Drawings don’t always get pride of place in the hierarchy of the art world, deemed secondary to paintings, for reasons I can only explain as labor and struggle. I believe the opposite. Drawings have those elusive qualities of speed and lightness, when the muses first strike. They often represent the genesis of a great idea that an artist will build upon for a lifetime. I think most will agree, it all begins with putting pencil to paper, creating that first primordial vision. There is a freedom and nonchalance that only drawings can deliver, and to me, that is often the most beautiful thing to see.
Little surprise, then, that I am enamored with an exhibition currently at the Morgan Library in New York through January 7th. The show is comprised of over 150 drawings from the Thaw Collection, an endowment of important and eclectic works from the museum’s life trustee Eugene Thaw and his wife Clare. They have given an Aladdin’s cave to The Morgan. Eugene Victor Thaw is considered to be one of the world’s greatest collectors of European Master drawings, and until he retired in 1987, one of the most respected dealers in his field.
Mr. Thaw’s collection feels as if he has chosen something curious and interesting from every decade, starting with Andrea Mantegna’s 15th century drawing of a saint and ending with Ellsworth Kelly’s 1976 White Curve. Being a dealer, he often had access to things that never made it to the auction houses, and thus the collection feels deeply personal and elusive. One of the peculiar stipulations of the bequest is that the drawings remain framed as they are, which is a blessing. It turns out Mr. Thaw is not only a great collector, but also a master framer, selecting the perfect shade of Madame de Pompadour blue for a French matte on an 18th Century confection, or a dull gold frame for an Edgar Degas ballerina. One warning: the collection filled me with envy, which is what great art does. It makes you want it. After my viewing, I found myself lounging like a Delacroix tigress, filled with longing.