100 great British cartoons highlighted at the Huntington

Samuel Palmer (1805–1881), Solitary Tower, ca. 1881. Opaque watercolor over traces of graphite on cardboard, 7 x 9 5/8 in. Gilbert Davis Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

“100 Great British Drawings”, a major exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, will trace the practice of drawing in Britain from the 17th to the mid-20th century, highlighting the important collection of more than 12,000 works by The Huntington that represent the great masters of the medium. From June 18 to September 5, 2022, in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery, the exhibition will feature rarely seen treasures including works by William Blake, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner, as well as examples of artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and early 20th century modernism. An illustrated whole catalog accompanies the exhibition, examining for the first time the strength and diversity of The Huntington’s collection of British drawings, much of which has never been published before. The Huntington is the only venue for the exhibition.

Gwen John (1876–1939), Two Women in Hats at Church, 1920s. Matte water-based transparent paint on wove paper, 8 3/4 x 6 7/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

“The Huntington is renowned for its incomparable collection of British art, ranging from 15th century silverware to the graphic art of Henry Moore, the most famous works being, of course, our grand paintings,” said Christina Nielsen, Hannah and Russel. Kully Director of the Huntington Museum of Art. “Thomas Gainsborough blue boy and Thomas Lawrence Auricular often serve as a poster and poster holder for the entire institution. But what most visitors don’t realize is that The Huntington is also home to a vast and remarkable collection of British drawings. This exhibition and catalogue, the first to show the range of our British works on paper on such a scale, seeks to fill this knowledge gap.

Most of The Huntington’s collection of British designs, with a few notable exceptions, was created after the time of the institution’s founders, Henry and Arabella Huntington. Henry was an avid collector of rare books and manuscripts, and his wife, Arabella, was the force behind their collection of paintings and decorative art, but drawings did not form a large part of their art purchases. It was Robert R. Wark, curator of the art collections from 1956 to 1990, whose vision and tenacity established The Huntington as an outstanding repository of drawings made in Britain, where the art form was particularly well developed, especially from the late 18th to mid-19th century.

“Drawing is the most spontaneous and intimate form of art, revealing the thoughts and mood of the artist through the stroke of a pen or the touch of a brush dipped in watercolor”, said Melinda McCurdy, curator of British art, curator of the exhibition, and author of the catalogue. “It is a practice particularly associated with British artists, whose serious engagement with the medium is evident in the works we highlight in this exhibition.”

Chronological exploration of a range of styles
Organized chronologically, “100 Great British Drawings” will explore portraiture, historical subjects, landscape, still life, botanical illustration and caricature. The works on display will represent a full range of styles, including rapid pencil sketches that candidly reveal the artists’ creative processes, fluid pen and ink studies that approach the quality of finished works, and watercolors. very refined.

William Blake (1757–1827), Hecate or The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, 1795. Color planographic print with pen and ink and watercolor on wove paper, 16 3/8 x 22 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

The art of drawing first flourished in Britain in the late 17th century with an influx of artists from continental Europe, where the practice was usually part of artistic training. British artists also traveled abroad to view and copy the works of Old Masters and contemporary European artists. While portraiture was the most popular British art form at the time (as demonstrated by the fine works of John Greenhill and Edmund Ashfield in the exhibition), British artists eventually embraced a wide range of subjects , from landscape painting to history painting, a genre that appealed to 18th-century titans such as Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, ca. 1825–36. Watercolor and opaque watercolor over traces of graphite with scraping on wove paper, 11 1/2 x 16 3/4 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Romney was unique among his peers in that he saw drawing as an end in itself, rather than just a tool in preparation for oil painting. His Cimon and Iphigenia (early 1780s) based on a tale by Boccaccio Decameron, and it captures the moment when the shepherd Cimon first sees his love, Iphigenia, asleep with two other women. Romney chose to depict Iphigenia in a sensual embrace with one of the women, using large ink strokes to imbue the scene with energy and passion. Cimon is barely present – cut to the left of the frame – adding a hint of erotic voyeurism to Romney’s interpretation.

Matilda Conyers (ca. 1698–1793), Wallflower and Tulip, 1767. Watercolor and opaque watercolor over traces of graphite with inscriptions in brown ink (est. iron gall) on vellum, 9 x 6 1/4 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Even William Blake, famous for his unique imagination, betrays his European influences in Hecate Where Enitharmon’s Night of Joy (1795). Made using an intricate blend of print, drawing and watercolor techniques, Hecate depicts the mythological witch figure with a musculature reminiscent of Michelangelo’s female forms, which were sketched from male nudes. Applying Michelangelo’s approach, Blake gives Hecate a powerful physique that suggests an unnatural occult force. The large-scale artwork is taken from The Huntington’s William Blake Collection, which was created by Henry Huntington himself and easily ranks among the most important Blake collections in the world.

Most of the works in The Huntington’s collection of British drawings date from the 18th and 19th centuries, when drawings and watercolors became popular staples. Watercolours, although less forgiving than oil, allow artists to create light effects and are well suited for capturing the hazy English climate. JMW Turner was a master of these atmospheric effects. His Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey (c. 1825–1836) uses layers of color to create a soft fog that obscures people, horses, buildings, and ships, blending the line between sea and land. In its exploration of artistic techniques, the exhibition will look at the pigments and paper that artists have used. Turner, for example, needed a strong paper that could withstand his method, described by an eyewitness as first saturating the paper with fresh paint. Then, “he tore…scratched…scratched at it in a kind of frenzy” until the image emerged as if by “magic…with all its exquisite thoroughness”.

In the mid-19th century, the technique of transparent watercolor gave way to an interest in opaque pigments or gouache, in keeping with the Victorian era taste for sharp realism. Many of the Victorian works in the exhibition were created to illustrate poems or stories, including watercolor and gouache by Samuel Palmer. solitary tower (ca. 1881), which was inspired by John Milton’s The Penserosoand watercolor and graphite by popular children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway Now y’all come listen (circa 1879). Some works from this period, such as those by artist Edward Burne-Jones, who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and collaborated with designer William Morris, show a shift from realism to pure “art for art’s sake”, a notion affiliated with the aesthetic movement.

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829–1908), Millpond, ca. 1870. Watercolor and opaque watercolor on wove paper, 16 3/4 x 24 5/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Drawings from the first half of the 20th century reveal the extraordinarily wide range of artistic styles emerging at the time. Many of The Huntington’s works from the period are by artists from the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where students studied abstraction, French Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism . A highlight of this group is Gwen John’s Two women in hats at church (1920s), a work in transparent water-based paint that she produced while living in France. John regularly attended church there, where she sketched the congregation, focusing less on the individuals and more on the shapes she saw in their clothing, their varying postures, and the chairs they sat on. John affirms her modernism in the painting, McCurdy said, as she “wittily juxtaposes two differently shaped hats, abbreviating descriptive details such as facial features and composing the image with bold black outlines and broad washes.” muted tones. The exhibition includes several other striking works on paper from the 20th century in various styles by artists such as David Bomberg, Paul Nash and John Piper.

John Brett (1831–1902), The Open Sea, 1865. Watercolor with opaque watercolor and scraping on wove paper, 9 x 12 3/4 in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

The 20th-century works combine with others in “100 Great British Drawings” to create an exhibition that reveals the endlessly diverse aspects of “mark-making”, said Ann Bermingham, Emeritus Professor of Art History and of architecture at the University of California. , Santa Barbara, in his essay for the exhibition catalogue. She concludes: “If Huntington’s drawings speak to us across the distances of time and space, it is because they still hold in their linear grip the thrill and the promise of endless creativity.

Associated catalog
To complement the exhibition, The Huntington published with Lund Humphries Excursions of Imagination: 100 Great British Drawings from the Huntington Collection. The fully illustrated 256-page exhibition catalog is by Melinda McCurdy, Curator of British Art at The Huntington; with Ann Bermingham, professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture at the University of California at Santa Barbara; and Christina Nielsen, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Museum at The Huntington. The book features an introduction by McCurdy discussing the formation of The Huntington’s British drawing collection and an essay by Bermingham which places The Huntington’s collection in the context of historical drawing practice in Britain. The catalog is available for $50 at the Huntington store or online at thehuntingtonstore.org.

Comments are closed.