Polish your inner anglophile at new Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit of British drawings
Posted April 18, 2013 in Articles
Author: Steven Litt
The Cleveland Museum of Art doesn't often behave like a butler at a country house bearing a calling card on a silver tray. But there's no mistaking the tenor of "British Drawings," the current exhibition that explores two centuries of watercolors, ink drawings and pencil sketches from the sceptered isle.
The show is a cordial invitation to get in touch with your inner Anglophile, delivered with a punctilious bow. It has Charles Dickens, "Harry Potter" and "Downton Abbey" written all over it.
With images of gray skies, slender maidens, overstuffed Victorian drawing rooms and forests that seem ready to come alive with fairies and sprites, the show is saturated with what Sir Nikolaus Pevsner spoke of in his classic 1956 book as "The Englishness of English Art."
"A decent home, a temperate climate, and a moderate nation," is how Pevsner described England. "It has its disadvantages in art. There is no Bach, no Beethoven, no Brahms. There is no Michelangelo, no Titian, no Rembrandt, no Durer or Grunewald."
English art may not often ascend to the heights Pevsner described for comparison's sake, but he wrote that it does possess marvelous qualities. Among them are a sense of polite detachment and reserve, and a love of subtle grays and browns natural to a damp, misty climate. (Clevelanders can relate.) There's also a fixation on bodies with slender, Gothic proportions and flaming, attenuated lines, and, perhaps above all, a love of vast, brooding landscapes.
All of those qualities and more are on full display in the museum's show, expertly organized by curator of drawings Heather Lemonedes, with approximately 50 works. Most are from the museum's permanent collection, but a few of the most arresting examples are borrowed from private lenders.
These include "Temple of the Furies, Oedipus at Colonus," a watercolor for a stage design by Joseph Gandy for a performance of the eponymous Sophocles play at Covent Garden.