NEW YORK, NY.-
Over the course of fifty yearsfrom the 1950s until his death in 2010 at the age of eighty-oneformer Frick Collection
Director Charles A. Ryskamp (19282010) assembled an extraordinary personal trove of European drawings. Reflecting on his pursuits in 2009, Dr. Ryskamp remarked, I have always believed that giving, as much as acquiring, is the principle of my collecting. This spirit of sharing is embodied in a group of ten superb drawings that he bequeathed to the Frick, selected from among his large and varied collection by Anne L. Poulet, Director Emerita, and curators Colin B. Bailey and Susan Grace Galassi. Other sheets were donated to The Morgan Library & Museum, where Dr. Ryskamp served as Director from 1969 to 1987, or auctioned at Sothebys for the benefit of Princeton University, where he began his career as a professor of literature. The works bequeathed to the Frick transform the museums holdings in drawings, enlarging them by nearly a third, while complementing the permanent collections focus on landscape and figural subjects.
This winter and spring the Frick celebrates Charles Ryskamps generosityand discerning tastewith an exhibition of the works from his bequest. The drawings, which have never before been shown at the Frick, will be presented in the Cabinet, a space created by Dr. Ryskamp during his tenure as Director from 1987 to 1997 and intended especially for the display of works on paper. The installation is accompanied by two oil-on-paper studies of clouds by John Constable, which Dr. Ryskamp was instrumental in bringing to the Collection. A Passion for Drawings: Charles Ryskamps Bequest to The Frick Collection was organized by Katie L. Steiner and Nicholas Wise, Curatorial Assistants, The Frick Collection.
A COLLECTOR DRAWN TO BRITISH AND BRITISH-SCHOOL WORKS
A precocious collector of books and prints in his youth, Charles Ryskamp turned his attention to drawings in the mid-1950s. His tastes tended toward eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British works, in keeping with his academic pursuits in the fields of late neoclassical and Romantic English literature. A drawing from the bequest by William Blake, for example, embodies the unorthodox approach to subject and technique that often characterized the Romantic tradition in Britain. With cascading streams of graphite lines, Blake portrays the wavy hair, furrowed brow, and stern gaze of Owen Glendower, a Welsh prince who led uprisings against the English crown in the early fifteenth century. The exhibition also features a double-sided sheet by the draftsman Henry Fuseli, on which a biblical scene of Satan and Job opposes a view of the Germanic hero Siegfried grappling with a monstrous serpent. Fuselis use of twisted forms, energetic pen lines, and dramatic washes typifies his inventive approach to traditional themes.
Drawings concerned with the natural, observable worldcentral to artistic practices in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuriesheld great appeal for Dr. Ryskamp. In the exhibition, Edwin Henry Landseers drawing of otterhounds, at left, pursuing their quarry along a riverbank demonstrates the artists acute facility with light, as he conveys the transitions from bright sun to shadow with strokes of watercolor and gouache. David Wilkie handles atmospheric effects with similar dexterity in his study of two figures safeguarding Scottish royal treasure, using chalk and gouache to suggest the glow of the regalia in a gloomy castle interior.
Joining these works is a small but arresting watercolor portrait by George Stubbs of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India. The artist records the sitters features and stoic expression, as well as the textures of fabric, hair, and skin, with the same careful precision that marks his renowned animal paintings and anatomical studies. This important sheet is one of the few works on paper by Stubbs in the United States outside of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven.
CONTINENTAL DRAWINGS CAPTURE HIS ATTENTION
Charles Ryskamps interests as a collector gradually extended beyond Britain to the Continent. Among the four French works bequeathed to the Frick is a luminous botanical study by Pierre-Joseph Redouté of two different varieties of plums. Redoutés highly finished watercolor may have been preparatory for an illustrated volume of the Empress Josephines gardens at Malmaison, although the present composition was never engraved. The artfulness with which Redouté composes the specimens is matched by his scientific precision in documenting their features. Using delicate washes of blue, green, and gold, the artist depicts the fruits subtle gradation of tones and conjures the powdery bloom coating their skin.
Redoutés lyrical response to the natural world is echoed in the exhibition, albeit in a different key, by Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseaus plein air sketch of a pond at the edge of a wood, which captures the sunny Barbizon countryside through swift, energetic pencil strokes. A sketchbook sheet by Rousseaus contemporary Eugène Delacroix offers a similarly spontaneous view of a scene he encountered during a trip to North Africa in 1832, below. In his drawing of a domestic interior, the artist delights in the bold color combinations and novel shapes of Moroccan architecture, which would later inform his Orientalist paintings.
An early work by Edgar Degas in the exhibition shows the artist applying his keen skills of observation to the figure. Using a hard graphic lineinfluenced by Ingres, whom he much admiredDegas expertly renders the anatomy of a classical sculpture (perhaps one of the famous horse tamers in the Piazza del Quirinale) that he observed as a young artist in Rome. This carefully studied work finds a foil in the sole Italian drawing in the bequest, Giovanni Battista Tiepolos Young Man Holding a Book (c.1758), which was dashed off in a few calligraphic strokes of brown ink and wash.
The varied subjects and styles of the works in the exhibition speak to Dr. Ryskamps vibrant intellect. A scholar and a museum director, he equated the collecting of art with the acquisition of knowledge. Through his generous gift to the Frick, his remarkable drawings will continue to delight, inspire, and stimulate the curiosity of all.