North America’s First Public Drawing Collection Surveyed at Bowdoin College Museum of Art

“The End of the Hunt,” 1892, watercolor over graphite, by Winslow Homer, American, 1836 – 1910. Gift of the Misses Harriet Sarah and Mary Sophia Walker. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art will present the first-ever survey of the Museum’s extensive collection of drawings, widely considered the oldest public collection of works on paper on the continent, illuminating the foundational and evolving role of drawing within Western artistic practice. Titled Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, the exhibition will be on view from May 3 through September 3, 2017, and includes more than 150 works by American and European artists across cultures, genres, and time periods, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, Henri Matisse, Eva Hesse, and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others.

Why Draw? will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that features original texts from renowned scholars and contemporary artists, all considering what compels artists to draw through close study of specific works in the exhibition. These insights, from contributors including David Driskell, Richard Tuttle, James Siena, and Yvonne Jacquette form the touchstones of both the exhibition and the catalogue, guiding viewers through an examination of the traditional functions of drawings in artistic education, studio practice, and the formal; and poetic reasons artists have been driven to drawing throughout history. The Museum will also host several public programs throughout the summer in conjunction with the exhibition, including artist talks, scholarly lectures, and artist-led workshops.

“Woman and Child,” 1604–1606, black and red chalk by Bernardino Poccetti, Italian, 1548–1612. Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Curated by Joachim Homann, Curator at BCMA, the exhibition builds on the foundation of Bowdoin’s strong history of collecting works on paper, stemming back to the initial gift of 141 historic European drawings to the college by James Bowdoin III in 1811. Since then the drawings collection has evolved to include nearly 2,000 unique works on paper, encompassing acquisitions and gifts from alumni, artists, and patrons. Many recent additions to the collection will be on view for the first time. Spanning from a drawing from the workshop of Raphael, to the first-ever watercolor by Winslow Homer to enter a museum collection, to works produced in the past five years by Natalie Frank, William Kentridge, and Titus Kaphar, the exhibition offers a diverse selection of masterworks from artists across a wide range of history.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to present a comprehensive survey of our renowned collection of drawings, which, through its distinct breadth and depth, provides rewarding insights into the evolving role of drawing over the past 500 years of Western artistic practice,” said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “Museums are as much collections of people as they are of artworks, and Why Draw? is indebted to the artists, art historians, and art patrons who contributed to this exhibition, and truly helped shape the BCMA as an institution, through their generous gifts over time that would be near-impossible to acquire today,” continued Anne Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “As a museum at an institution of higher learning, the strength of our drawing collection provides tremendous opportunities to mount exhibitions such as this one, which allow students, scholars, and visitors to enter into the thoughts and practice of artists and examine new ways of seeing.”

“Running Fence,” 1976, graphite, pastel, charcoal, fabric collage, by CHRISTO, American, born 1935. Museum Purchase, George Otis Hamlin Fund with the aid of a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C., a federal agency. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

The exhibition considers drawing in Europe and the United States throughout time, observing how artists advanced the role of drawing in artist’s creative processes—from a primary tool to record the visual world, to a medium distinguished for its expressive qualities and immediacy in the advent of photography and subsequent technological advances in the digital age, ultimately underscoring what makes drawing different from other forms of notation.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will be greeted by Pharrell, 2014, Alex Katz’s seven-foot-tall portrait of the American singer and songwriter Pharrell Williams. A preparatory drawing that employs a Renaissance technique, this work demonstrates just one practical use of drawing within the artistic process. From this starting point, the exhibition illustrates many applications of drawing in the studio, from invention to observation, to composition and recording of a finished work. At the same time this survey highlights traditions specific to Italy, France, the Low Countries, Great Britain, and the United States, and demonstrates how over 500 years, drawings became increasingly appreciated as artworks in their own right, since they allow for unparalleled freedom to experiment. Recent acquisitions of works by Pieter Withoos, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean Michel Moreau the Younger, and Edward Lear expand the narrative of the exhibition by adding a focus on changing attitudes towards the natural world. New significant gifts strengthen the representation of trends in mid-20th-century American art, and include accomplished drawings by Joseph Stella, Romare Bearden, and Norman Lewis, as well as preparatory sketches by sculptors from Gaston Lachaise to Henry Moore to David Smith.

As curator Joachim Homann describes: “Rather than aiming for a coherent and systematically ordered set of reasons that compel artists to draw—a goal that seems elusive, given the widespread practice of drawing—we introduce a broad selection of works of art, and each is probed for being a record of a directed artistic intervention. Each models a different way of embedding information in a work of art and adds a new facet to our understanding of drawing, offering insights into the creative process as it shaped work in artists’ studios of the past 500 years and continues to evolve today.”

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • A double-sided drawing after Donatello’s “Miracle of Miser’s Heart,” (1505–1520) from the workshop of Raphael, reproduces figurative groups from Donatello’s bronze reliefs for the high altar of Sant’Antonio, Padua.
  • A rapid sketch by Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Dido (1600–1603), depicts the first Queen of Carthage, in despair over Aeneas’ departure, falling on a sword.
  • The End of the Hunt (1892) was the first Winslow Homer watercolor to enter a museum collection, capturing the untamed nature of the Adirondacks.
  • Alberto Giacometti’s portrait of his friend James Lord, sketched on the last page of a political review by French intellectual and literary figure Georges Bataille from 1948.
  • Michelle Stuart’s record of the ground outside her home, entitled Little Moray Hill (1973), produced by placing the paper directly on the dirt and rubbing on it with graphite to transfer the most minute topographical distinctions.
  • Ed Ruscha’s Fix (1972), which completely obliterated the traces of the artist’s hand in a drawing with gunpowder on paper, only to evoke verbally the medium’s ability to record movement in permanence.
  • The Jerome Project (2015) by Titus Kaphar combines the portraits of three young black men whose tragic deaths prompted a national conversation around racial profiling, policing, and gun violence: Trayvon Martin (died February 26, 2012), Michael Brown (died August 9, 2014), and Tamir Rice (died November 22, 2014), which outlines the subjects’ faces in white chalk on asphalt-coated roofing paper.

The fully illustrated, 192-page catalogue that accompanies the exhibition is published by Del Monico-Prestel. In a departure from traditional scholarly catalogues, Why Draw? foregrounds artistic processes and personal perceptions of the impact and significance of drawing on artistic practice through time.

“The Maiden Without Hands,” 2011–14, gouache and chalk pastel, by Natalie Frank, American, born 1980
. Private Collection.

The Museum is pleased to announce a series of exhibition related public programs throughout the summer, with events ranging from a group discussion on the history and impetus behind collecting, talks on notable artists, the Museum’s historic holdings, and the importance of drawing to an artist’s practice. Highlights include:

  • Why Draw? artist Natalie Frank, creator of widely exhibited and critically acclaimed illustrations of the “unsanitized” fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, will visit the Museum to discuss the implications of her works for women, their bodies, desires, and fears on May 2.
  • Museum Co-Director Frank Goodyear will lead a discussion on the drawings of Winslow Homer and their historic importance in the Museum on July 18.
  • George Keyes, former curator at the Detroit Institute of Art, will host a workshop on the practice of collecting Old Master works and the history of studying European prints and drawings on July 27.
  • Artist Andrea Sulzer will lead a workshop called Tracing the Artist’s Hand, including both hands-on activities and a discussion on the changing approaches to mark-making on paper on August 24.
  • Joachim Homann, the exhibition curator, will analyze the use of the figure in the European avant-garde, focusing on master works by Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Moore on August 25.
  • An evening dedicated to changing artistic and cultural attitudes toward paper with Ruth Fine, former curator, National Gallery of Art and Marjorie Shelley, Conservator in Charge, Works on Paper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on August 31.
thumb:Chinese, "Jar (Guan)," 3000-2500 BC, painted ceramic. Gift of George and Elaine Keyes in honor of Barry Mills. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.