PRINT March 1964

Master Drawings in Los Angeles


The important holdings in British art of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery are widely known in Europe and America. This reputation for depth and seriousness is sometimes an asset in obtaining additions to the collection. An extended correspondence with the distinguished British collector, Sir Bruce Ingram (for over half a century Editor of The Illustrated London News), has resulted in a very special purchase by the Huntington’s Administration. Ingram’s collection of British drawings was to be sold on his death and his correspondence revealed his wish that the Huntington should be given first choice among the three thousand items. The Huntington drawing collection numbered more than two thousand sheets and required supplementing, rounding out and filling in, rather than more typical and characteristic works.

Three hundred and fifty works were obtained from the Ingram Collection; a selection of sixty are currently on exhibit in the galleries provided for changing exhibitions. Miniature and larger portrait drawings, landscapes, narrative and fantasy, and animal drawings provide the menu for this hors d’oeuvre from the Ingram purchase. No effort is made to be comprehensive. The selection is of works good in themselves which tend to bring the Huntington Collection to an ever-improving level of excellence. Since the Huntington has been specially proud of its late 18th century and 19th century holdings, the Ingram materials were searched for strength in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

A small gallery is devoted to miniature portraits, often in pencil on vellum, or penciled figures with watercolored heads of technical excellence. The miniature of Captain Richard Burgess of “The Ardent” by John Smart is typical of this mode. More interesting and more ambitious is Thomas Forster’s faultless pencil on vellum of A Young Lady, 1706. Other strong pieces by David Loggan and Peter Oliver are to be noted. Among the larger portraits one might spend most time with the better known leaders of the tradition—Peter Lely, Godfrey Kneller, Faithorne and John Greenhill. And while this is accomplished work of unquestioned distinction, it pales before the more personal achievements.

Allan Ramsay’s fresh and wholesome sanguine of his daughter, dated “1776 on the Island of Ischia,” is a gem of natural form-giving logic and a little masterpiece. E. T. Davis’ Head of a Girl  is a very abstract and “unfinished” drawing, but one of special interest to the modern eye. It has a cropped and arbitrary order about it that is even a bit jarring in this polite company. Executed by a minor Pre-Raphaelite member, it is a place to stop, as is the ravishing drawing of the Actor William Belty, worked in red and black pencil with unquestioned virtuosity and perfect romantic placement.

The remainder of the work in portraits is devoted to distinguished Dukes and Earls, Lords and Captains. Most often these papers are worked in sanguine or pencil, and often heightened in red, they provide handsome records of a modest but enduring art. Sir William Allan’s pencil and colored chalk drawing of Lord Byron is a late, informal example from the tradition.

The animal drawings are inevitably pleasing. They are keenly observed and though somewhat labored, completely realized. Ward, Wilson, Ryley and Place give us birds, dogs, badgers and heifers in profusion. Francis Barlow shows a Group of Birds of greater distinction. George Stubbs’ pair of lions are interesting but less fully accomplished. Sir Edwin Landseer’s Whippet by an Urn, 1822, is surely the strongest drawing in the section. Spontaneous, aristocratic and elegant, it is a work of Italianate sensibility.

The landscape drawings, though not entirely consistent, have a tendency toward the picturesque “British look.” Cotman’s A Mill near Dorking, Surrey, Taverner’s Wooded Landscape, Finch’s Somerset House, Constable’s Poplars by a Stream, Gainsborough’s Boats on a Lake are part and parcel of this charming tradition. At their best they have an honesty and an attractive realism that is unimaginative but vital. At their least they become sentimental through an excess of loving care.

The drawings of narrative and fantasy are closer to the international style of the period than are the categories thus far discussed. This is partly true because the artists represented, though British residents at this time, reflect an international awareness—Laguerre’s Allegorical Design is an example, as is the American John Singleton Copley’s cartoon for a painting in black and white chalk on blue paper. William Locke, Jr., is represented by a Fantastic Candlestick that is decorated with nude figures in a provocative way, reminiscent of Fuseli. The Huntington has selected this work to cast light on the influence of fantasy in English drawing of the day. Benjamin West, another American painter, later to become President of the Royal Academy, is seen in an Allegory of Britannia which is both a fine strong drawing and an insightful report on the values of the era. Sir James Thornhill’s Britannia Enthroned shows the classic influence in a study for a large work. The very purposes of a study-sketch type drawing have freed the artist to produce a dashing and vigorous homage.

Sir David Wilkie’s study for the painting of Mary Queen of Scots escaping from the Castle of Lochlein is a very special treasure—not a finished drawing but a lovely and sensitive one which is directly staged and powerfully dramatic. Probably not intended for display, this is another work that is immediately appealing to the contemporary sensibility. The line has an awareness of the tradition while it also is a personal autograph. The wash is virtuoso without affectation, and the whole is unified with a concise vigor.

The section closes with a group of works by Cruickshank, George Dance and Brandoin. Directly worked and enormously skillful, these drawings remind us of yet another British tradition in drawing—the satirical and the social polemic. War, gluttony and esthetic pretensions are the butts of commentary here. Brandoin’s drawing-watercolor Exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1771 is an amazing tour de force. It records known works exhibited in that Salon, at the same time that it caricatures specific members of the milieu. We tend to see these figures as generalizations but this is error. It is a classic example of its genre.


The Correr Museum, one of the Municipal Museums in Venice, has concentrated since the 1830s on the art of Venice with special focus on the drawings of the 18th century. Until now The Correr has been studied by only a few specialists even though there has been some publication of individual works lately. “Eighteenth Century Venetian Drawings from the Correr Museum” is an exhibition circulated by the Smithsonian Institution and visiting a number of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco during the Winter of 1964.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art devoted three galleries to the collection and lent its own distinguished Guardi, Romantic Capriccio, (c. 1780). The 120 drawings by the 42 artists exhibited have been selected from more than 9000 examples of the chamber music of art in The Correr. Important Canaletto drawings have been added from the Spector Collection as well as the Cleveland Museum and the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York.

The exhibition begins with The Continence of Scipio by Sebastiano Ricci, a transitional artist between the late Baroque and the Rococo style. Not at all a timid drawing, the Scipio is a complex interweaving of figures with a wash of ink. Obviously a work being studied for oil, the drawing cannot be compared with later Venetian papers intended as ends in themselves. Terisio Pignatti, the Keeper of Drawings at The Correr, indicates his feeling that Ricci is indebted to Antonio Pellegrini, a younger Venetian by 16 years. While this may be true it is not borne out by the selection of drawings, even though Pellegrini shows a bravura that is attractive. His line is approximate, hardly ever pushed to the logical inevitability found in Ricci’s more precise observation.

The next major figure to be seen in some depth is Gaspare Diziani with seven remarkable drawings. The Two Bissona Costumes is atypical, prepared for a festival in his native city. At his most vital best, Diziani demonstrates a spontaneous line and a painterly sense of wash. His is not a method of drawing but a shorthand investigation of spatial possibilities. His rococo logic is unsurpassed in such works as The Assumption, St. Cecilia and a Bishop, and The Annunciation. As Pignatti says, Diziani is a superior draftsman, “ranking with the best.”

Francesco Fontebasso, 1709-69, is examined through three nicely selected papers which show the breadth of his expression. The free pencil work in St. Joseph with the Christ Child is to be preferred to the technically skillful but labored “collector’s drawing”—Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. Gian Battista Piazzetta, 1683–1754, is widely celebrated but shows stylized portraiture in black chalk with white heightening. A sketchy Dead Christ and Four Saints, reveals strong composition and a painterly ambition. Domenico Maggiotto probably grows out of Piazzetta’s head studies. His experimentation led him to one of the most unusual studies of a female nude in the entire exhibit. Francesco Cappella’s Peasant Girl is a strangely prophetic piece, suggesting a relationship to the dramatic Double Head, 1937, by Salvador Dalí, in the Julian Levy Collection.

Pietro Longhi hardly seems to be a Venetian draftsman at all. His work appears to be based on French models like Watteau. His papers are skillful study-type works, but they lack the verve and fancy most prized in Venetian drawing. His is a competent but undistinguished drawing which seems inconsequential when compared with less celebrated figures like Belotto, Guarana and M. Ricci.

Caricature and cavalry battle scenes take up a section without adding a great deal to the esthetic content of the exhibition. Obviously the organizer has sought to reflect the variety of media and subject matter within the century’s product. Landscapes, pastorales and lagoon-scapes finally give way to the Correr’s modest Canaletto sheet and four brilliant examples of the master’s late architectural “collector’s type” drawing. There is a quality of studied discipline about these “imaginary views” that robs them somewhat of the poetry we expect. There is a three-dimensional quality achieved as if by mechanical means that comes closer to the documentary than to the concentrated experience of the scene for which we save the compliment of “immediacy.”

Francesco Guardi, 1712-93, had two careers: the first as a painter of historical and religious canvases brought him little reward; the second as a painter and draftsman of Venetian views influenced by Canaletto, produced both success and satisfaction. Contemporary taste has raised the Guardi drawings to among the most highly prized works of the century’s Italian art. Whether doing figure compositions, picturesque studies of his city, a documentary record of his own house, landscapes or architectural capricci, Guardi shows a consistently expanding sense of his own powers and a dazzling technical mastery. He is all nervous, linear elegance and spontaneity. At their best his- atmospheric washes can seem to be both form and shadow, space and substance. His ability to select a telling detail and to render it with fanciful precision, leads one to feel he has seen everything important in a figure, a landscape or a monument. Twenty drawings have been selected from the Correr’s one hundred and fifty Guardis and they are almost uniformly fine works of pure creation.

Venetian drawings can be thought of as being dominated by the workshop of Gian Battista Tiepolo, his family and followers. Eight works by Gian Battista, seven by Domenico and one by Lorenzo, demonstrate the fervor and brilliant light with which Venetian drawing is associated. At their finest, G. B. Tiepolo’s drawings have a nervous, romantic style that is authoritative. In some studies of figure sections, probably executed as a part of preparations for a workshop fresco, the older Tiepolo shows his awareness of drawing as the basis of the Italian pictorial tradition. While he has not the elan or the brilliance of invention found in Diziani or Guardi, he continues the Venetian tradition with sobriety and a growing concern, in Pignatti’s view, for the work of Rembrandt. His son, Domenico, closes the exhibit with an impressive God the Father in clouds and supported by angels. This is a fitting close to a remarkable survey of Venice’s last century as an independent center of world-wide importance to art.

Gerald Nordland