Beginning in the fifteenth century, as landscape came to play an increasingly important role in European painting—becoming an independent genre in its own right in the following century—artists have made drawings to explore the representation of the three-dimensional world. Whether depicting observed or imagined views, working outdoors or in the studio, they have taken advantage of the technical possibilities of drawing media to render space, differentiate textures, and capture intangible—often ephemeral—qualities of light and atmosphere.
The landscape drawings and oil studies on view, all from the Frick’s permanent collection, range in date from the 1500s to the late nineteenth century and include works by some of the most important practitioners of landscape painting. These artists, representing Italian, Dutch, French, and English traditions, played formative roles in shaping and expanding the genre, each generation looking back to its forebears and transforming their examples. In their commitment to unpretentious depictions of their local surroundings and interest in the power of landscape to elicit emotion, nineteenth-century French artists like Théodore Rousseau and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot emulated both Rembrandt and their more immediate predecessor John Constable, a British artist of the Romantic era. Constable also admired the rustic views of the Dutch masters, as well as the picturesque images of Thomas Gainsborough and the classical idylls of Claude Lorrain. For all these artists, working on paper was a fundamental practice, a means of experimenting, whether by manipulating the tonal range of graphite or a single hue of ink or by combining media to rich, painterly effect.
The origin of the Frick’s drawing collection lies with ten works bequeathed by Henry Clay Frick in 1919. In his early years as a collector, he had acquired drawings that he would leave to his family; in 1913, with his Fifth Avenue mansion under construction, he began to consider the place that works on paper would have in his future museum. In that year, he acquired his first Old Master drawings, a group of six works among which were the sheets by Rembrandt and Gainsborough on view here. Subsequent purchases included the pastel by James McNeill Whistler in this installation. Through gifts, bequests, and purchases in the intervening decades, the museum has acquired more than thirty additional drawings. In 2014, the Frick received Antoine Vollon’s View of Dieppe Harbor as a gift from Dr. Carol Forman Tabler, the preeminent expert on the French artist. The gift inspired this selection, in which Vollon’s drawing was presented alongside the work of his contemporaries and predecessors, with whom he shared affection for landscape and for the special challenges and possibilities its depiction on paper presents.
Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), Heroic Landscape, 1655–58. Pen, iron-gall ink, brown and gray wash, and white heightening on laid paper. The Frick Collection
Antoine Vollon (1833–1900), View of Dieppe Harbor, 1873. Watercolor and graphite on laid paper. The Frick Collection; Gift of Carol Forman Tabler in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander A. Forman III