Museum  December 20, 2019  Megan D Robinson

Seven Centuries of History Through One Collection of Drawings

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray.

Giuseppe Porta, Bearded Man with his Right Arm Raised, 1562/64.

A collection of extraordinary drawings spanning 700 years is coming to the Art Institute of Chicago in January. Pure Drawing: Seven Centuries of Art from the Gray Collection features over 100 works, 91 of which have been gifted to the museum by gallery owner Richard Gray and his wife, art historian Mary L Gray, one of the largest gifts of art to the Department of Prints and Drawings in its history. Longtime supporters of Chicago’s art and culture scene, the Grays have amassed a remarkable collection of drawings. While the collection includes landscapes, still lifes, and abstract compositions, the primary focus is the human figure.

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray in memory of Buddy Mayer.

Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled, c. 1915.

Assembled over fifty years, this collection includes a wide variety of media, from black and red chalk, graphite, conté crayon, wash, and pastels to charcoal, watercolor, collage, and pen and ink. It focuses on key periods and places—15th to 18th century Italy; 17th to 20th century France; 17th century Holland; and 20th and 21st century America. Viewers will recognize celebrated masters while gaining an appreciation for lesser-known artists with exceptional skills.

“Richard and Mary’s unerring eye for drawings of extraordinary quality was legendary, and they demonstrated over and over again a level of collecting sophistication rarely matched,” says Kevin Salatino, Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Chair and Curator of Prints and Drawings, and co-curator of the exhibition.

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Head of a Young Man in Profile to the Left, 1749/50.

Highlights include Italian Old Master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s red-and-white chalk drawing, The Head of a Young Man in Profile to the Left (1749/50), which skillfully depicts a beautiful young man with wild, curly hair, tilting his head quizzically to the side. Tiepolo (1696 – 1770) evokes solidity and dreamy contemplation with expertly placed lines of chalk, expressing the three-dimensionality of the young man’s head and the glint in his eye.

The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray.

François Boucher, Study of a Draped Woman Leaning on a Pedestal, 1759/61.

François Boucher’s wonderfully sculptural Study of a Draped Woman Leaning on a Pedestal (1759/61) captures the weight, heft, and flowing folds of fabric of a woman’s voluminous robes and scarf as she casually leans, glancing towards the ground. Boucher (1703–1770) meticulously renders details like the billowing folds of drapery, the shape of her face and outstretched arms, and the fall of her shadow in black and white chalk. The depth of detail lends her a sense of reality so strong she could walk off the page.

Avenue of Pollard Birches and Poplars (1884) shows a different side of Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), who has captured the motion and emotion of a person moving away into the distance in pen and ink lines. A figure, perhaps a woman wearing a light shawl, strides down the sun-dappled path of a tree-lined avenue. The wonderfully textural trees, their branches reaching towards the sky, merge into a canopy, forming a cathedral-like space.

The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray.

Vincent van Gogh, Avenue of Pollard Birches and Poplars, March 1884.

The Grays’ collection of figurative work is wide-ranging, showing figures caught in a variety of poses, in action and at rest, clothed or nude, and captured in a multitude of styles. Through it, we can see how throughout the ages, artists have skillfully captured both the human body and the human condition.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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