Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection at the Met

On a recent visit to the Met, I explored one of the museum’s newest exhibits, Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection. I found this collection to be very interesting. If you appreciate art- from its rawest forms to finished masterpiece, you simply must pay a visit. This is an exhibit that will allow you to truly see the art in a different light.

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The Robert Lehman Foundation

Robert Lehman was the head of the Lehman Brothers investment banking company. Throughout his life, he collected original artwork and became chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Robert Lehman Foundation was created in 1943 with the purpose of lending the vast collection of artwork to both artistically underserved communities and well-known institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon his passing, the Robert Lehman Foundation thought it best to give more than 300 pieces from the collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These pieces can be found in the Robert Lehman Wing of the museum. The Leonardo to Matisse exhibition is the first of its kind to showcase a wide range of drawings and sketches within the collection. The exhibition includes original artworks by masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Matisse, and more and ranges from the Italian Renaissance to Early Modernism time periods.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Study of a Bear Walking, Sketch of a Forepaw- 1480’s. This sketch was one of many where Da Vinci studied animal anatomy.

Italian Renaissance Drawings

During the Renaissance, drawings were done on sheets of animal skin that were then bound into books for archives. It was during this time that drawings became the foundation for future finished artworks. As the process of drawing was so essential to art, the method became highly regarded as an art form. This method of art captured the artist’s thought process and personal style. During this time period artists were intrigued by the anatomy of both humans and animals and used them as inspiration. The following sketches range from quick rough drafts to complete drawings. Early Renaissance drawings were some of Lehman’s earliest art purchases.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Study of a Bear Walking, Sketch of a Forepaw- 1480’s. This sketch was one of many where Da Vinci studied animal anatomy.

Northern European Drawings of the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Century

During these centuries, Northern European artists sketched realistic drawings of physiognomy and anatomy. The artist Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden of Netherland were well known during this time period in producing artwork through the forms of metal point as well as pen and ink. Fifteenth-century German artist Albrecht Durer pioneered modern portraits with his self-portrait. The Chiaroscuro technique of white contrast with a dark background was also a revolutionary process at the time.

During the seventeenth century, Rembrandt introduced the use of red chalk as a medium of art with his replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The method of ink wash was introduced as an art form during this time period. This method was used many times by artists to complete landscape drawings. The artworks in this portion of the exhibit include the sketches for paintings, sculptures, textiles, and stained glass. Also showcased are the sketches in comparison to the finished paintings and sculptures.

Auguste Renoir. Young Girl in a Blue Dress ca. 1890. Impressionist style painting with the watercolor method

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in Italy and France

Many artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries attended the French Academy in Rome to improve their skills. During this time in Venice, the artists Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo made innovative drawings that redefined the use of pen, ink, and wash. Tiepolo also introduced the use of the brown wash technique which suggested a light source in drawings. The genre of Romanticism became popular in France thanks to artists such as Camille Corot whose work was inspired by the ruins of Europe.

During these centuries, human expressions from humor to melancholy inspired artists. While the use of chalk was elevated by artists such as Antoine Watteau who used the colors black, white, and red to create drawings that look like paintings. Following Watteau’s success with the trio of colors, this method of drawing became popular among other artists.

the MET
Vincent Van Gogh Auvers- sur- Oise Roas in Etten 1881. chalk, graphite, and watercolor method.

Impressionism and Early Modernism

During the winter of his life, Lehman collected late nineteenth and early twentieth-century drawings. Adding these modern pieces of art to a classical collection was not the norm amongst his fellow collectors. Many of them did not appreciate the genre of modern art, although Lehman’s unrestricted views allowed him to collect unique pieces.

In particular, he collected many French drawings as he was a frequent visitor of France and fluent in the language. He was an admirer of Impressionism and collected many Neo-Impressionist watercolor paintings and drawings. The methods of stippling and dotted modeling on canvas and paper were popular during these eras of art.

The exhibition not only showcased Robert Lehman’s impressive art collection but also shows visitors how the methods of drawing and art changed during the centuries. Robert Lehman appreciated art in all forms from original sketches to finished masterpieces. Which in essence is how art should be viewed, essential and inspirational to society no matter the form.

Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection is on exhibit until January 7th, 2018.

About guest author, Tabitha Serrano…

Tabitha loves fine arts and visiting museums, travel and has lived in Italy and traveled to Spain. Through her travels, she is always in search of fashion, art and culture, but finds home in the NJ and NYC area. Tabitha has her Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Marketing and Management with a minor in International Business. Read more about Tabitha’s adventures on her blog, Concreteislandista.com