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Indepth Arts News:

"Visions, Fragments, and Impressions: French Nineteenth-Century Drawings and Bronzes from the Collection of Herbert and Carol Diamond"
2000-09-14 until 2001-01-14
Carnegie Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

The exhibition includes works by masters such as Paul Cézanne, Camille Corot, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as many lesser-known French artists. The 60 drawings and 23 bronzes in the exhibition display a variety of styles and techniques and provide an understanding of the important role of drawing and sculpture in a historical period that is generally recognized for painting.

Beginning with the period of the Revolution (1789) and continuing throughout the nineteenth century, many French artists and sculptors were in the vanguard of political and social change. The public and the press, as well as artists and critics, took part in an ongoing, spirited public debate about style, technique, and purpose in the arts. Many artists questioned the value of depicting traditional themes and protecting conservative ideals of beauty while ignoring the political upheaval, rapid industrialization, and class conflict they saw around them.

Drawing became a critical issue in that debate. Some feared that as styles changed, standards would fall. Drawing skills were highly esteemed and considered a hallmark of great French Art. A decline in France's collective drawing skill would thus undermine the country's artistic preeminence. The invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century complicated the drawing debate even further, and many people, not just artists and sculptors, expected the role of traditional drawing in the visual arts to be radically altered.

Visions, Fragments and Impressions: French Nineteenth-Century Drawings and Bronzes from the Collection of Herbert and Carol Diamond shows the range of techniques and styles in drawing and sculpture, and sometimes reveals the artist's purpose or intent. For example, Bathing Woman (c. 1825) a graphite drawing on prepared paper by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, was probably a preliminary study for a later painting. Others, like a chalk and pastel work by Jean-François Raffaëlli, Man in the City's Outskirts (c. 1885), were intended to be finished works. Some drawings served as aids to memory, such as the pen and ink sketch by the writer and artist Eugène Fromentin, En Aouila (c. 1852), which was executed on location in North Africa and later used to create an illustration for a book.

Edgar Degas was an exponent of the idea that drawing is the basis of great art and was proud of his collection of other artists' drawings, which included works by Ingres, Delacroix, and Manet. This exhibition includes Degas' double-sided drawing Five Studies of a Hand (1856), done early in his career, which shows the expressive potential of drawing when executed by a master.

In a similar way, the bronzes in the collection served a variety of functions. Some were reproductions of larger works, issued in affordable editions for collectors. One example of such a copy is Henri-Michel-Antoine Chapu's Thought (c. 1876), which is a reduction of a marble funerary monument to the Countess d'Agoult. A number of bronzes in the exhibition are commemorative portrait medallions, such as David d'Anger's Portrait of Nicolò Paganini (1834), or Alexandre-Louis-Marie Charpentier's Portrait of Émile Zola, Facing Right (c. 1898).

Linda Batis, associate curator of Fine Arts at Carnegie Museum of Art organized the exhibition and believes it offers insight into French art and the practice of collecting as well. The Diamonds are perceptive collectors. They have the courage to collect in areas where perhaps only a museum curator might venture, and the result gives us a special appreciation of the changes that took place in French art and society of that era.

Dr. Herbert Diamond explained why he and his wife, Carol, collect drawings from this period. In general, French art from the nineteenth century conveys emotion and social commentary. Those things are expressed even more clearly in the drawings from that period, Diamond said. Sometimes you can see the artist's mind at work in a drawing more than you can in a painting. For example, in Delacroix's Study for the Battle of Poitiers, what appears at first glance to be a simple sketch of men and horses executed with very few lines is really a powerful and very focused study of motion.

The Diamonds collect bronzes for some of the same reasons that people did in nineteenth-century France. In the nineteenth-century, the technology of making bronzes changed, and many French homes of that era had collections. Sculpture was gaining in popularity, and collecting bronzes was a way of bringing an appreciation of sculpture into the home, Carol Diamond said. Like collectors of that time, she added, We like the permanence of the bronzes.

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