Peripatetic Scots Among the Frick’s New Year Gifts

It is always a pleasure to go to The Frick Collection, where

great paintings can be leisurely enjoyed in an elegant and tranquil atmosphere.

Just now, however, there are several additional good reasons for revisiting The

Frick. First, from Edinburgh has come a marvelous exhibition of The Draftsman’s Art: Master Drawings from

the National Gallery of Scotland . Jointly organized by the American

Federation of Arts and the National Gallery of Scotland, The Draftsman’s Art numbers some 80 items-among them drawings by

Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rubens, Ingres and Seurat, as well as a miscellany

of works by Scottish, English, Dutch and German masters. Especially for

students and connoisseurs of drawing, this is a must-see event.

Second, there is also on loan from the National Gallery of

Scotland a single painting-Sir Henry Raeburn’s The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (circa

1784)-which is said to be one of the museum’s most popular works. One can well

believe it. This is a delightful picture-not, perhaps, the most elevated or

profound painting of its kind, but delightful all the same-and it can now be

seen in the company of two other Raeburn portraits from the Frick’s own

collection.

Third, from the Greentree Foundation there are six paintings

from the former collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney currently on view

at the Frick: a Corot, a Manet, a Redon, an early Picasso and two works by

Degas, every one a terrific picture. As the late John Hay Whitney was

well-known to be an avid horseman as well as a keen collector of modern

paintings, it comes as no surprise that three of the pictures are devoted to

equestrian subjects-the two by Degas, who made something of a specialty of

horses and their riders, and Manet’s Racecourse

at the Bois de Boulogne (1872), which is

a surprise, as equestrian subjects are a rarity in this artist’s oeuvre .

If one didn’t know better, one might suppose that the Manet

had been influenced by Degas’ many treatments of the same subject. Yet in fact,

as the excellent brochure for the Whitney pictures reminds us, Manet’s Racecourse was actually based on

Géricault’s much earlier Races at Epsom

(1821) and the widely circulated English sporting prints of the period.

Still, the main event at the Frick just now is the drawings

from Edinburgh. As we rarely get to see a da Vinci drawing we haven’t seen

before, perhaps a word of caution is in order about what to expect from this

one. It consists of both sides of a small single sheet called Studies of Paws of a Dog (circa 1480).

Meticulously executed in metalpoint on a pale pink ground, the seven studies of

this dog’s paw are as interesting for their anatomical precision as for the

painstaking quality of their draftsmanship.

Unlike certain other studies in The Draftsman’s Art , however-Raphael’s magnificent preparatory

study for his painting of The Madonna of

the Fish (1512-14), in the Prado, Madrid, or Seurat’s fully realized

drawing of the central figure for the painting of A Bathing Place, Asnières (1883-84), in the National Gallery,

London, the da Vinci studies remain a series of extraordinary fragments. The

fragments of a genius, to be sure, but fragments nonetheless.

In making his selection of drawings for the current

exhibition, it has clearly been the intention of Michael Clarke, the Keeper of

Drawings at the National Gallery of Scotland, to give us a sense of the range

and variety as well as the quality of the museum’s drawings collection, and this

he has certainly succeeded in doing. Drawings of traditional religious

subjects-Rubens’ Calvary , Mengs’ The Adoration of the Shepherds and the

Raphael drawing already cited-alternate with scenes of bourgeois life

(Jeaurat’s Family in an Interior and

accounts of less respectable behavior, Hubert Robert’s Soldiers Carousing and Wille’s A

Tavern Brawl ). As we might expect, landscape abounds in the examples of

English drawings. There is a terrific Turner watercolor, Mount Snowdon , Afterglow ,

and a very fine watercolor drawing by Cozens of The Euganean Hills from the Walls of Padua . As we might not expect,

however, there are many drawings based on literary classics-among them Ingres’ The Dream of Ossian , Alexander

Runciman’s Achilles and the River

Scamander , Sir Joseph Noël Paton’s Faust

in the Witch’s Kitchen and Girodet’s Study

for Racine’s Phaedra .

Not everything in The Draftsman’s Art is a masterpiece,

alas. Paul Sandby’s Horse Fair on

Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh is the kind of period illustration that doesn’t

travel well. (We learn from the catalogue that Sandby was the chief draftsman

for the Military Survey in Scotland in the later years of the 18th century.) If

it’s horses you’re interested in, you are better off with real masters like

Manet and Degas. The Black Stool

(also known as Stool of Repentance )

by another Scottish artist, David Allan,

is more amusing in a sub-Hogarthian manner, but it too remains provincial work.

The Draftsman’s Art

remains on view at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, through Feb. 25,

and will then travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (March 16 through

June 10). Sir Henry Raeburn’s painting of The

Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch remains on view through

Jan. 21 and will not travel. The Whitney Collection paintings from the

Greentree Foundation remain through July 29.