Von Bülow Fund Yields Beautiful Nobodies

Lespinasse is an intriguing oddball—the drawings are too clunky and anecdotal to count as masterpieces—but he merits a look. So does his soul brother in perspective, Francesco Panini. The zooming space in Interior of St. Peter’s: The Portico (undated) matches Lespinasse in technique, but not in idiosyncrasy or intensity. Panini is more accomplished, but less dizzying and nutty—a small but important distinction. Panini’s use of shell gold to highlight the St. Peter’s ceiling is disconcerting in its decorative elegance.

Elsewhere, British painter Richard Westall presages William Blake, only with more hokum, if such a thing is possible. Similarly corny, but more likable, is Rex Whistler’s dank and rubbery The Mermaid: Design for a Cave Room Mural (1929), an unapologetic descent into melodrama and mythology. More intriguing still is a chalk study of a Prussian general by the 19th-century German painter Adolph Menzel. Its rough immediacy foreshadows modernism, and will undoubtedly appeal to a contemporary eye accustomed to pictorial liberties.

Menzel might bear further investigation, but it’s hard to tell on the basis of one drawing. His aesthetic openness intimates expansive and searching talent that isn’t exactly in heavy rotation in Tales and Travels. This isn’t to damn the exhibition with faint praise. The contents of the Morgan’s mixed bag bolster each other while fooling no one as to the importance of this or that artist. It’s a deft curatorial stroke to be applauded and enjoyed.

Tales and Travels: Drawings Recently Acquired on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund is at the Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, until September 23.