Feature

Watteau to Degas: French Drawings from the Frits Lugt Collection

The Dutch collector assembled thousands of old master drawings, and the pick of the litter are now on display at the Frick Collection.

Frick Collection, New York
Through Jan. 10, 2010

The courtiers of prerevolutionary France valued charm, wit, and “erotic cynicism,” said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. Frits Lugt, a Dutch collector with “a special fondness for the French 18th century,” assembled thousands of old master drawings during his lifetime, and the pick of the litter are now on display at the Frick Collection. One “incredible street scene” by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin overflows with “bustling carriages, outdoor diners,” and picturesquely poor passers-by. In a Nicolas Lavreince tableau, a gentleman “springs a kiss on a lady as her chaperone dozes,” while a face glowers in the shadows. “That would be her husband.” These minor masterpieces are small, delicate drawings that require careful attention. So “pluck a magnifying glass from a rack” and take a close look at these intricately detailed “ancien régime” gems.

Perhaps the most exquisite drawings on display here are by Antoine Watteau, said Ken Johnson in The New York Times. Take his “tenderly erotic” drawing of a young woman reclining in a low-collared gown. “Executed in his signature combination of red, black, and white chalks, and with a touch that is at once loose and exacting,” it summons up a whole world of associations as we wonder what’s in her head. “In his abil­ity to capture human vital­­ity and his empathy for women, Watteau was in Rembrandt’s league.” The delicate, elegant works such as his or those by François Boucher are a “reminder to the digital age of what we lose when we sacrifice the art of drawing by hand to the programs of machinery.”

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