“The Epic and the Intimate: French Drawings From the John D. Reilly Collection” at the Crocker Art Museum offers a condensed history of French drawing from the 1540s to the 1860s.
Moving from a drawing of architectural ornaments by an artist from the School of Fontainbleau to a lively drawing of a jockey by 19th century artist Edgar Degas, the show is also the history of an institution: The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris, founded by Charles LeBrun in 1648, which morphed into the Ecole des Beaux Arts after the French Revolution. Students at these academies learned to draw from life models and antique sculptures with the aim of portraying classical figures in “history paintings” of biblical, historic or mythological subjects.
Hence there is early in the show a double-sided drawing by Nicolas Mignard of legs, drapery, arms and heads; and later a stunning academic drawing of a male nude by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. There are many religious subjects, including Eustache Le Sueur’s moving drawing of Saint Louis washing the feet of the sick and a magnificent graphite drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres of Saint Symphorien. Mythological subjects such as Antoine Coypel’s drawing of Bacchus and Ariadne and Francois Boucher’s sensual drawing of Juno and Argus also abound.
But nothing rivals the immediacy and simplicity of Antoine Watteau’s delicate drawing of a seated woman, which is a miracle of economy.
While history painting was considered superior to such genres as portraiture and landscape, there are many fine examples of those in the show. Among the portraits, Pauline Auzou’s bust-length portrait of a girl stands out. It’s a beautifully realized image, as is Nicolas Lagneau’s “Portrait of a Bearded Man.”
Moving into the 19th century, in addition to the Degas, there are marvelous figurative works by Eugene Delacroix, Theodore Gericault and Honore Daumier, as well as a landscape with mythological figures and a deer by Claude Lorrain. Other landscapes include a view of a park by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Hubert Robert’s imaginative “A Capriccio with the Column of Trajan, Rome” and Jean-Honore Fragonard’s lightly touched “View of a Garden with High Walls, Steps, and Sculpture in Niches.”
The splendid collection from which the Crocker exhibit came is housed at the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Also worth looking in on is a memorial show at the Alex Bult Gallery before it closes. It covers nearly four decades of brilliant watercolors and acrylics on paper and canvas by Larry Welden.
Welden, who died in October, was one of the most prominent artists and teachers in Sacramento.
Most of the works on display are owned by his family and none is for sale. Subjects range from sailboats on the Nile to a scintillating scene of figures on a beach. The landscape was Welden’s forte and there are wonderful examples to see, ranging from views of Horsetail Falls and Mount Ralston, to powerful studies looking up into big trees. The latter are some of his most archetypal images and have a strong abstract muscularity.
An interesting sidelight of the show is a series of small, postcard-sized watercolors of places Welden visited on his world travels, which he generously sent through the mail to friends in Sacramento. Another charming work is a series of self-portraits of Welden teaching based on photographs taken by his students. It really brings to life what a vigorous and dedicated teacher Welden was.
Friday and Saturday are the show’s final days.