The fifty-eight drawings and prints selected for this exhibition represent one of the Clark Art Institute’s greatest strengths — French art of the second half of the nineteenth century. These works illustrate the diverse graphic achievements of the Impressionists and their immediate predecessors and followers. Groups of works by Manet, Degas, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec demonstrate the mastery and invention that characterize each of these artists’ oeuvres. Sheets by Daumier, Millet, Pissarro, Morisot, Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir, Cézanne, and others represent outstanding contributions to the flourishing arts of drawing and printmaking in this fifty-year period.
In this exhibition, images of peasants and laborers appear as both social critiques and utopian visions of an idealized past or future. Settings shift from rural to urban in explorations of the fleeting qualities of nature and the modern city. Scenes in Parisian dancehalls and brothels contrast with idylls in far-flung locales, where classical imagery has a distinctly modern afterlife. In spite of the waning influence of the French Academy, vestiges of academic training remain visible in virtuoso draftsmanship. Altogether, these works reveal both the diversity and continuity of a wide-ranging tradition of avant-garde drawing and printmaking that spanned the second half of the nineteenth century.