What makes a master drawing?

Highlights from one of the finest British collections of drawings went on show at the Courtauld Gallery recently in an exhibition conceived and developed with the Frick, the New York collection also founded in the 1930s and with a similar strong tradition in Old Masters. The 60 works on show, all from the Courtauld’s collection, highlight the diversity of approaches to drawing through the centuries, from workshop productions, juxtaposing the deft, exploratory sketches of Renaissance masters such as Mantegna and Leonardo with an exquisite work from the Flemish painter van der Goes, to highlights of 18th century draughtsmanship, with its emphasis on copying figures from life and antique sculpture.  

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The search for new modes of expression and innovative techniques, including the application of watercolour, is represented by, among others, a pair of Turners and one of Cezanne’s finest late works, Apples, Bottle and Chairback, with its successive layers of washes built up over luminous white paper. But perhaps the most memorable aspect of the show is its studies of women, intimate and affectionate, by masters ranging from Rembrandt and Rubens to Ingres, Picasso and Manet.  The exhibition is accompanied by Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery, a catalogue of scholarly essays produced jointly by the Frick and the Courtauld.

Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery is at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, London WC2 until 9 Sep. www.courtauld.ac.uk.

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