NEW YORK (AP) – Even without the name, written in pale ink and tiny letters in the lower left corner, there would be something familiar about the drawing, an 1888 view of a town from the vantage point of a field. Maybe it’s the short, definitive stokes from the pen. Perhaps it’s because of the irises in the foreground.

Who else could have drawn this but painter Vincent van Gogh?

Justly celebrated for his canvases, van Gogh was equally brilliant in his drawings. A new exhibition focusing on his drawing mastery, “Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings,” opens Tuesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and runs through Dec. 31.

With more than 100 pieces taken from collections all over the world, including 40 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the show presents an unusual opportunity to view material rarely put on display because of its fragility.

The drawings are “of a scale and importance that puts them right beside van Gogh’s paintings and they were certainly in his mind important,” said Colta Ives, who curated the show along with Susan Stein and colleagues from the Amsterdam museum.

“The impact that his drawing practice had on his paintings was immeasurable. We wouldn’t have the same paintings today if we hadn’t had this development of this graphic freedom that he developed with pen and ink.”

Van Gogh began his career as an artist in 1880, and worked prolifically until his death in 1890. From the beginning, drawing played an important part. Before he turned to painting canvases, van Gogh started out by drawing, buying books on perspective and really learning the craft, Ives said.

Even after he started painting, he continued to draw. Sometimes the drawings were inexpensive ways to capture images and explore various themes, which he could later transfer to far-more-expensive canvas. At other times, he used the drawings to show how far he had progressed with a particular painting, sending the pen-and-ink images in letters to his brother, Theo, and friends. The drawings were also clearly a place where van Gogh worked on his technical development, the distinctive style that has made him a world-renowned name.

“Drawing really changed the way he painted, once he realized he could draw his paintings in his own quirky way,” Ives said.

The show is organized in a roughly chronological way. There’s the drawing from August 1881, an image of a wood fence with windmills off in the distance, a sight van Gogh saw in passing during a trip but that so enamored him that he returned to draw it. There’s also the image of a lonely road stretching off into the distance, from spring 1882, that’s clearly an exercise in drawing perspective.

Viewers will also see some of van Gogh’s self-portraits, and from his time in Arles, France, in 1888-1889, many pictures with the short, vibrant familiar strokes of his paintings.

While the show consists mainly of drawings, there are some paintings included to show the connection between the two mediums. So the June 1888 painting “Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer” is next to the drawing of the same image, done just days earlier. Both share the same composition – a pathway, flanked by cottages on one side and greenery on the other.

A smaller version of the show has already been seen in Amsterdam. The museum has organized a number of programs to run with the exhibit, as well as its first podcast, featuring actor Kevin Bacon reading excerpts of van Gogh’s letters.

A corresponding exhibition, “In Line With van Gogh,” will run through Jan. 8. That show features 59 prints and drawings from artists who influenced van Gogh or were his contemporaries, including Rembrandt, Degas and Matisse.

Ives said she hoped the show would give viewers another view of van Gogh.

“I would just like them to see a more three-dimensional artist, an artist whose talent is complex, he’s not the rumored madman who runs out into fields with his messy paints and slaps them on a canvas,” she said. “I’m hoping this really enriches his profile.”

New York is the only stop for the show, which is too fragile to travel.


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