Shrines to the line: inside Paris Drawings Week
Drawings Week in Paris rarely disappoints, but this year there is an additional incentive to make the pilgrimage to this annual shrine to the line. Apart from the two main fairs — the stately Salon du Dessin at the Palais Brongniart (March 27-April 1), which brings together works on paper spanning some six centuries, and the vibrant Drawing Now (March 28-31) which illustrates what drawing can be, not least when liberated from two dimensions — the city offers exceptional exhibitions and auctions.
Not to be missed is The Pushkin Museum: Five Hundred Years of Master Drawings at the Fondation Custodia (to May 12). This is the rarest of opportunities to inspect some 195 works on paper from one of the world’s greatest but least-known drawings collections.
Here are remarkable works by Matisse and Picasso — from the pen and watercolour sketch for “La Danse (Composition no I)” and the charcoal “Portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya” to the preparatory studies, in gouache and charcoal, and gouache and watercolour, for the “Family of Saltimbanques” and “Three Women”. From 19th-century France are extraordinary sheets by Van Gogh, Renoir and Daumier, and hardly less astounding works from Germany, with Caspar David Friedrich’s evocative chalk and brown wash “Two Men on the Sea Coast” stealing the show. This feast is an entire history of the draughtsman’s art.
Far more modest, but no less exciting an opportunity, is the display of the 29 Italian Renaissance drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and his contemporaries belonging to the Beaux-Arts de Paris (to April 19). It is worth the queue to see the master’s compelling sheet of ideas for armour for foot soldiers and an exploding bomb, and the delicate head of the Virgin by Raphael.
These are just two of the events in more than 20 museums and galleries in and around Paris, with two more exhibitions — drawn from the still-closed Musée Carnavalet and the archive of jewellers Chaumet — in the Salon du Dessin itself.
Over the course of this international fair’s 28 years, the focus has shifted towards the 19th and 20th centuries, because of the scarcity of older material. “Important Old Master drawings are still highly sought after and are becoming increasingly expensive, but they are harder to source,” explains the fair’s president, Louis de Bayser. “What we bring to the fair depends on what we have found in the past year.”
The highlight at Galerie de Bayser is a large portrait of a seated young woman by François Boucher from about 1748-50, the sparkling condition of its coloured chalks and pastel providing volume to the drapery and presence to the model. The gallery has exhibited at the Salon du Dessin since its inception and each year has sold to new buyers. “Some buy a drawing for €5,000 once on a whim, and others become real collectors,” de Bayser says.
Each year, four or five new or returning exhibitors out of the 39 enliven the mix by presenting a particular taste or expertise. Flying the flag for Belgium is the Lancz Gallery, and its star turn is the widely published and exhibited “The Glass Roof” (1909) by the Symbolist painter and draughtsman Léon Spilliaert (€800,000-€1m). This near-monochrome dissection of the artist’s studio is as much an interior portrait of alienation and oppression.
Fresh from the Egon Schiele retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton is the Viennese artist’s gouache, watercolour and pencil “Standing Woman Covering Face with Both Hands” (1911, Wienerroither & Kohlbacher, €1.9m), while Hamburg dealer Martin Moeller presents 100 years of German drawings. New US exhibitor Christopher Bishop looks even further afield to the imperial court of Maximilian II in Prague by flourishing a rare and recently rediscovered ink, chalk and red and green wash drawing by Bartholomeus Spranger, a preparatory work of around 1583 for his “Saint Ursula now in Vilnius” (about €150,000).
The real blast of fresh air in this week of drawings, however, has come from Drawing Now. Founded in 2007, it was the first contemporary art fair in Europe dedicated to drawing, and it remains the most important — growing in confidence and stature since its move to the airy, top-lit spaces of the Carreau du Temple. Here, all 72 exhibitors are selected on the merits of their proposals alone, and at least a third of each stand must be devoted to solo or focus shows.
“We want to see a mix of galleries showing a diverse range of artistic practice over the last 50 years — 15 countries are represented this year — but we also want to have galleries that curators and collectors can only see here,” explains director Carine Tissot. “New approaches are important, works in radical media that push boundaries.”
Long out of the frame and off the wall, as three-dimensional installations by the likes of Susanna Inglada bear witness (at Galerie Maurits van de Laar), the line is propelled into action this year through a programme of performative pieces scheduled within and without the fair. Prices range from €1,500-€50,000.
As for the auctions, private collections prevail at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The announcement that Christie’s is selling master drawings belonging to the Swiss former banker Jean Bonna will have electrified every major collector and curator, for this distinguished holding is well known through museum exhibitions in Paris, New York and Lausanne.
However, the 100 or so drawings to be offered across sales in Paris this month, in London in July and New York in January 2020, will not include the Raphael or most of the collector’s other Italian Renaissance drawings — or, more generally, his most celebrated works on paper. Disappointments aside, the March 27 sale includes two delectable head studies in red chalks, one by Raffaellino del Colle (c1530, estimate €250,000- €350,000), the other Greuze’s “Pouting Girl” (c1760-65, €70,000-€100,000), while Renoir shines on March 28. More than €1m is expected overall.
Thousands of drawings will be on show and on offer in Paris during Drawings Week. It is hard to believe there will not be something to tempt everyone.