Of all the treasures at the Crocker Art Museum, perhaps the greatest is the trove of Old Master drawings that was first collected by Judge E.B. Crocker and his wife, Margaret, in the 19th century and is still growing with gifts from Sacramento-area collectors.
The expanding collection includes approximately 1,500 master drawings that are on view in rotating exhibitions in the Anne and Malcolm McHenry Works on Paper Study Center on the museum's second floor. Among the strengths of the collection are 16th and 17th century Italian drawings; 17th century drawings from the Netherlands and Flanders; 17th and 18th century French drawings; and 18th and 19th century German drawings.
Rare examples of each are up in "The Artist's View: Landscape Drawings From the Crocker Art Museum," a wonderfully intimate show of mostly small works on paper curated by the Crocker's William Breazeale.
Breazeale notes that the exhibit was partly inspired by old photographs of students at the Sacramento School of Design, which was started at the Crocker in 1886.
"They met in the ballroom, and we have pictures of them out in the landscape making sketches," said Breazeale. "California art at that time focused on the landscape. This show offers a look at what people did with the landscape in the 16th to 19th centuries."
The exhibition begins with a 16th century drawing by Willem van Bemmel of an artist sketching in the landscape. Here the artist brings himself into the picture, which depicts a farmstead with trees. It's a subtle drawing that sets the theme for the show.
Landscape, Breazeale said, first appeared in European art as the setting for religious and mythological subjects. Thus, there are two drawings of the holy family's flight into Egypt. Because the artists had not been to Egypt, they had to make up the landscapes, using foliage familiar to them from their own areas but interjecting symbols of Egypt such as the obelisk and sphinx that grace Jan van Huysum's red chalk drawing "Landscape With the Rest on the Flight Into Egypt."
More true to life is Marten de Cock's "Riverside Landscape," a small, atmospheric drawing that is revealed to be full of intricate detail when examined through a magnifying glass. The museum has provided several glasses for people to be able to pick out small details that are found in many of the drawings on view.
Minuscule human figures are found in many of the drawings to give a sense of scale. Many delicate details emerge in Jan van Call I's watercolor "The Tolhuis," which depicts a large structure along a riverbank with tiny boats. Similarly revealing when looked at under the magnifying glass is Josua de Grave's "Infantry on the March Between Vilvoorde and Brussels," with a seemingly endless line of tiny soldiers marching across the landscape.
While some of the drawings in the show depict idealized landscapes, often of classical ruins or Roman landscapes, such as Johann Christoph Erhard's dramatic scene of a monk visiting ruins and Gaspard Dughet's "Landscape in the Roman Campagna," others look closely and naturalistically at the landscape. Among these are Johann Alexander Thiele's icily precise rendering of a marble crag and Jean Baptiste Huet the Elder's "Study of a Grassy Hillock."
Among the treasures in the show are a Barbizon landscape by Theodore Rousseau, which was a gift from the McHenrys, and a smudgy, stumped charcoal image of woodcutters in a forest by Camille Corot, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Neuhaus. These marvelous French drawings bring the show into the 19th century and demonstrate that the collection is still growing, thanks to the generosity of museum patrons.
The Artist's View: Landscape Drawings From the Crocker Art Museum
Where: Crocker Art Museum, 216 O St.,Sacrament
When: Through Jan. 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Closed Mondays, Christmas Day, New Year's Day. Open the Monday of New Year's Eve.
Cost: $10 adults, $8 seniors 65 and older, military and college students, $5 youths 7-17, free for children 6 and under and for museum members.
Information: (916) 808-7000 www.crockerartmuseum.org