David Williams-Ellis shares his highlights of the Master Drawings Exhibition at The Ashmolean Museum

Many years ago, I was arrested in the Ufizzi Gallery, Florence.  I had set off the alarms whilst drawing a powerful Greek sculpture of a marble torso.  I explained that “I just wanted to see the back of it.” Once Security realised I was inarticulate in Italian and an aspiring artist, they relaxed and let me wander around at will.  The indirect result of my misdemeanor was being allowed to see and handle several of Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s drawings from their collection.  

It was with great joy that I was recently able to see the “MASTER DRAWINGS” Exhibition at The Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology in Oxford. It is an uplifting experience.  The Exhibition running until the 18th August 2013, has around 50 works on display, twelve of which really excited my sculptural and artistic palette:

Hans Holbein The Younger – A Young Englishwoman

Hans Holbein The Younger - A Young Englishwoman 

The simplicity of this drawing gives a sculptural solidity that allows you to feel the folds in the material.

 

Vittore Carpaccio – Head of a Woman in Profile 

Vittore Carpaccio - Head of a Woman in Profile

The chiaroscuro effect used gives this drawing the impression that the head is a marble sculpture.

 

Leonardo da Vinci – A Maiden with a Unicorn 

Leonardo da Vinci - A Maiden with a Unicorn

In my view, this charming composition is probably the purest and prettiest drawing in the Exhibition. Da Vinci, with a seemingly casual stroke of the pen, creates a contour that lends volume to the work.

 

Raphael – Studies of Two Apostles for the “Transfiguration” 

Raphael - Studies of Two Apostles for the Transfiguration

The heads, hands and expressions in this composition jump three dimensionally from the page, which is something that I have not always observed in Raphael’s work.

 

Michelangelo – An Ideal Head 

Michelangelo - An Ideal Head

The great sculptor shows us yet again just how much sculptors can often be the real masters of drawing. The finesse of this study exudes sensitivity, depth, volume and sensuous expression.

 

Carracci – The Birth of the Virgin Mary

Carracci - The Birth of the Virgin Mary 

This balanced sculptural composition of the two servants carrying the urn is a delight. The complete arrangement gives the impression of having a drawing of three individual sculpture compositions.

 

Rembrandt  – Saskia in Bed

Rembrandt - Saskia in Bed

The master flashes his pen and brush with such confidence that he leaves a sensitivity and sculptural depth that holds your attention.

 

Rubens – Portrait of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel

Rubens - Portrait of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel

Unless you have the opportunity to see this drawing in situ, it is difficult to perceive the range of media used to such effect.  The pen and brush, with brown ink over black and red chalk, has a living quality that captures the sensitivity of the portrait that any artist would cry to achieve.

 

Goya  – Two Men Fighting

Goya - Two Men Fighting

If you are searching for overt passion in art, then there is probably no other greater exponent than Goya. This drawing is as powerful an example of this passion as you will find anywhere

 

Gainsborough – Study of a Woman Seen from Behind

Gainsborough - Study of a Woman Seen from Behind

If you want to see a drawing that captures spontaneous movement and life, this study shows what a great exponent Gainsborough was. The woman is almost walking off the paper – you can feel the weight taken off her right leg and the rustle of fabric as she lifts her dress to move.

 

Cezanne – Still Life of Peaches and Figs

Cezanne - Still Life of Peaches and Figs

Being a watercolour, this painting is the odd one out in the exhibition. The catalogue illustration does not do it justice as it leaps out at you from the paper when you see it in situ.

 

Augustus John – Portrait of Aircraftsman T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).

Augustus John - Portrait of Aircraftsman T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

Besides being a wonderful drawing, this fine line composition has a personal interest for me as I have spent the last 12 months studying T.E Lawrence for a major new sculpture to be installed at his birthplace in North Wales.

For further information on David Williams-Ellis and to view his gallery of bronze sculptures, portrait sculptures, and glass and silver sculptures, visit www.dwe.com.