‘Fine Lines:’ Fascinating, voluminous PMA exhibit puts the focus on drawing

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  PORTLAND — Drawing is a way of seeing,” William Zorach said in the book “Art is My Life.”  It is an important genre of history of art, beginning with caveman images telling stories of everyday existence of ancient civilization.

But drawing as a separate art form and not an early study for other kinds of work, has not always been appreciated as an important genre.  “Fine Lines: American Drawings From the Brooklyn Museum, currently on exhibit at the  Portland Museum of Art  focuses on  drawing as a major art form for all people to explore and enjoy, and not simply something for art scholars to appreciate. 

It is unusual exhibit bringing a wide variety of works by famous artists into the state.

With 110 pieces by 74 artsists, it is also a large exhibit, covering so many themes, as well as two centuries of art history, that it deserves many visits, not one. And be sure to bring  bring a magnifying glass with you because many of the works have delicate lines. 

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 “The sense of immediacy in drawings traces an intimate vitality of life,” Karen Sherry, exhibit curator said in and interview following a talk on the exhibit.

Sherry poured over 3,000 works of famous 18th, 19th and 20th-century artists for two years in designing this exhibit which was first shown at the Brooklyn Museum.  

It is exciting to see selections of drawings here in Maine from such an important museum, highly respected in art circles. The exhibit includes works by Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Violet Oakley, William Glackens, Eastman Johnson, William Zorach, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Stuart Davis, Max Weber, Thomas Sully, Raphael Soyer, Gaston Lachaise, Robert Henri, J. Carroll Beckwith, Winslow Homer, and Charles Dana Gibson, to name only a few.

There are six themes in the exhibit which includes: portraiture, anatomy, fashions, narratives, exploring nature, and observing the built environment. All the drawings in this exhibit are intimate glimpses of life, people, landscapes, nature and architecture.

There are many elements to be seen in the exhibit besides the obvious art on the walls. For example, the way the exhibit is hung and arranged at the PMA reveals a special intimacy. Lights are dim to protect the delicate nature of work on paper. Even though this is a turn-of-the century exhibit, iPads are located at different intervals which allow viewers to brouse through sketch books of different artists.This electronic aspect of the exhibit unites the past with the present. A small drawing station, inviting visitors to draw from plaster models is located in the center gallery. In one narrow gallery there is a special focus on art conservation. It shows various stages step-by-step including a lighted examining table that conservators use in examining works. Large magnifying glasses are placed in different galleries to aid in seeing works that have fine lines.

The most distinctive work in the exhibit is a portrait of a woman by J. Carroll Beckwith titled “Portrait of Minni Clark,” charcoal and pastel on blue-fibered, textured paper. It greets you as you walk into the exhibit and sets the tone of the whole exhibit. The artist has captured the strong features of the woman’s classic face with high cheek bones, perfect symmetrical balance of eyes and straight nose, as well as her gentle smile. Her hair, which is up in a bun, establishes time period at  circa 1890. This work is beautiful and carries an element of mystery in its elegant, understated pose. In fact, this work was used on the cover of the outstanding catalogue and also used as the invitation to the exhibit.

>>>>Another moving work in the exhibit is titled “Thar’s Such a Thing as Calls in This World,” black ink with opaque white highlights on cream paper, created in 1879 by Thomas Eakins. This nostalgic drawing tells a story of the time period. It is magnificent because of its subtle shading and three dimensional use of perspective.<<<<<< (PAT  can you describe, briefly, what this artwork depicts?) 

Be sure to see Winslow Homer’s small drawing titled, “Study for the Unruly Calf,” graphite and white opaque watercolor on blue-gray paper, circa 1875, which depicts a young African-American boy dragging a calf away from its mother. Homer is usually associated with powerful oil paintings of the sea, but he did many sensitive and beautiful drawings of rural life. This work is a small gem in the exhibit. Don’t miss it.

Another small work to look for is titled “Figure Studies,” iron gall ink and watercolor on beige paper, by Thomas Sully circa 1830s. This is a delicate work which stands on a pedestal with both sides glassed in by one frame so that you can see a series of drawings on each side. I missed it on my first visit. .

William Zorach’s drawing titled “Profile of a Woman’s Head,” graphite on cream paper, is elegant in its simplicity and flowing strength. It reflects a strong, modern woman without frills. Zorach’s 1940s and early 1950s reductive approach to drawing captures more about a character by using fewer lines to create his strong images. Zorach felt drawing was an essential part of art education. Today,  some art schools do not even require it as a subject.

Marguerite Thompson Zorach’s portrait of the poet Marianne Moore created in 1925 is thought-provoking, but is hard to see because of its fine lines and the dim light which protects it. Both Zorachs were leaders in Modern Art in America. They are the parents of Dahlov Ipcar, well known artist who lives in Georgetown, Maine.

Other famous artists of significance in the exhibit are  John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Raphael Soyer. The range of drawings from each of the six themes selected is extensive and represents a history of American art in itself.

Interesting works of anatomy by such artists as Khalil Gibran, Gaston Lachaise, Robert Henri and Max Weber, explore the beauty of the human form. Robert Henri’s “Nude on a chair,” red crayon on graphite on cream paper, is a poignant work.

There are many works of nature in the exhibit by artists with a wide variety of styles, including drawings by such artists as: William Trost Richards, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Esther Frances Alexander  and Joseph Frank Currier. William Trost Richard’s work, “Forest Scene with Rocky Brook” circa 1864-67, charcoal on cream wove paper, reflects a traditional romantic view of nature as does an unusual, delicate work by Marsden Hartley titled, “Mont Saint Victoria,” graphite on cream wove paper. Georgia O’Keefe’s work “Red Hills With Pedernal,” pastel on paper mounted to wood board,  is sensual as she simplifies nature to basic shapes.

Interesting works on architecture under the theme of “Observing Built The Environment,” included such artists as: James Dick’s “Farmhouse in Brooklyn,” graphite on cream wove paper, (1863), Edwin Howland Blashfield’s “Temple at Khonsu at Karnak,” graphite on cream paper, (1887), Everett Shinn’s work titled “Fifth Avenue,” pastel on beige paper, (1910), and Reginald Marsh’s “Wall Street,” brown ink with graphite underdrawing on textured wove paper, (1937) which expresses the modern detachment and dash of humor that is part of Marsh’s style. The majestic Manhattan skyline towering over tugboats in the Hudson River make the boats look like small toys.

All the works have wonderful discoveries to see and are worth your valuable time to visit in this cold winter.

Hours : 10 a.m. To 5 p.m.Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. 10 a.m. To 9 p.m. Fridays. Closed Mondays. Admission:$12Adults, $10 for seniors and students with I.D.,$6 for youths13 to 17,Children under 12 free. For more information call (207)775-6148.

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