The vagaries of January weather and the packed schedule of openings that come with Old Masters week in New York can leave an ambitious professional in the field feeling rather cold-blooded.
Running around from event to event on the Upper East Side with temperatures in the teens is both exhilarating and troublesome. With all of those business cards collected and conversations half-remembered, should one be concerned that they are beginning to embody the fast-talking New York City hustler? Or more that running out of the shower, their Brylcreemed-hair has literally frozen on the brisk walk over to the fracas?
Fortunately enough, seeing old friends at this year’s openings and genuinely making new ones is enough to bring one back to earth. Some of the exquisite selections from Old Master Drawings week are just as heartwarming.
For the art history nerdus, how can you not fall in love with a small chalk sketch by Pontormo (image #1), as part of Londoner Stephen Ongpin’s annual show at Mark Murray’s space? What makes this work so precious is that it shows the great gap that lay between the linear austerity of the master’s preparatory studies and the conflagrations of color and anatomy that he is best known for.
It’s interesting to think about how the relationship between subject matter and style can achieve similar effects. While Pontormo’s economy of line helps to emphasize the dramatic posture of an upwardly twisting nude, Giovanni Bilverti’s study of Saint Agnes (image #2), at Mia Weiner’s space, renders her presence just as eminent through a radiant static of ink.
Conversely, sumptuous detail can be just as much of a treat for the eyes. The subtle variations in tone that make up the torso musculature of Clemente Bocciardo’s “A Male Nude Kneeling…” (image #3) had us wondering why we had never heard of this late Italian Mannerist before. Accordingly enough, Stephen’s catalogue entry states that drawings by him are pretty rare. Quite the shame, for the technique on display here shows him in the company of greatness. When getting images for this preview, we were definitely asking for the “Bronzino lookalike.”
Two other respective studies from Stephen and Mia spanned the spectrum of expression: Guido Reni’s beautifully smudged “Head of a Woman Looking Upwards” (image #6) captures a Mary Magdalen or a Lucretia in their cathartic essence, while the pen and ink wash used by Ubaldo Gandolfi for “Head Studies, mostly Satyrical” (image #4) displays a lively round of characters that are as gorgeous as they are whimsical.
Joining the Pontormo on the art historically massive side of things are two works by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (image #5) and Parmigianino, (image #9) on view at Richard Feigen and Mark Brady, respectively. It would be hard to find a more important preparatory study then Feigen’s Gros- this brown and ink wash was the first step in the artist winning a monumental commission from Napoleon, for a propagandic recreation of his victory at Eylau. In its effort to emphasize the compassionate side of the Emperor- upon surveying the carnage of over 25,000 dead and wounded French and Russian soldiers, the finished product, “Napoleon at Eylau,” was a central work in the development of French Romanticism. It is now an art historical monument that hangs in the Louvre’s Denon wing-easily the grandest museum room in the world. (image #8)
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