An Exhibit Dedicated to the Drawings of a French Master at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A surprising look back in time, during a moment when contemporary art is in full swing in the city that never sleeps.
The MET, which has always boasted their independence, is now offering up a return to our roots by nourishing our souls with the beauty of these drawings, which actually remind us of our own history.
This small exhibit, composed of only 3 rooms, consists of more than 100 works that you don’t see every day. The majority of drawings presented come from private collections – in fact, it was outside the museum that the idea for the exhibit was born. A significantly large number of old drawing collectors can be found in New York City, and this exhibition’s originality and beauty are the results of these collectors’ ideas. The ability to admire works that aren’t, never were, and might never be in the public domain is, of course, overwhelming, and a vague feeling of exclusivity settles into those viewers who are aware of the ephemerality of this moment.
It’s also a privilege to be able to see them all at the same time. The relationship between collector and museum in America is strikingly different than in French institutions. There is a true sense of collaboration on the collectors’ side, an active will to organize exhibits – which are also made possible through the finances of the more passionate collectors. Necessarily, there is a legal framework that surrounds this practice in order to avoid speculation games – although this is certainly less relevant for 17th century works than it is for contemporary art.
The exhibit comprises red chalk drawings that appear as a process of introspection. Through these minute drawings, which aren’t necessarily preparatory works, we can try to understand our roots. We are often confronted with works that that play with the notion of speed. Forms, materials, and colors revolve around each other without us questioning their meaning. This exhibit gives us the chance to contemplate, to take time, to become attuned to details for the first time – something that we certainly don’t know how to do anymore during modern times, when minutes pass by so quickly.
It’s also interesting to study the relationship between works that come from the MET collection and those pulled from private collections. One can trace both formal and even historical connections between them: the various histories meet each other at certain points. It’s also a great way to learn about the life of the artist. Americans obviously insist on the fact that Fragonard was French, and that he was born in Grasse, the city of perfume. Everything needs narration, story-telling or history sharing. This sentiment can be felt in the work of Fragonard, in these drawings that bring us testimonies of historic times (much like other works of art depict the customs and events of the era’s events) but that also tell us smaller stories.
The originality of the exhibit also lies in the fact that most of the drawings displayed, as mentioned about, are not preparatory. In fact, Fragonard’s drawings shouldn’t be interpreted as tools or studies. This exhibit is closely tied with the changes going on in visual culture during the 18th century, when, according to the exhibit’s curator, art began to take on a new role in society. An increasing number of exhibits were being organized, the Royal Academy began to occupy a central place, and art critics started to appear. From the very beginning of the exhibit, drawings by Charles-Joseph Natoire et François Boucher provide a deeper understanding of Fragonard’s world, as well as his relationship with his predecessors. The second room of the exhibit is concerned more with Fragonard’s landscapes, pastoral paintings, and the Dutch paintings that inspired him. He lingers on scenes of everyday life, of the streets; one especially striking piece is a red crayon drawing from 1774. The third gallery focuses on the theme of memory and imagination, following Fragonard’s return from Italy. During this time, he explored new techniques despite maintaining his own personal style.
This lovely exhibit provides viewers with an opportunity to concentrate on human history in a world that moves far too fast. We have already lost the type of focus on detail that Fragonard and his contemporaries and influences embraced, this desire to represent the most miniscule aspects. Technological advances are largely responsible for this shift, especially the instantaneous quality of life that modern cameras allow, where we can capture every single moment with no limit on the quantity. We find ourselves thus invaded by image, without the time to really look at what’s facing us.
This exhibit, which was organized by Perrin Stein (curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints), is truly an enchanting success.
The exhibit’s layout was visualized by Biran Olivier Butterfield.
The catalog was organized by Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey and Eunice Williams.
This exhibit will be at the Met until January 8th, 2017.
And to end this lovely visit, the best cappuccino in New York can be found just a few blocks away on Madison, at a café called Sant Ambroeus. There, you can nibble on all sorts of Italian snacks while taking in the pedestrians of the mythic Upper East Side.
Emilie Julie Renault
Translation: Danielle Cohen, Wesleyan University 2018, Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris
Fragonard: Drawing Triumphant—Works from New York Collections
At The Met Fifth Avenue
October 6, 2016–January 8, 2017
Exhibition Catalogue :
Sant Ambroeus – 1000 Madison Avenue, NY 10021
Hours open : 8 AM – 11 PM