NORMAN — Their names read like a Who's Who of the European art world: Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, Cezanne and Gauguin. Their paintings grace the walls of the world's most famous art museums.
Yet far less known are their drawings, some of which were sketches created in preparation for new paintings. Others were miniature masterpieces that bear the unmistakable characteristics of the artists' mature works.
In an unprecedented partnership between the National Gallery of Art and the University of Oklahoma, 30 drawings and watercolors by some of the great French masters of the 19th century are part of an exhibit that opens Friday at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
“Vernet to Villon: Nineteenth-Century French Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Art” is the result of eight years worth of planning between the two museums. Helping turn an idea into a reality are co-curators Victor Koshkin-Youritzin, David Ross Boyd Professor of Art History at OU, and Margaret Morgan Grasselli, curator of Old Master Drawings at the National Gallery of Art.
“This is the first time the National Gallery has lent a complete show to any institution in the state,” Koshkin-Youritzin said. “I knew about the fantastic collection they have and called them out of the blue about the possibility of putting together this show. I had a great meeting with their curators who became very interested in this project.”
Koshkin-Youritzin's desire was to identify a number of great drawings that would be considered beautifully composed fine works of art. Complementing works by the artists mentioned above are drawings and watercolors by Carle Vernet, Theodore Gericault, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Constant Troyon, Jacques Villon and Paul-Cesar Helleu.
The art works included in this exhibit span just over a century, from 1810 to 1914, and cover five stylistic periods: Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. The subjects range from portraits and landscapes to still lifes and seascapes.
“Very rarely have we been able to participate as the sole lender to an exhibition like this one that has been organized, for all intents and purposes, by an outside curator,” Grasselli said in a printed release. “From the start, Victor's enthusiasm and commitment drew us in and convinced us that this would be a most worthy project.”
Koshkin-Youritzin and Grasselli looked through approximately 60 drawings and watercolors in the National Gallery's collection before selecting the 30 works that are included in this exhibit. Only works of the highest quality were considered.
“This exhibit is a real tribute to OU and the standing of the university in the arts,” Koshkin-Youritzin said. “Visitors will have direct contact with some extraordinary pieces of art, many of which have an amazing amount of detail.
“There's a sense of immediacy and spontaneity with these drawings. To stand in front of a superb work of art, one can get a feeling of history, fine composition, imagination and communication. One can get up close and sense the touch of the artist, much as one is moved by the touch of a great musician at a concert.”
Running concurrently with the “Vernet to Villon” exhibit is “The Cult of Personality: Andy Warhol, Harold Stevenson and Portraiture.” Among the works are Polaroid photographs that Warhol used as preparatory studies for his portraits.
Koshkin-Youritzin will present a free lecture about the “Vernet to Villon” exhibit at 6 p.m. Friday. Museum curator Mark White will give a gallery talk about the portraiture exhibition at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
The latter is open to association members with Metro Arts Circle benefits.