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Published 20/08/2009 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Raphael to Renoir

National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
5 June–6 July 2009

Catalogue: Raphael to Renoir: Master Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Yale University Press, 2008.

by JOE PITT-RASHID

The Raphael to Renoir exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) allows a rare glimpse into the exceptional private collection of Geneva based banker Jean Bonna. The exhibition has come to Edinburgh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and is accompanied by an excellent catalogue. The 120 drawings selected make up an idiosyncratic exhibition that displays the personal tastes of its private collector. They range from figurative line drawings and landscape from the Renaissance to conté crayon shadings by Seurat and Van Gogh at the end of the 19th century.

It is this range and variety that is most noticeable. Despite this breadth, there are some noticeable themes – there are many landscapes and drawings of young women and a focus on figurative work especially. Bonna himself claims that he looks for 'grace and harmony' in a drawing and the serene nature of the collection reflects this sensibility. The collector did not have general consumption in mind and he admits that he only buys what he likes. But there are numerous treasures in the collection, including small works from less frequently exhibited artists, particularly from the renaissance period. Half-length Study of Saint Sebastian Kneeling (Ca.1518) by Andrea del Sarto for example – a fine study in red chalk. Then there are works of brilliant draughtsmanship such as Pierre-Adrien Paris' View of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli (Ca.1772), which was a copy from a counter-proof produced by Paris' peers. Furthermore, insights into the planning of more significant pieces are displayed, such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze's Head of a Smiling Young Woman (Ca. 1765) from a series of preparatory drawings for his painting The Spoiled Child. The exhibition succeeds in showing ways in which drawing has served various purposes. There are several works that capture specific moments in their creator's lives and communicate vast experiences in a few lines. An example of such great drawing is Study of a Standing Moroccan, Frontal View by Delacroix. This drawing was made during an official diplomatic mission to Africa which Delacroix took part in. During this time the artist documented much of what he saw both in drawings and in writing. The drawing in question used charcoal, red chalk and watercolour – materials that Delacroix never used together at any other time. Consequently the piece represents a unique moment in his development, and is also a singularly impressive work. It is on occasions like this that the strength of Bonna's collection comes to the fore – it is clear that some of the pieces are eminently collectable but many of them also exemplify his taste in graceful, enjoyable drawing. Two Tahitian Women: study for Women by the Sea by Paul Gauguin, in particular exemplifies this quality that much of the collection shares. The piece is a charcoal sketch drawn with a few strong lines that reflect the vivacious impression that permeates much of Gauguin's work. There is also an immediacy about the image that lends a degree of intimacy, even urgency, to the glare of the model. Overall, the exhibition does not come across as particularly coherent – there is no great theme communicated besides the 'grace and harmony' that Bonna admits. But to search for a more obvious theme would be to do the collection an injustice. The individually interesting pieces on show are innumerable and are united by the connection they have made with a single man: a thorough survey gives the viewer an insight into the intimate tastes of an esteemed collector.



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