The Grand Tour

18th Century Prints and Drawings Before the Revolution
At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 1990.

The Grand Tour is a delicious little show of 18th century prints and drawings, in the delicate, elegant style known as Rococo, selected from the museum’s permanent collection.   These small works on paper delight in the transformation of marks of chalk or ink into images.

In a drawing by Francesco Guardi in pen and brown wash over chalk, little puddles of light brown ink turn into Venetian gentlemen strolling under the arcades. Piranesi‘s drawing of a fantastic monument with swirling columns looks as if it materialized by magic from a puff of smoke.  Big, easy strokes of colored chalk just suggest the shapes and shadows of Boucher‘s plump, reclining nude and the big, soft pillows on her rumpled bed.

Something of the warmth of the artist’s hand still lingers in all the little jabs and touches of chalk or ink that make up a drawing or print.   Hundreds of tiny curls make the leaves flutter and the waves ripple in Tiepolo‘s little etchings showing a picturesque Flight into Egypt.  In one print, Tiepolo’s holy family is ferried across a sundrenched river by an angel with strong arms and curly hair.  The happy mother leans on her halo, holding her baby, as a pair of swans look on, arching their long necks in joyful amazement.

Elizabeth Vigee-LeBrun’s drawing of a woman reading a book is built up from lots of small, sure lines.  Fragonard‘s drawing of a little park, overhung with tender, leafy trees, is as light as a whisper.  These elegant images gently convey what Talleyrand once called the “sweetness of life” before the Revolution.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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