Museum Home Past Exhibitions Ten Years of Drawings: What, How, and Why

January 29–May 4, 2008 at the Getty Center

Eve ('The Nightmare') / Gauguin
Eve ("The Nightmare") (recto), Paul Gauguin, about 1899–1900
audio Audio: A conservator discusses this unique double-sided drawing.
learn_more See the other side of this drawing.

With the purchase of a single Rembrandt drawing in 1981, the Getty Museum began to collect old master drawings. Given the core function of drawing in western European art and the fact that many people have actually tried their hand at it, it was felt that drawings would enrich the visitor's experience. Following J. Paul Getty's own preference for pre-20th-century art, the drawings collection comprises European works made in or before 1900. Over the last 10 years, the Museum's Drawings Department has acquired more than 150 works, bringing this relatively young collection to nearly 700 sheets.

This exhibition reveals the intentions and interests that have guided the Museum's acquisition of drawings during the decade since the opening of the Getty Center in 1997.

The drawing above by Gauguin is a summation of the complex and personal imagery that the artist developed while living in Tahiti—a nude female figure, a hooded rider, a profile recalling Gaugin's own face, and a snake. See the other side of the drawing and learn the new technique Gauguin used to create it.

Three Studies of Trees / Bartolommeo
Three Studies of Trees, Fra Bartolommeo, about 1508

The Museum has always placed a strong emphasis on obtaining drawings of the Italian Renaissance. It was during this period in Europe, from the late 1400s to the early 1500s, that drawing became a serious tool in artistic production. While the Museum owned fine Italian Renaissance figure studies, it lacked drawings that reflected the Renaissance discovery of nature. The Florentine artist Fra Bartolommeo was a pioneer in this regard, making some of the earliest and largest "pure" landscape drawings.

This sensitive study of trees, one of the earliest landscape drawings in the collection, marks his revolutionary breakthrough. When it came up for auction in 2001, we targeted it as a work that would add a crucial dimension to our Renaissance holdings.

Christ as Gardener / Upper Rhenish Master
Christ as Gardener, Upper Rhenish Master, about 1470–90

In the decades before 1500, paper mills began to open in German-speaking lands, bringing about the first flourishing of prints and drawings in the region. Examples from this period are rare, so the Museum makes a strong effort to acquire those that come on the market.

According to the Bible, Christ carried a shovel after his resurrection, and this attribute led Mary Magdalene to mistake him for a gardener. Many German artists of this early period remain anonymous. This drawing bears stylistic traits common in the late 1400s in the region of the upper Rhine River, somewhat north of Basel, Switzerland.

A Winter Scene / Meyer
A Winter Scene, Hendrik Meyer, 1787

Sometimes the Museum seeks to build its collection in overlooked areas of art. This is the case for 18th-century Dutch drawings. Long overshadowed by the great artists of the Dutch Golden Age (such as Abraham Bloemaert, whose work is also on view in this exhibition), Dutch masters of the 1700s created works of great charm and artistry. When this drawing came on the market in 2004, the Museum's collection didn't yet include a Dutch drawing from the period.

With its skaters; crumbling, snow-covered cottage; and array of farm animals and winter chores, it marked the beginning of our growing 18th-century Dutch collection. The drawing was bought along with its pendant, A Summer Scene.

Triumph of Venus / Boucher
The Birth and Triumph of Venus, François Boucher, About 1743
audio Audio: Curator Lee Hendrix discusses the subject and the shape of this drawing.

Boucher, one of the central figures of 18th-century French art, is renowned for his depictions of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. He made this watercolor for exhibition at the Paris Salon of 1745. The work was famous in its day—it was reproduced in engravings in 1750 and 1832—but it was thought to be lost until it appeared on the art market in 2005.

Replete with inviting sea gods, nubile nymphs, and playful cupids, this drawing in gouache (opaque watercolor) is almost a painting in its own right. It is one of only three known works by Boucher in that medium.

Portrait of a Woman / Liotard
Portrait of a Woman, Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1755–60

Liotard was one of the preeminent pastel artists of his day. This unusual artist combined a scientifically precise approach with a remarkable ability to reveal his sitters' characters. The Museum's collection includes two of his most important pastels (Portrait of John, Lord Mountstuart and Portrait of Charles-Benjamin de Langes de Montmirail), but this is a rare working drawing.

The large, freely drawn sheet served as a model for a lost pastel portrait of this unidentified woman. As in all of his portraits, Liotard captured his sitter in a relaxed, intimate pose.