Sunday, December 3, 2017

Drawn to Greatness

“Drawn to Greatness” is an exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum of a selection of the Clare Eddy and Eugene Victor Thaw Collection of drawings.

I have known Gene Thaw and his late wife Clare for close to half a century.  I met Gene because a friend of mine, who I had gone to camp with, was working for him at the time. My father asked me to find out about this young dealer (Gene) who had a reputation as an up and comer.  My father’s cousin, Jakob Rosenberg, the Harvard professor and renowned art historian had mentioned how promising Gene was even though he did not attend Harvard but went to my alma mater, Columbia University for graduate school.

Gene was one of the very few art dealers in New York who I would consider brilliant.  He had an incredible discerning eye and advised some of the major collectors of the second half of the 20th century.  He did have one problem though.  He could not stop collecting.  As has been often said collecting is a disease.  The first chapter of the sumptuous catalog that goes along with the Morgan exhibition has a quote from Gene.  “I can’t create the objects I crave to look at, so I collect them”.  Since I am writing about a drawings show you might assume that he just collected drawings, but far from it.  He started out with a collection of 18th century French faience from Moustiers. He also put together collections of Nomadic art of the eastern Eurasian Steppes, which I believe went to the Metropolitan Museum and a collection of historic staircase models, which went to the Cooper Hewitt Museum and a great collection of Native American Art which is installed in his own wing of the Fennimore Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

People decide on what they will acquire for their collections for a variety of reasons.  I am drawn to what grabs my short attention span, and particularly when it is a work of art that  makes me smile.  Of course, Gene had to be taken with the work but then he insisted it be the best possible available by the artist, and better than any similar work in a museum. This kind of collecting is ideal if works are ultimately given to a museum, and Gene’s collections have gone to the best.

The Thaw exhibition is the largest the Morgan has ever done with 150 works of art.  Those were selected by Gene, in conjunction, and after lengthy discussion with Jennifer Tonkovich, the Morgan’s Eugene & Clare Thaw Curator.  The Thaws have given a total of 400 drawings to the Morgan over the years, all of very high quality and interest.  I always pick a favorite, here I can’t.  There are so many that I think are wonderful.  Those I am illustrating all come from the 16th to 19th centuries but the Thaws also gave images by Ellsworth Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and many other established modern masters.  All the images are compliments of the Morgan Library and Museum with the exception of the Monet drawing, which comes from the Rosenberg & Stiebel files. 

The most recent in date of my image choices is Two Lawyers done in 1862 by Honoré Daumier
 (1808–1879).  Daumier is known for his political satire and cartoons making fun of the professions,-- including art dealers.

Of a similar period is Claude Monet’s
 Figure of a Woman, 1865.  It is the figure of Camille, a favorite model who became his wife.  You will find this figure together with the artist Bazille in a painting by Monet in the National Gallery in Washington as well as many others.  I have a special connection to this drawing in that I had it on consignment from a friend and sold it to Gene.

An artist that I rarely care for but is important with a capital “I”, is J. M. W. Turner
. This watercolor The Pass of St. Gotthard, near Faido, 1843 is certainly impressive.  I wrote about Turner’s series of Ports of Europe when there was an exhibition about them at the Frick earlier this year.

Next up is an artist who is not a household name, Etienne-Louis Boullée
and his drawing of the Interior of a Library, ca. 1780–85.  I have loved this drawing since I first saw it in an auction sale in Paris over 20 years ago.  It totally absorbs you into the incredible space.  You might have guessed that Boullée was an architect who wanted to be a painter but his father insisted he do architecture.

My earliest pick in date is Two Lovers by Albrecht Altdorfer
(ca. 1480–1538).  He is one of a small number of my very favorite artists possibly because at an early age I saw his Alexander Schlacht  (The Battle of Alexander at Issus) in Munich.  His other dream-like works always transport me to fantasy land!

I thought I would ask Jennifer Tonkovich which her favorite drawing was. and Naturally she had several but there was one we totally agreed on that was very high on my list as well, Antoine Watteau’s
 (1684–1721) Young Woman Wearing a Chemise ca. 1718. You can see how Watteau led the way into the age of Rococo in 18th century France.

If you are in New York before the exhibition closing date of January 17, 2018 at the Morgan, do go.  You will, however, have a second chance if you can get to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts where it opens on February 3. 2018. A great addition to the exhibition is the catalog edited by Jennifer Tonkovich.

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