25 May–18 August 2013. The Ashmolean announces one of its major summer exhibitions, Master Drawings, as part of the celebrations to mark the founding of the Museum in 1683. The exhibition, drawn from one of the world’s greatest collections of works on paper, will display a selection of the Ashmolean’s treasures of western art including works by Michelangelo and Raphael; Dürer and the artists of the Northern Renaissance; through the centuries to Rubens and Rembrandt; Turner, Degas and Pissarro; up to Gwen John and David Hockney.
Master Drawings will survey drawings of all types – figure studies, composition sketches, landscapes and portraits. Many are working drawings; others were made as works of art in their own right.
Michelangelo will be represented by a study for the Sistine ceiling, drawn with the robust energy of youth, along with two profoundly poetic works drawn for friends, and a late, contemplative image of the Virgin and the risen Christ. Raphael will be represented by a series of studies ranging from one of his earliest works – a figure of the kneeling Magdalen delicately outlined in silverpoint – to one his last studies, the powerful and famous image of the hands and the heads of two apostles, drawn shortly before his death in 1520.
The history of landscape drawing will be explored from its beginnings with Dürer’s View of the Cembra Valley made in 1494; to watercolour sketches made by JMW Turner from opposite ends of his career. The seventeenth century will be represented in drawings by Rembrandt and Rubens; Guercino; and Claude Lorrain. The story will continue through the following centuries with studies by several of Europe’s greatest draughtsmen: Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Tiepolo, Goya, Ingres, Degas and Cézanne.
The Ashmolean’s Western Art Print Room houses one of the finest and most accessible collections of European drawings and prints in existence. The collection of drawings began spectacularly in 1843 when a group of works by Raphael and Michelangelo, which had previously belonged to the portrait painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence, was bought by subscription. Lawrence’s collection was one of the greatest collections of Old Master drawings ever assembled, and its dispersal was much regretted. The Raphaels and Michelangelos were, however, the jewels in its crown.
Their arrival in Oxford established the Ashmolean’s reputation as a leading centre for the study of Renaissance drawing, and attracted further gifts and bequests of drawings and watercolours by Leonardo, Dürer, Titian, Brueghel, Samuel Palmer, Pissarro and many others. These gifts and bequests, along with many purchases made by curators, account for the variety of today’s collection. There are now few major draughtsmen whose work is not represented in the Ashmolean.
Dr Jon Whiteley, Senior Curator of European Art at the Ashmolean, says, “Drawings provide a unique insight into artists’ thoughts and working methods. Visitors to this exhibition will have the chance to take in works of the greatest quality, drawn by some of the most famous artists in the history of western art.”
Master Drawings will be part of a programme of events celebrating the 330th anniversary of the founding of the Ashmolean and its history as the country’s first public museum. Professor Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean, says, “After 330 years, the Museum remains committed to its public focus and aims to make its world class collections available to the widest possible audience. Following its major physical transformation in 2009, the Ashmolean is now expanding its engagement with a global public, onsite, offsite and online.”