San Francisco

“Master Drawings from Chatsworth”

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

One of the noteworthy facts about the Chatsworth collection is the manner in which the drawings were ac­quired. The catalog states, “The son of the first Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, who succeeded his father in 1707, was chiefly responsible for the formation of the collection.” By 1723 he had already formed a considerable col­lection of drawings; it was in this year that he made his most important pur­chase by acquiring the collection of Nicolaes Anthoni Flinck (1646–1723), son of Rembrandt’s pupil, Govaert Flinck. From this source, the marvelous series of Dutch landscapes done in wash and ink by Rembrandt were acquired, as were the splendid Van Dyck studies for portraits and the Rubens studies of trees, fruit and people. In the same year that these master drawings by northern Europeans were purchased, the second Duke acquired a volume of two hundred drawings entitled Liber Veritatis, by Claude.

The scope and variety of the collec­tion has changed very little from the second Duke’s time to this day. His good judgment in including the two powerful Dutch artists, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, in spite of the then-current fashion of excluding these and other northern European artists, makes him one of the most farsighted collectors of his time.

Of the 114 drawings on display, it is difficult to single out a few that stand out from the many because the show is of such fantastically high quality. Ra­phael’s Studies of a Man’s Head and Hand is of particular value to the more than casually interested observer for it highlights how studies were some­times directly transferred to canvas with the aid of a ponce wheel, abetted by a tiny sack of charcoal dust. (The ponce wheel is a small sprocket mount­ed on an axle, allowing the sharp-ended sprocket to turn when the tool is di­rected over a flat surface. The wheel is used to follow drawn lines and to punch little holes in the surface of the drawing or study. The perforations left by the instrument then acts as a pattern for the next step––that of a surface dust­ing of the drawing with a bag of char­coal or chalk dust. This procedure was, of course, used to transfer sketches or cartoons directly to the major work.)

The Raphael study clearly shows the marks of the ponce wheel both on top and independently of the sensitively drawn areas of the young man’s head and hand. Both head and left hand are studies eventually used by the artist to depict an apostle on the lower left of his Transfiguration, a major work in the Vatican Gallery, left unfinished at Raphael’s death in 1520.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s “St. Augustine in His Study” shows a facet of the artist rarely seen in either his drawings, prints or paintings. The area exposed by this work displays the high degree of pro­ficiency Rembrandt possessed in a broad satirical drawing style. Mr. O. Benesch, who prepared a volume on Rembrandt's drawings, states, “The pose suggests a study of an actor or studio model, rather than of any particular religious subject.” It is most likely that Mr. Benesch’s conclusion is correct. What is really important is not whether Rembrandt had a model or not, but whether he intended the drawing to depict St. Augustine in his study. If he did intend this, we are left to conclude that the artist had some visual com­ments to make about the saint which would undoubtedly have been dubbed as “scandalous license” in the 17th century.

The peculiar linear will to freedom found in Rembrandt’s landscape sketches remains his most astonishing single feature as a draftsman. The hook­ing calligraphic line used to depict the buildings on the left side of the Rijn­poort at Rhenen has such an animated life of its own that the spectator is en­chanted with the sheer virtuosity of execution careening far beyond any rec­ognizable visual phenomena.

One of Giorgio Vasari’s “libro” pages is represented. Over this, the famous artist-historian has collaged drawings by Raffaelino del Garbo and Filippo Lippi, supplying his own decorative bor­ders consisting of High Renaissance architectural orders. Vasari was quite proud of his “libro,” which undoubtedly ran into many volumes; he mentioned it numerous times in Lives of the Paint­ers.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s portraits of Brueghel, The Younger, Inigo Jones and Carolus De Mallery are surely three of the finest portrait studies in the collec­tion. The descriptive use of black chalk to indicate the physical characteristics of the sitters places these Van Dyck drawings within what was then consid­ered the realm of official portraiture.

The list is interminable. Without hesi­tation one could list each of the 114 master drawings, calling each a tour de force of its kind. There are no indiffer­ent works. The selection obviously was of the most scrupulous sort. Credit should be given to the persons respon­sible for the make-up of the superior catalog by which the exhibition will be remembered far into the future.

––James Monte