-1917), and Cézanne (1839-1906). Also included are unexpected examples of drawings by such leading literary figures as Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867).
"I can't imagine a more timely way to follow Bastille Day in Philadelphia than to open a window onto French culture through this remarkable selection of drawings," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "These works of art comprise a breathtaking historical sweep and an astonishing range of vision, extending from the classical grace of Poussin and Claude Lorrain to the Romantic spirit of Delacroix and Géricault and to the miraculous simplicity of Seurat's conté crayon scenes of modern life."
Poussin to Cézanne will be presented in a suite of three spacious galleries, corresponding to the three centuries spanned by the drawings in the exhibition. It is installed in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries and coordinated at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Innis Howe Shoemaker, The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. "The Prat collection is one of the world’s most beautiful collections of drawings in private hands," said Ms. Shoemaker. "Drawings are wonderful for bringing you face to face with the artist's process and thought as ideas for a composition are just beginning to come into being. Artists from this particular sequence of centuries in France worked with an unusually rich variety of drawing techniques and styles employed for many different purposes."
Among the many highlights is Bacchus, by Francois Boucher (1703-1770). He was the first painter to King Louis XIV and protégé of Madame de Pompadour, admired for his evocations of a sensual, graceful mythological world characterized by undulating forms and spiral compositions. In his 40s when he made this chalk study for a lost composition devoted to the myth of Ariadne, Boucher drew from a live model, adding the crown of grape leaves, the animal skin, and long wand called a thyrsus—attributes of the god of wine. Another remarkable work is Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's bold composition, Fortune, executed around 1800, which shows the blind-folded face of a woman with serpentine locks and an enigmatic, Mona Lisa-like smile. Prud'hon became a famous painter during the First Empire under Napoleon and received commissions to paint the Empress Josephine and Napoleon's marriage to Marie-Louise, who was the artist's student. Among the latest works in the exhibition, George Pierre Seurat's Bootblack with His Customer (about 1884-86) conveys the striking modernity of the artist credited with developing the painting technique known as pointillism or divisionism. His unusual drawing technique also resulted in some of the most poetic and beautiful drawings of the 19th century. Executed in conté crayon, the abstracted composition shows two boldly silhouetted figures surrounded by a grainy, atmospheric light, an effect that Seurat achieved by varying the pressure of the crayon over the textured surface of the paper.
Now numbering some 200 works, the collection of Louis-Antoine and Véronique Prat began as a self-described love affair more than thirty years ago. As M. Prat recounts in A Passion for Drawing, the illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition: "I was 30 years old when I raised my hand in an auction room for the first time in my life. It was March 1974, I was bidding for a drawing, and my heart was beating as loudly as Molly Bloom’s lover’s on the last page of the monologue that ends Ulysses."
Graduates of l’Ecole du Louvre, the Prats set out to build a collection that highlighted the work of French artists active before 1900. It now provides one of the most in-depth explorations of the art of French draftsmanship in the world. Portions of this collection were exhibited in 1990-1991 in New York, Fort Worth, and Ottowa, with subsequent exhibitions held at the Louvre, the National Gallery of Scotland, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Substantial additions have been made to the collection since then; and many of the works selected for this exhibition have not been displayed previously.
Passion for Drawing: Poussin to Cezanne, Works from the Prat Collection is the major, 288-page catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. In addition to individual entries and full-color illustrations of all the objects in the exhibition, this scholarly catalogue provides an overview of the collection by Rosenberg. An essay by M. Prat discusses his experiences as a collector and aspects of connoisseurship. Bruno Ferté, independent scholar and author, contributes an overview of the three centuries of French history represented by the exhibition. The book, published and distributed by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia, also includes a bibliography, an index, and biographies of the artists included in the exhibition. The publication provides insights about the collectors and presents a visual survey of three centuries of French drawing. It is available in the Museum store ($54.95, hardcover) or by calling 800-329-4856 or via the Museum’s website at www.philamuseum.org.
The exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. It is supported in part by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, and by the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment and the Kathleen C. and John J. F. Sherrerd Endowment for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His Excellency Jean-David Levitte, Ambassador of France to the United States, is the Honorary Patron of the exhibition.