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Dark grey and sepia drawing of a landscape with trees, rocks, and a lake in the foreground. A figure sits on the rock in the center of the composition, facing away and looking at the landscape.

Light and Tone: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints

May 18–September 5, 2023
Previously on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 690
Free with Museum admission

The Department of Drawings and Prints boasts more than one million drawings, prints, and illustrated books made in Europe and the Americas from around 1400 to the present day. Because of their number and sensitivity to light, the works can only be exhibited for a limited period and are usually housed in on-site storage facilities. To highlight the vast range of works on paper, the department organizes four rotations a year in the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery. Each installation is the product of a collaboration among curators and consists of up to 100 objects grouped by artist, technique, style, period, or subject.

The current installation explores the pursuit of tonal gradation and contrast in works varying from the completely monochrome to the brightly colored. A selection of drawings on prepared and dyed papers, ranging from Renaissance masterworks by Wolf Huber and Peter Candid to dazzling sheets by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists like Angelica Kauffman and Alphonse Legros, demonstrates the versatility of colored grounds for studies and for finished compositions. A nearby display examines the role of color in hand-painted woodcuts and engravings. The works on view, which include some of the earliest examples of the practice, represent wide-ranging approaches to the relationship of watercolor and printed image. Another section of the installation traces the evolution of a mezzotint: five states, or stages, of one print from John Constable and David Lucas’s English Landscape series demonstrates how the image gradually took shape as the printing plate was worked and refined. Yet another group of prints considers how the techniques of woodcut and wood engraving lend themselves to depictions of oceans and other bodies of water. Works by Edvard Munch, Vija Celmins, Denis Stéen, Josef Albers, and others show how jagged fibers of wood can be transformed into the illusion of flowing waves, currents, and the light-reflective surface of water. Meanwhile, landscape drawings by nineteenth-century French artists Jean-François Millet, Théodore Rousseau, Charles-François Daubigny, and Adolphe Appian show how black chalk, charcoal, and conté crayon can be manipulated to achieve subtle tonal gradations and compelling effects of light.

The installation also includes a suite of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century designs for stained glass windows, including three Tiffany and Company drawings from The Met’s American Wing. Representing various stages of the design process, from exploratory sketches to cartoons (full-scale model drawings), these works reveal how designers anticipated the eventual translation of their drawings into translucent glass.

A final section features vivid images of ships by twentieth- and twenty-first-century artists H. C. Westermann, Philip Orenstein, and Richard Bosman. Whether meditating on World War II history or depicting death at sea, these prints take full advantage of the expressive power of color.

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