This is the first exhibition in twenty years to survey the rich holdings of French nineteenth-century drawings and watercolors in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's renowned Robert Lehman Collection. It features more than eighty works by most of the leading artists—Ingres, Delacroix, Rousseau, Degas, Renoir, and Seurat, to name just a few—of this pivotal epoch in the history of French art. Organized to coincide with the publication of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European Drawings, volume IX in the complete series of Robert Lehman Collection scholarly catalogues, both the exhibition and the book reveal yet another facet of the taste of one of the great American collectors of the twentieth century.
A truly discerning collector, Mr. Lehman, who died in 1969, amassed drawings from every significant period in French art throughout the century, beginning with the heroic Neoclassicism of Jacques-Louis David and the Romantic sketches of Eugène Delacroix for his grand literary and allegorical paintings. The exhibition also features richly textured landscapes by artists associated with the Barbizon school—Corot, Daubigny, Rousseau, Millet, and Harpignies, among others. Often working in the Forest of Fontainebleau near Paris, their appreciation of the natural landscape dramatically changed the course of landscape painting in France. The Impressionist masters are represented by landscapes and intimate studies, as well as major figure drawings by Degas, Renoir, Morisot, Bazille, Pissarro, and Sisley. Closing the century, the exhibition features the work of Seurat, Signac, and Cross, highlighting Mr. Lehman's extensive acquisitions in the area of Neo-Impressionism.
While covering virtually the full sweep of artistic innovation throughout the century, the exhibition also reflects the highly personal and idiosyncratic character of a private collection. Artists such as Ingres, Corot, Daumier, and Renoir are handsomely represented in multiple sheets showing a variety of drawing techniques and states of finish. Among the highlights are Courbet's pencil sketch of himself as a young artist and Angrand's striking charcoal self-portrait.
The collection includes a working drawing by Delacroix for his lithographic illustrations of Goethe's Goetz von Berlichingen. There is a splendid drawing by Degas of a dancer in motion, sketched on bright pink paper. Mr. Lehman also acquired a preparatory study for Seurat's masterpiece Les Poseuses. Vallatton captures the vibrant activity of Parisian streets, highlighting the simple, modern pleasures of daily life—themes that recur throughout the exhibition.
The Robert Lehman Collection—numbering nearly three thousand works of art and one of the most extraordinary private collections ever assembled in the United States—was presented to the Metropolitan Museum by the Robert Lehman Foundation following Mr. Lehman's death in 1969. The collection, assembled by Mr. Lehman and his parents, is extraordinarily wide-ranging and includes Renaissance, Old Master, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist paintings and drawings, rare manuscripts, bronzes, furniture, enamels, Venetian glass, jewelry, and textiles. It is housed today in the Robert Lehman Wing, which opened to the public in 1975.