PRINT June 1963

The Santa Barbara Museum Drawing Collection

OF ALL FORMS OF ART, drawings are the least pretentious and the most intimate. They do more with less; they are in essence abstract, and they usually speak by intimation rather than bold statement. Their media are transparent; they display their mechanisms, and by the simplest apparent means (but often the most subtle!), they astonishingly discover form and mean­ing within the humblest materials. They expose the artist, sometimes indecently, for they are his hand’s frankest transcript of his mind. Not only do they reveal him, and themselves, but they reveal the con­cealed structure and form of things, both nature and art, beyond themselves. Finally, drawings are rela­tively cheap and easy to acquire; one can make his own without buying numbered tubes and canvas boards; and even the poor scholar and the small museum can still afford to buy them.

Strangely enough, not until the 18th century was the joy of collecting drawings discovered. Before then, there had been a few collections. As early as 1335, an antiquarian living in Treviso, Oliviero Forzetta by name, was recorded as owning a number of drawings, for what reason is unknown. The medieval pattern books which passed from hand of master to hand of pupil were in a sense collections, as were the sketch­books of Jacopo Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci and similar Renaissance artists. A number of 17th century artists––the Bolognese Carracci family and Guido Reni, the Neapolitan Fabrizio Santafede, the Roman Carlo Maratta––also formed collections. But most of these were valued primarily as didactic. Similarly the collections of the 16th century Italian painter-architect­-historian Giorgio Vasari and of his 17th century suc­cessors––the Italian historians Bellori, Malvasia, Bal­dinucci and Ridolfi and the German Joachim van Sandrart––were motivated primarily by their histori­cal interests. However, during the 17th century a few princes and nobles, who were neither teachers nor historians, did buy drawings as curiosities, just because they liked them. Some, like the Borghese family in Rome or King Charles I of England acquired a few drawings more or less casually. But several others, notably Cardinal Leopoldo de’Medici of Florence, Duke Alfonso d’Este of Modena, the Earl of Arundel in England, and the Emperor Rudolf II in Austria, bought them deliberately and in large numbers.

By the end of the 17th century, a new attitude toward drawings was developing. It is typified by a Milanese priest, Sebastiano Resta (1635–1714), for many years resident in Rome. Otherwise undistin­guished, Padre Resta was a real drawing buff. He made several collections, most of which he sold to English “milords” on the Grand Tour. His own hold­ings he arranged in a folio, like a kind of little museum without walls, which he labeled his “Galleria Port­abile.” For he valued his drawings as in themselves desirable; he treated them as if they were paintings or the antique sculptures which connoisseurs had been collecting since the early Renaissance.

Padre Resta did not establish a vogue. But he did anticipate the practice of collecting, and the attitude toward drawing, of many 18th century men of culture. They no longer looked on the drawing as a historic curiosity, or an “aide-memoire,” or a useful didactic tool. Nor did they see it with eyes glazed by too rapt and exclusive an attention to painting, as a mere adjunct, an imperfect means to the nobler end of the finished canvas. They loved the drawing itself. They saw special qualities in it which were its own, and they discovered its uniqueness. So, for the first time, the drawing was commonly recognized as a work of art worthy of serious attention. With the pass­ing of years and empires, many of these collections came into public or semi-public possession, and thus were begun many of the great European collections––the Albertina in Vienna from the nucleus formed by the Duke Albert Casimir of Saxony, the Louvre from Louis XIV, the Uffizi from Cardinal Leopoldo de’Medici, Chatsworth from William 2nd Duke of Devonshire, and so forth.

The days when an individual could buy old master drawings by the hundreds are gone. But within this century, a few major American collections have been formed, some by individuals––notably Paul Sachs’ (now in the Fogg Museum, Cambridge) and Pierpont Morgan’s (now in the Morgan Library, New York)––and some by large museums. Compared with such great European warehouses of drawings as the Royal Library at Windsor, the British Museum, and the Louvre, they are small, but they rival these great col­lections in quality, scope, and variety. Even small American museums have been able to form modest but excellent collections during a relatively brief period of time. Generally these collections owe their existence to the enthusiasm, energy and discrimination of a single curator, or a succession of curators, who have been encouraged and supported by a few generous patrons.

About twenty years ago, the first director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Donald Bear, began the drawing collection there. His successors, Ala Story and the incumbent James W. Foster Jr., and the present curator, William Hesthal, have increased it substantially, largely by means of the gifts of Wright Ludington, Dr. and Mrs. MacKinley Helm, the Women’s Board of the Museum, and numerous other donors. Including about 200 drawings, it has become a dis­tinguished small collection. The largest number of drawings is of the 20th century, in which group Ameri­cans predominate. But the collection also includes a goodly number of earlier European drawings. Few of these are by great names, but they are of consistently high quality, demonstrating one of the nice charac­teristics of drawings––that the minor master can perform almost as well as his greater contemporaries. They have been selected with such skill as to pre­sent a full and detailed history of post-Renaissance drawing.

Of all the major European national art centers be­fore 1900, only Spain is not represented in the Santa Barbara collection; compensating, however, for the missing Spanish drawings, are several of the German Baroque, the national style most generally neglected by other American museums. Some major schools are lacking, but there are other compensations: there are no drawings from the inner circle of Impressionism, but three fine Degas’, a rare sketch by the adolescent Toulouse-Lautrec, and nineteen Rodin studies of mov­ing figures; no Cubist drawings by Braque, Picasso and their early associates, but two beautiful Picasso figure studies of 1919, and Wyndham Lewis’ powerful Vorticist portrait of Ezra Pound; no French neo-classi­cal, and no Delacroix, Daumier, or Manet drawings, but two fine Fuselis, two Blakes, a Barye, a delicate Corot landscape, a vigorous Couture figure, and two extraordinary Millet religious subjects; no 16th cen­tury Venetian drawings, but several contemporary Mannerist “bozzetti,” an 18th century Venetian Pre­sentation in the Temple, and two superb figure sketches which are probably late 17th century Vene­tian; and nothing of Rubens and his circle, but a fine group of Northern and Italian Baroque drawings, in­cluding a notable Castiglione and a Guercino. And finally the collection of 20th century drawings is out­standing. It is so good as to destroy the cliche that living artists can not draw, and even perhaps to silence the philistines who lump the draftsmanship of the contemporary artist together with that of apes and grandchildren.

Since the Renaissance (and before) drawing has been the artist’s vocabulary and syntax. As a student he has learned by drawing. Instead of using flash cards and grammars, he has used the human figure, drapery, and the landscape; he has made free copies of the works of the old masters, like the Leonardesque sketch of horses at Santa Barbara. Italians, and Italianate North Europeans, drew what came to be known as “academy figures”––at Santa Barbara is a good example: a male nude which is attributed to Lodovico Cardi, called Cigoli (1559–1613), but which seems closer to another Florentine, Michaelangelo’s rival, Baccio Bandinelli (1493–1560). Such figures were the essential foundation for most idealistic art. Based on the live model and drawn with energy, force and originality, these studies were the guarantee of its vitality. But during the nineteenth century, the acad­emy figure was petrified by the use of plaster casts instead of live models. Mechanically and laboriously repeated over and over again according to formulae which age had made respectable but which it had also exhausted, the academic figure lost the vitality of its form and meaning. With it the long tradition of Renais­sance idealism came to an end. In a few instances, like the Augustus John “Nudes” at Santa Barbara, the academic figure has since regained some of its force. But it is generally now a lost art form.

Unlike the Italians, North Europeans tended more often to leave the studio and the posed professional model for the streets and fields around them. They found their models in their ordinary contemporaries and in their native environment. The great Pieter Brueghel the Elder did this. Like Durer, he sometimes identified his landscape drawings as to place by an inscription; a few others are not labelled but are identifiable by his exactitude in recording still-existent topography. He also did detailed figure studies, which he labelled Het den leben (“from life”) by which name they are still known. Both types of drawings appear at Santa Barbara: landscape in a watercolor of peasant buildings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and the figure in a couple of 17th-century Dutch draw­ings––Cornelis Saftleven’s Two Musicians and the Young Woman attributed to Gabriel Metsu.

Drawing not only educated the traditional artist, it also allowed him to record things he had seen and wanted to remember in detail; it served him much as the photograph serves us. Finally, drawing provided him with the process of conceiving and evolving his more finished and pretentious (often more labored) works––his paintings, sculpture and prints. A Floren­tine, Vincenzo Carducho (1576–1638) who spent his entire career as a painter in Spain, has left a full description of this process:

"The expert painter makes sketches, or out­lines, and studies each portion [of the painting] in itself. Afterwards he joins everything together in a design or a cartoon, finished and precisely arranged. This cartoon and the other drawings he hands over to his assistant [or assistants]. The assistant transfers the outlines or draws the lines by means of the squares marked on the canvas or the wall [and usually on the cartoon] and makes a rough sketch and applies color . . . The careful master comes to observe, to correct and to point out the mistakes, orally and with his brush . . .

“After the assistant considers his work fin­ished, the master retouches the painting again and perfects it . . .” (from Carducho’s Dialogos de la Pintura, first published in 1633; the trans­lation is from Vol. II of Elizabeth G. Holt’s Documentary History of Art, New York, 1958, p. 213).

Carducho added “Masters do not always use assist­ants and sometimes do everything themselves.” But the process, from beginning to end, with sketches, the cartoon, the transfer of the cartoon to canvas or wall, was customarily the same, with or without assistants.

The Santa Barbara drawing collection includes ex­amples of each step in Carducho’s process: sketches for individual figures like the Standing Woman prob­ably by an unknown Venetian Baroque artist; rough compositional studies (“pensieri”) like the Castiglione Flight to Egypt; detailed analytical drawings for sec­tions of a painting, like the Italian Mannerist Marriage at Cana; final bozzetti like the eighteenth century Venetian Presentation in the Temple; and even a squared-off drawing like the beautiful Angel, which is attributed to an anonymous German Baroque mas­ter. These drawings were made for other works of art, not for themselves. They were an essential part of the process described by Carducho, but they were sub­ordinate, a means rather than ends in themselves. Thus Carducho would have been no less amazed to find them carefully preserved in a museum, than we would be by the casual manner in which he would probably have treated them, so much has the attitude toward drawing changed during three hundred years.

Not until Quentin de la Tour’s pastels in the 18th century and Ingres’ brilliant pencil drawings in the 19th, was the drawn likeness raised to the social level of the painted portrait. A few 20th century artists, represented at Santa Barbara by Dali’s head of his wife, Wyndham Lewis’ head of Ezra Pound, Egon Schiele’s head of a woman, and Emil Ganso’s pen and ink sketch of Jules Pascin, have carried on this tradition––without it, the portrait as a work of art rather than a mere status symbol would scarcely exist any longer.

More common to the 20th century are “subject” drawings. Sometimes, like Rico Lebrun’s Clown, Ben Shahn’s Violinist or Picasso’s Woman with a Pitcher, at Santa Barbara, they seem to be anonymous portraits. But in drawings like Eugene Berman’s Composition, Edward Blampied’s Le Souper, Kathe Kollwitz’ The Mourners and Edward Hopper’s Horizontal Landscape (all at Santa Bar­bara) the subjects are fully realized in terms of draw­ing as drawing. Whether or not done in preparation for paintings or prints, they exist as independent and complete works of art.

We now usually regard a drawing in isolation, but it has not entirely lost its traditional functional rela­tionship to the other plastic arts. Witness the varied and numerous 20th century artists who have used it in working out their ideas for painting or sculpture. Picasso made dozens of studies for Guernica, as did Diego Rivera for his enormous fresco cycles. Even Kandinsky prepared to paint his great non-objective canvases by doing relatively small water colors. Pre­paratory drawings included in the Santa Barbara col­lection are the Lachaise Nudes, the Matisses, and John Singer Sargent’s studies for the World War I mural Gassed which he painted for the Imperial War College in Great Britain.

Two final observations about drawing. It has no limitations in respect to subject matter: the Santa Barbara collection includes figure studies, portraits, landscapes, mythological and religious scenes, genre and fantasies, flora and fauna, and even one drawing of unrecognizable subject. And despite the inhibitions seemingly apparent in the very word “drawing,” it is technically diverse: Santa Barbara owns drawings made in different colored inks, in sepia, bistre, san­guine, chalk, crayon, charcoal, pastel, graphite and colored pencils, wash, chinese white and water colors. These media have been applied to a variety of colored and textured papers directly, or by pen or brush. Most of these are traditional materials; drawing is a tradi­tional artform. But it is adventuresome. Whether he draws in jam on the wall with his fingers, or with a brush in wash on rice paper, the draftsman can try anything he dares. Drawing is indeed conservative, but only in its capacity to quickly, economically and efficiently record images, preserve experiences and capture meanings which are significant to mankind. Prehistoric man did it, children do it, amateurs do it, and artists do it; it is a natural medium of expression, and among the plastic arts, it is perhaps the most universal.

Alfred Moir is Professor of Art at the University of California at Santa Barbara.