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: An Introduction to Three Sketchbooks from the Institute’s Collection


Ann W. Rogers



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), representative par excellence of the Pre-Raphaelite School is distinguished for his painterly evocation of poetic figures ". . . and lands one can't remember, but only desire."1 The other-worldliness of his art belies the fact that its production was the result of a highly academic discipline, a discipline exquisite apparent in the book of 113 studies now in the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.2 There is tenacious devotion to the description of the human figure and its drapery, with the interlocking forms and complex folds of material appearing again and again as stills, changing over so slightly but ever so significantly as one moves from leaf to leaf. Executed primarily in pencil or hard black chalk, the drawings in their considered style possess something of the character of silverpoints, very likely a conscious effect and partially explained by Burne-Jones's known sympathy with Italian Quattrocento art.The method revealed—of work and rework—is that reiterated in a letter to a local dealer from the artist's son Philip Burne-Jones who owned this sketchbook until 1913 when it was purchased by the dealer who in turn sold it two years later to The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.3 The book entered the collection very near the time the Print and Drawing Department was established, which was not too long after four large-scale, important designs for stained glass by Burne-Jones's friend and colleague Dante Gabriel Rossetti came to the museum. This set, a series of The Four Elements,4 gives a very good idea of what Burne-Jones' work in stained glass was like in the design stage. A number of the sketchbook drawings were expanded into full-scale cartoons such as these for this very purpose; others were preliminary for a few of the relationships, such as that between the Study of the Head of Venus and the famous painting The Mirror of Venus (two versions, 1867-1877 and 1873-1877), and the sensitive figure studies on leaves 37 and 39 preparatory for a Saint George (1873-1877) and the Viking Thorfinn Karlsefne,5 the latter realized in stained glass. Occasionally Sir Philip Burne-Jones annotate the leaves; it is his identification which relates Study 127 to a composition entitled When Adam delved and Eve span and which establishes the beautifully drawn profile as that of a certain "Mrs. Erskine, 65 Finborough Rd. W. Compton." The female type in the portrait is one often repeated by the artist, but its most specific reference is probably to the heroine in the series of paintings executed between 1869 and 1879 describing the Story of Pygmalion, the panel The Goddess Fires, in particular. The variance in dates of the related works points up the time span covered by the book of studies, and one might generalize its period of production to the decades 1870-1890. The change in Burne-Jones's style is rather slight overall, and the two distinct treatments of drapery revealed in a number of the drawings indicate a considerable lapse in time.It was in the decade before Burne-Jones reached full artistic maturity—the period of the sketchbook drawings—that Antoine Louis Barye (1796-1875) developed into one of the greatest animal sculptors of the French School. Barye's beautiful production tells of an absolute singleness of purpose as powerful and predatory as the living models which so fascinated him. A sketchbook most likely from the 1850s, now in the collection, opens Barye's private world to us, and the surprise and delight at the additional insight into the eye of an artist of great stature is enormous.6 Whereas the monumental bronze groups are very much representative of the artist's "public" genius, these relatively small pencil and chalk drawings from life say much about the highly solitary talent who worked closely and quietly in the Jardin des Plantes (the Paris zoological gardens) and the Musée du Louvre. They are loving studies of animals, sensitive bits of landscaped and trees, and rather tender copies of antiques—vases and spirited statuettes. There is ease, respect, and human manifest in a masterful style as fluent, but solid as a finished bronze.For the most part these sketches should probably be understood as the earliest notes from life made by the artist in preparation for the completed work realized in bronze or watercolor, sometimes both. Although it is difficult to point out specific relationships to works in other media, because of the artist's tendency to deal very much within themes and variations, there are several interesting relationships which do exist revealing Barye's working method.7 For example, the sketchbook contains a series of studies of elephants with several of the best being those where the animal lies on the ground. The artist appears very much attracted by the sculptural potential offered by the large bulky shape conforming to the contours of the earth, and views were made from several different angles. A drawing in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, France, shows the same subject, and even though the angle of view again is different, the relationship with the Minneapolis group should probably be acknowledged. The French collection drawing is executed in black and white chalks, more highly finished, and evidently immediately preliminary to the watercolor Eléphant mort now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. From this sequence it becomes apparent that the Minneapolis "Album" drawings are in a sense research notes, in Barye's case beautiful and insightful.Interesting, also, is the fact that the "Album" includes not only sketches of animals but numerous landscape and tree studies, devoid of bird or beast, but obviously preparatory as settings for his watercolors of animals in landscape settings. Unlike his contemporary Delacroix who traveled extensively and for his prints and paintings of animals was able to observe them in their natural habitat, Barye in all his life traveled little further from Paris than the forest of Fontainebleau. His drawings of landscapes were made in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris suburbs, perhaps from museum displays, and possibly from other works of art; this is true, to, of his sculptured animal groups which due to Barye's gifts are so highly original. The Louvre, among its collections of sculpture and engraved gems, exhibits antique predecessors. Barye's early career modeling traditional miniature animals for the goldsmith and jeweler Fauconnier no doubt made him susceptible to the beauty of the animal life as revealed in ancient art as well as to the living beauty of the menagerie animals.The third sketchbook to be mentioned here is a 47 leaf, vellum-bound set of drawings by an anonymous hand which includes figure studies, mythological scenes, landscapes, and inscriptions in the form of notes, names, and quotations, mostly in French, many in Italian.8 Among the names inscribed, there appear to be none really revelant as support for authorship—as artist who worked in the book.9 And for all the references in French (occasionally misspelled), the style of the drawings asserts itself as Italian, belonging more to the realm of Canova than David. Two inscriptions include dates given in terms of the calendar of the French Revolution: 23 Fructidor anno V, . . . 1797 (leaf 1 recto) and 17 Hermidor . . . (leaf 25 recto). Others make reference to Filippo Salvatore Ajutante Gente della Guardia Nazionale della Rebuplica Napolitana, . . . (leaf 10 verso), Buonaparte Gente en chef de l'armee d'Italie, and various other remarks—Tiranni di Napoli—directly concerned with the political upheaval Naples suffered during its transformation in 1799 into the Parthenopaen Republic under the aegis of Napoleon. It is obvious that the sketchbook was very much under way during these few years, belonging either to a local artist or to one who chose to remain in that locale perhaps attracted at some point or another to Republican ideals.10 The interest in French language and art is much in evidence. Even more in evidence are the liberta e morte inscriptions, the repeated personifications of Liberty, the scenes of "noble" combat couched in classicizing terms, all with a distinctly enthusiastic propagandizing ring about them. It is a ring somber and hysterical by turn, however, for the drawing style, unconscious by-product in this case of a mind preoccupied with political events, reveals much of the harassment and difficulty, the haste, the tragedy attendant upon a violent ambient. Cardinal Ruffo's armies made short work to their re-establishment of the Kingdom of Naples for Ferdimand IV after those of Napoleon were recalled to northern Italy. The native Republican sympathizers, mostly of the noble and bourgeois classes, were executed in an act of retribution which amounted to Naples' own Reign of Terror.Perhaps it was this overriding distress which attracted the artist to other subjects more serene. There are fine landscapes, some of which are classicizing and reflective of the seventeenth-century compositions à la antique, some treated in a slightly nostalgic but clear-eyed manner, topographically accurate, such as the excellent view of Naples with Castellammare di Stabia in the distance.11 There are representations of the gentler subjects from mythology, either in original compositions or inspired by works of ancient art, and there are copies, quite careful, of history paintings from the preceding century.12 On leafing through the book, now in a somewhat endearing state of disrepair, one is confronted with the fact that its art is brilliant, though with the searching ideas and trials of a still immature talent. Its high quality demands continuing search after the artist's identity, and identity which might prove a very important revelation.Endnotes
  1. The artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote this of Burne-Jones: ". . . if, as I hold, the noblest picture is a painted poem, . . . then I say in the whole history of art there has never been a painter more greatly gifted than Burne-Jones with the highest qualities of poetic invention." See: William E. Fredeman, Pre-Raphaelitism: A Bibliocritical Study (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1965), p. 154.
  2. A Book of Studies, by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (English, 1833-1898): 89 leaves, originally bound between linen covered boards, the outside front numbered 66 in pencil, the inside front signed E. Burne Jones. The Grange Northend Road. W. Kensington; on hand-made rag paper, ca. 6 1/2" x 9 1/4", with the drawings executed in a variety of media including pencil, several colors of chalk, pen and brown ink; the book probably was in use by the artist between 1870-1890; at some indefinite time—perhaps upon the artist's death—it passed into the collection of the artist's son Philip Burne-Jones who sold it in 1913 to Mr. Edmund D. Brooks of Minneapolis and from whom it was purchased by the Institute in 1915 through The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 1519.
  3. The letter to Edmund Brooks and dated May 20th, 1913 reads:
    This book of studies of designs by my father is an important example of his work and methods. Before starting upon the actual painting of a large composition it was my father's custom to make innumerable careful studies of limbs, drapery, etc. in chalk or pencil—and from these he worked upon the picture. The book which is now in your possession exemplifies this system. . . .
    Philip Burne-Jones.
    41, Egerton Terrace, S.W. London
  4. The Four Elements, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (English, 1828-1882), monogrammed D.G.R.; brown ink and wash drawing on heavy buff wove paper, 68" x 24". Gift of Mrs. C. J. Martin in Memory of Charles Jairus Martin, 10.1-4.
  5. Clare Darr, "Burne-Jones Sketches in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts," Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1964 (unpubl. ms.).
  6. Album by Antoine Louis Barye (France, 1796-1875); 60 leaves, between cardboard covers and leather spine, the outside front stamped in gold, Album, leaf 7 recto inscribed or signed (?)Barye; machine made wove paper of cream and pale green color, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2", with the drawings executed in pencil and black chalk, the book may date to the decade of the 1850s although this is not certain; purchased from Joseph Gropper, Boston, in 1970. The Herschel V. Jones Fund, by Exchange, 70.27.
  7. A source of information useful in this regard is the exhibition catalogue Sculptures, Peintres et Aquarelles, Musée du Louvre, Paris (Editions des Musées Nationaux, 1956-1957).
  8. Sketchbook; Italian School, late 18th-early 19th centuries; 47 leaves, between vellum covers, the outside front and back having fragments of inscriptions and designs in pen and brown ink; hand-made rag paper gone somewhat ivory, ca. 11 5/16" x 7 7/8", with the drawings executed in a variety of media including pen and brown ink, watercolor, black ink and wash, graphite, and black and red chalks; the book most likely dates within the decade 1795-1805; purchased from Hans Calmann, London, 1968. The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 68.49.2.
  9. The name on leaf 16 verso, Louis Valle', may or may not refer back to either the Dutch 17th-century artist Louis Valle' who was active in the 1770s—both too early to have actually produced these designs. Appearing with some prominence on the first leaf is the name J. Kap (?) which does not appear listed among those given in the standard artists' lexicons. J. Kop, a possible variant, does appear several times but the association is impossible on all counts because of dating.
  10. On leaf 12 verso is a description of Republican Law which reads: La legge-Repubblica Napolitana/Ogni cittadino del Ubbidire de legge stabitite/dall autorità costitute/il popolo/stabilische le legge e la policini.
  11. I would like to thank Mr. Anthony Clark for providing this identification.
  12. Reproduced the artist's copy of Nicolas Poussin's composition the Marriage (1647-1648) from the second series of Sacraments painted for Paul Fréart de Chantelou. The sketchbook artist may possibly have worked from a reproductive engraving, although the best known— that by Jean Pesne—is in reverse to both the painting and the drawing here. It is perhaps after a painted copy; a copy of this subject from Poussin was in the Palazzo Pamphili, Rome, in 1933. The originals were sold in Paris in 1792 to Laborde de Méréville and later entered the Duke of Bridgewater's collection (1798). See: Anthony Blunt, The Paintings of Poussin (London, 1966), cat. no. 118, illus. The idea that the artist may have traveled to Rome and seen a copy there is plausible in that his style of drawing reveals contact with the work of contemporary Roman artists such as Vincenzo Camuccini (1771-1844), and his intensely literary attitude toward subject matter contact with Roman School artists such as Pierre Narcisse Guérin (1774-1833).
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Sir Edward Burne-Jones. English, 1833-1898. Study of a Female Head, page 53. Pencil, 9 1/2" x 6 1/2". The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 15.19.
  2. Sir Edward Burne-Jones. English, 1833-1898. Study of a Male Figure, page 37. Pencil 9 3/8" x 6 1/4". The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 15.19.
  3. Sir Edward Burne-Jones. English, 1833-1898. Study of a Male Figure, page 39. Pencil 9 3/8" x 6 1/4". The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 15.19.
  4. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Two Studies of an African Elephant. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Herschel V. Jones Fund by Exchange, 70.27.
  5. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Tree Study. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Herschel V. Jones Fund by Exchange, 70.27.
  6. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Figures from an Attic Vase. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Herschel V. Jones Fund by Exchange, 70.27.
  7. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Sleeping Tiger. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Herschel V. Jones Fund by Exchange, 70.27.
  8. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Elephant Lying Down. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 70.27.
  9. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Eléphant mort. Watercolor. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. The H. O. Havemeyer Collection.
  10. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Two Herons. Pencil, ca. 3 3/8" x 4 1/2". The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 70.27.
  11. Antoine-Louis Barye. French, 1796-1875. Deux hérons. Watercolor. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. The H. O. Havemeyer Collection.
  12. Sketchbook. Italian School, late 18th-early 19th century. Sheet of Studies. Pen and brown ink, ca. 11 5/16" x 7 7/8". The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 68.49.2
  13. Sketchbook. Italian School, late 18th-early 19th century. Classical Landscape. Watercolor and graphite, ca. 11 5/16" x 7 7/8". The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 68.49.2
  14. Sketchbook. Italian School, late 18th-early 19th century. Ganymede. Pen and brown ink, ca. 11 5/16" x 7 7/8". The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 68.49.2
  15. Sketchbook. Italian School, late 18th-early 19th century. The Marriage, after Poussin. Grey wash over black chalk, touches of pen and ink, ca. 11 5/16" x 7 7/8". The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 68.49.2
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Source: Ann W. Rogers, "An Introduction to Three Sketchbooks from the Institute's Collection," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 59 (1970): 58-67.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009