For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2003

Eighteenth-Century French Prints and Drawings

February 1–May 4, 2003 Works on Paper Gallery

Charles-Melchior Descourtis (French, 1753-1820), after Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (French, 1755-1830)

Charles-Melchior Descourtis (French, 1753-1820), after Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (French, 1755-1830)
Noce de Village
etching and lavis-manner engraving
Museum Purchase, 1974/2.49

Throughout the eighteenth century important painters were also known as superb draftsmen. The training afforded by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture assured a high level of proficiency in drawing as well as in painting. An artist’s presentation drawings—and even working drawings—were ranked among that artist’s finest creations and were avidly sought by collectors. The eighteenth century was a period of great transition, from the grandeur of Louis XIV’s last years at the opening of the century to the sinuous and delicate style of Louis XV in the middle of the century to the return to restraint of post-Revolutionary France. Throughout the century, outstanding draftsmen and printmakers marked the shifts in society, taste and market. Many of the drawings in the present exhibition, which is drawn entirely from the Museum of Art’s collections, are free-standing works and not necessarily related to paintings. The beautiful chalk drawing of a sleeping child by Boucher is loosely related to his works depicting the infant Jesus or secular genre works depicting families. The delicate Fragonard drawing of the gardens at Tivoli is part of a larger body of drawings reflecting his sojourn to Italy earlier in his career. Maurice Quentin de la Tour was known as a pastellist, and his handsome portrait of a man embodies all the qualities of the best painted portraits of the era.

The eighteenth century marked an important transition for printmakers as well. Although seen primarily as a means by which an artist’s paintings can be made known to a wider audience, printmaking took on a greater importance through innovations in the media. Although engravers continued to create replicas of noted paintings by famous artists, such as the Bourdon portrait by Laurent Cars, printmakers found ingenious ways to approximate other media, such as chalk drawings and watercolor. The creation of crayon manner engraving and the rise of color printing came to the fore in the hands of such artists as Gilles Demarteau and Jean-François Janinet.

The richness of subject matter, from sober grandeur to frivolous dalliance, from allegory and myth to landscape and portraiture, are all reflected in this selection of works from the Museum’s holding of eighteenth century works on paper.

Carole McNamara
Assistant Director for Exhibitions and Collections