Drawing transformed radically in 19th-century France, expanding from a means of artistic training to an independent medium with rich potential for exploration and experimentation. A variety of materials became available to artists—such as commercially fabricated chalks, pastels, and specialty papers—encouraging figures ranging from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres to Paul Cezanne to reconsider the place of drawing within their artistic practices. A growing number of public and private exhibition venues began to display their creations, building an audience attracted by the intimacy of drawings and their unique techniques and subjects. In France and abroad, museums and individuals alike started to actively acquire these works while they were still contemporary art.
This exhibition celebrates the Cleveland Museum of Art’s internationally recognized holdings of 19th-century French drawings—a cornerstone of its collection since the institution opened in 1916. Over the past century, the CMA has acquired exceptional and diverse sheets—from one with sketches made by a young Edgar Degas during his first trip to Italy to the first drawing by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to enter an American museum collection.
The approximately 50 featured artworks explore the history of drawing in 19th-century France and chronicle the remarkable role the medium has played at the CMA. Following landmark acquisitions, across a number of decades, by such iconic artists as Honoré Daumier, Berthe Morisot, and Auguste Renoir, the CMA has continued to enhance and deepen its collection of drawings. The numerous recently acquired works in this exhibition include a luminous colored pencil study by symbolist artist Alexandre Séon and a group of “noir” drawings—named for their use of varied black drawing media—by Henri Fantin-Latour, Albert-Charles Lebourg, and Adolphe Appian, among others.
A richly illustrated catalogue—the first to document this collection—accompanies the exhibition, featuring new research on each of the included works and essays by leading scholars in the field.