Dr. Charles A. Ryskamp (1928–2010), Director of The Frick Collection from 1987 to 1997 and, prior to that, of the Morgan Library & Museum, spent more than fifty years developing an extraordinary personal collection of European drawings. Passionate about collecting from a young age, his interest took a serious turn while he was a graduate student at Yale. He avidly collected books and manuscripts related to his studies, then branched into the visual arts when he purchased two Edward Lear drawings while he was a research fellow at Cambridge. Ryskamp’s collecting practices broadened again when he returned to the U.S. in 1955. Influenced by immense collections such as the Morgan’s, he looked to create a continental collection. While selecting works from a range of periods and schools, Ryskamp sought the company of many prominent collectors and dealers, notably William H. Schab. A rare books and manuscript dealer originally based in Vienna, Schab fled Austria in 1938, founding William H. Schab, Inc. in New York City the following year. Continuing to specialize in rare books, drawings, and prints, Schab shared Ryskamp’s astute appreciation of European works on paper and helped Ryskamp form his collection.
In 1996 Schab’s son, Frederick, donated 2,750 photographs of Old Master drawings to the Photoarchive in honor of Dr. Ryskamp. Not only does the gift hold significance in honoring the Frick’s former director—rekindling memories of his collecting practices and leadership—but it also significantly expands the Photoarchive’s collection of photographs of drawings. Indeed, a majority of the Schab gift comprises images of studies of figures and compositional sketches related to larger commissions.
A fine example represented in the Schab gift, and currently at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Charles Le Brun’s (1619–1690) Study for One of the Tapestries in the Projected Series of the "Histoire galante du Roi" (ca. 1670, see illustration) is a perfect example of a preparatory sketch. Depicting Louis XIV being captured by Venus, the sheet demonstrates Le Brun’s skill as a draughtsman and his concern with creating a narrative composition. It is one of many careful studies that allowed Le Brun to work through the details of a large commission before its execution. In particular, the Louvre holds a significant number of compositional sketches by the artist (not on view to the public) that are connected to major paintings in its collection.
Some drawings represented in the Schab gift can be considered both detailed studies and finished works. A closely observed still life drawing by Jan van Huysum (1682–1749) depicts a vase of flowers with a nest of eggs and a statue (ca. 1725, above). Unlike many Dutch still life painters, Van Huysum was a prolific draftsman, producing compositional studies for his paintings as well as meticulous depictions of individual blooms. Although most likely a preliminary study, the drawing captures the dynamic energy characteristic of his paintings. It is boldly executed in black chalk and watercolor and aptly demonstrates Van Huysum’s ability to arrange elegant and seemingly spontaneous still life compositions.
The Schab gift honoring Dr. Ryskamp represents the scholar’s diverse tastes and keen eye for quality. Subjects and styles range from highly finished landscapes and waterscapes to animated portraits and figure studies. French drawings are particularly prevalent, as well as notable Dutch and Italian sheets.
Jan van Huysum (1682–1749), A Vase of Flowers with a Nest of Eggs and a Statue, 1725. Watercolor over black chalk. Present location unknown.
Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), Study for one of the tapestries in the projected series of the Histoire galante du Roi, ca. 1670. Black chalk, graphite, and brush and gray wash on paper. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland