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Last weekend, Master Drawings New York opened in a bevy of galleries on the Upper East Side, many of them infused by that unique crossbreed of quietly impressive wealth and recherché academicism. Master Drawings, which has taken place over the past week, essentially invites a group of art dealers who have spread their net a bit wider to exhibit rare drawings, watercolors, and oil sketches from the 14th to 20th centuries. The event is in its 11th year and includes pop-up presentations by dealers from London, Paris, Florence, Vienna, and the US. It’s not exactly like your conventional art fair — the works are shown under about 24 roofs instead of one, though the goal is ultimately still to sell.
This gathering is not the sort of place I usually find myself. At each venue, I had to be buzzed in (though once inside I was welcomed with enthusiasm at all of them). I didn’t imagine myself a big fan of what the fair designates as “fine drawings” or “master works.” More, the PR team, in the missives it has sent out, uses words like “score” (as in the number), and refers to “rarities … not seen on the market for decades.” But I look at the works and am surprised by some of them and find ones that are just too excruciatingly beautiful to not write about. So, I have gathered a few that I think are worth sharing.
The first ones that impressed themselves on me are two drawings shown at Shepherd W & K Galleries. Normally I think of Gustav Klimt as the painter of sumptuous, decorative filigree and his colleague Egon Schiele as the artist of the brilliantly economical line. Here, however, they seem to switch roles. I glimpse a Klimt drawing where he does something astonishing with the curve of a model’s hip and shoulder with just a pencil line, and then I see a Schiele that’s all muddy, expressionistic watercolor, the figure emerging from a mass of washy pigment.
At the same gallery, there is also Erwin Lang, a Viennese visual artist and contemporary of Schiele. His work has a starkly graphic and mythic quality that is entrancing.
At Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art gallery, I find sketches I had not previously seen by Leonora Carrington, who had a fascinatingly complex life, which included being a Surrealist painter and sculptor, having a romantic relationship and artistic collaboration with Max Ernst, and helping to found the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico. The work I see is playful and strange in the way that the best of Surrealism is strange: skirting the borders of madness.
Next I wander into the temporary space occupied by Découvert Fine Art, which is based in Rockport, Massachusetts. Most of the drawings do not interest me, except for one by Giovanni Battista Foggini who was the court sculptor for Cosimo III in Florence. According to the gallery, Foggini’s major works can be found in the Capella Corsini and the Chiesa del Carmine on Florence. I love the expression on the man’s face in this ink drawing. Usually I see that kind of doting devotion only in images with women and children, so am pleasantly surprised by this.
At Mireille Mosler Ltd., which specializes in Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings, there are two stunning chalk drawings, both in terms of the work itself and the framing. One is by Jan Bogaerts and depicts a night scene that is gauzy and ephemeral. The other, by Willem van Konijnenburg is almost the opposite: strong, brutalist in its style, foreshortened to the point where it’s almost a frieze. And both are captivating.
The last gallery I visit is David Tunick Prints & Drawings where there is a detailed study of faces that is so skilled with its contouring that the content almost ceases to matter to me. And I see a drawing by Picasso from his famous “Blue Period,” which is the part of his oeuvre I most appreciate; the melancholy feels real. And lastly, is another Klimt drawing, this one convincing me more of his brilliant draftsmanship, bringing a woman to life with that carefully exacting line that seems at times to go astray, but on close inspection never does.
Master Drawings New York continues at selected galleries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan through January 28.