Drawings at the Morgan in New York

Image of Rubens drawing

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) Seated Male Youth (Study for Daniel)

The Morgan in New York has an exceptional collection of drawings ranging from preparatory studies to finished works of art with nearly twelve thousand drawings from the fourteenth through to the twenty-first centuries. The primary focus of the Morgan Library & Museum’s collection is European drawings executed before 1825, but the Morgan also has the largest collection of Rembrandt etchings in the United States.

The focus of the collection is on the written word, the history of the book and master drawings. It is these drawings that are my main interest. There are nearly three thousand individual sheets (as well as drawings in albums and sketchbooks) from Italy, including works by Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. French drawings are well represented with works by Fragonard and Watteau, as well as Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, Cézanne and Matisse. More than one thousand individual sheets of British drawings, as well as albums and sketchbooks, which include Hogarth, Gainsborough, Blake, Turner, Constable and Burne-Jones. There are more than seven hundred works by Netherlandish, Dutch and Flemish artists, such as Rembrandt, Goltzius, Rubens and van Dyck, and German masterpieces by Dürer and Friedrich. Not all of these multitude of delights are on show at one time, of course. However, they have placed much of their collection online. You can browse their collection of drawings on line here. Or find such gems as a sketch book of Paul Cézanne. Their Rembrandt etchings can be found here.

Paul Cézanne. 1839-1906. Sketchbook in use ca. 1875-1885

How was this collection started? In 1909 one of New York’s wealthiest financiers Pierpont Morgan, who had a keen eye when it came to quality, established the core of the Morgan’s holdings by purchasing a collection of about fifteen hundred old master drawings from the English artist-collector Charles Fairfax Murray. They continue to grow their core collection through acquisitions of individual works and entire collections.

Although the library and the study are the impressive core of the museum and are well worth visiting, the Morgan presents periodic exhibitions that they curate from their magnificent collection of drawings. Their major show in 2017 is Drawn to Greatness from the Thaw collection, recently gifted to the Morgan. It focuses on 150 works from pivotal artists and key moments in the history of draftsmanship, with Masters from the Renaissance to the modern era from Mantegna, Rubens and Rembrandt to Degas, van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso presented. The range on show is astonishing, and encapsulates such fascinating things as an 1888 letter to Paul Gauguin in which van Gogh describes in words and a drawing his bedroom at Arles.

While I was there, I noticed artist drawing in the galleries. I found out that you can spend two hours drawing from works in the Morgan’s current exhibitions. Access is free with a museum admission, but it is limited to 12 people on a first come, first served basis. They supply stools, boards, a selection of pencils and drawing paper, but no ink, paint, markers, charcoal, chalk, pastels, folding stools or easels are allowed. It happens on Saturdays 11 am–1 pm, you can check here for the latest drawing dates here.

A short walk from Grand Central and Penn Station in New York.
Tuesday to Thursday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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