I walked across Central Park to the Met Museum on the day after Christmas only to find long lines of people standing outside in the freezing cold. Even once inside the building, there was still a long delay at the understaffed ticket counters. Fortunately, the exhibits I'd come to see were worth the wait. The first of these was Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection.
Lehman was an extremely knowledgeable collector whose eclectic taste, as the exhibit's title would testify, spanned the centuries from the early Renaissance to the Modern age. The show takes up several galleries on the museum's lower level among which the works are divided according to the periods in which they were created.
The Renaissance gallery contains a number of striking works, some by major artists and others that are anonymous or by lesser known craftsmen. There are none by Michelangelo, who currently has his own show upstairs, and the sole contribution by Leonardo, A Bear Walking (1482-1485), is not particularly significant, only a rough sketch that may have been intended for a treatise on comparative anatomy. Much more impressive are two anonymous works from the mid-fifteenth century, Bearded Nude Male Figure Running and The Descent into Limbo. The latter's iconography is unusual is that it shows Christ from behind as he bends forward to enter the small entranceway to the underworld. There is also a sketch for the Sforza equestrian monument, a commission later given to Leonardo (who never completed it), by Antonio Pollaiuolo as well as a very well drawn Head of a Man Wearing a Cap by an unknown Florentine artist who may have been associated with Domenico Ghirlandaio to whom Michelangelo was apprenticed at the beginning of his career.
Probably the finest drawings in the show are those from northern Europe. Here one finds several works by Albrecht Dürer, including a charming nude entitled Fortuna in a Niche (1498). It is, however, Dürer's 1493 self-portrait (on the same sheet as a study of hand and a pillow) that is in my opinion the finest work in the show. Here the skeptical expression in the artist's eyes makes the drawing seem strangely modern; one feels it could have been drawn yesterday rather than five centuries ago. Also in this section are two drawings by Rembrandt, one of which is a rough copy of Leonardo's Last Supper (though to the best of my knowledge the Dutch master never saw the original) and the other a pastoral scene entitled Cottage near the Entrance to a Wood. One notable German work is the Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward (c. 1480-1490) by Martin Schongauer whose engraving The Temptation of St. Anthony inspired Michelangelo's first painting (both are currently on view upstairs in the Michelangelo exhibit). Then there is the Ecstatic Christ (c. 1510-1511) by Hans Baldung that defies all orthodox Church iconography by showing the crucified savior reclining on the ground shortly before his death.
Returning to southern Europe, there are two drawings by Tiepelo, one of which is a delightful study of several Punchinello characters felling a tree. Canaletto is represented, not by one of his iconic views of Venice, but by a drawing of Warwick Castle completed while he was working in England. Finally, there is Goya's Self-Portrait in a Cocked Hat (c. 1790) with eyes askance.
Judging by the number of French drawings shown at the exhibit, this was Lehman's favorite source of art. There's no room here to mention them all, but there are several that stand out. One is Delacroix's Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (1827-1828) wherein the two Shakesperean characters contemplte the skull of Yorick. Others include Ingres's study for Raphael and La Fornarina, Daumier's Two Drinkers, Degas's Study of a Ballet Dancer, Seurat's study for Poseuses, Redon's Pegasus and Bellerophon, and Matisse's 1923 Reflection in the Mirror, a study for his painting Standing Odalisque Reflected in a Mirror. Also included in this section is Van Gogh's early Road in Etten (1881) even though it was completed while the artist still resided in the Netherlands.
Compared to the crowds thronging the Michelangelo and Rodin exhibits, this show was sparsely attended. It was nevertheless a feast for those who appreciate drawing as an art in itself and not merely as the stepchild of painting.
The exhibit continues through January 7, 2018.