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'Pierrot and Harlequin' is among 60 works by Pablo Picasso on display at the National Gallery of Art.
'Herdsmen Driving Cattle Across a Stream' by Jean-Baptiste Deshays is part of the Castiglione exhibit.
By SHEILA WICKOUSKI
For THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Paper is dead, or so we might believe from the avalanche of digital media.
But at the National Gallery of Art, there is no quibble that paper as a medium for art is alive and well in two major exhibits.
Skirting classification by an artist or by art movement, exhibits of "works on paper" hold many possibilities.
An exhibit of drawings, etchings, lithographs, watercolors, prints, posters or photographs can zoom in on one artist who experimented with various styles in a specific stage in his career. Setting wider parameters, an exhibit can center on one main artist and include works by many artists with similar themes, spanning several centuries.
"Picasso's Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition" features 60 works from the first third of the artist's life, starting with "Hercules," drawn by the precocious Pablo Picasso at age 9 (his father was an art instructor). The exhibit continues through his major independent drawings in Paris.
Picasso was a genius draftsman. These works on paper (less than half a percent of his total life works estimated at 30,000 pieces) show his diverse use of the material (pen and ink, charcoal, pastel, watercolor and gouache) for preliminary drawings and completed artworks.
His embrace of classical/realistic modes and his innovative cubist/abstract approach is evident in this time- and media-specific exhibit. But his choice of subjects is consistently the human person. Most of the works in this show are portraits (the human head, mother and child, the harlequin family and Picasso's mistress Fernande Olivier).
Viewing Picasso's works with these selective curatorial restrictions provides the viewer with a continuum for interesting comparisons. One can see similarities: His realistic rendering of a woman's face evolves into an abstraction of the same subject in his cubist work. (Indeed, the classically inspired images are probably more abstraction then anything in reality, while the cubist mode reaches for the essence or "the reality" of the subject.)
"The Baroque Genius of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione" features 80 works created over 200 years--34 by the Italian Baroque master, and the rest by his predecessors, contemporaries and followers.
Castiglione is a landmark figure in printmaking. His inventiveness expanded techniques in the graphic arts with "oil sketches" (brush and oil on paper). His monotypes (brushing image in ink directly upon a plain surface and pressing a piece of paper on it) would see wider use in the 19th century.
While Castiglione's works are the heart of the show, works from Rembrandt van Rijn to 18th-century artists, the Tiepolo family, Antoine Watteau and Francois Boucher are arranged alongside. Organized by themes, mostly religious or mythical, each grouping invites inspection in the treatment of the same subject in the medium by artists whose larger works are most distinctive.
There is an unmatched elegance in the Baroque style, as vivid imaginative scenes--biblical processions, mythical revelry, mysterious burials and fantastic heads--seem as real as if the artist were present at the time to record it. One gallery of radiant Nativities and the flight into Egypt--often the picture on a Christmas card--shows just how amazing it is that 17th-century images remain etched into our 21st-century consciousness as to how things ought to look.
Bottom line: No question that digital is replacing paper. For priceless works of art on paper, however, there is no substitute for the real thing.
BACK AT THE GALLERY
Opening of Reinstalled 19th-Century French Galleries: After a two-year renovation, the galleries devoted to impressionism and post-impressionism, including masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin, return to public view in dynamic new arrangements organized around thematic, monographic, and art historical groupings.
Sheila Wickouski, a former Fredericksburg resident, is a freelance reviewer for The Free Lance-Star.