Bosch to Bloemaert

Bloemaert: Studies of a girl's head

Early Netherlandish Drawings in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

(Fondation Custodia, Paris, until 22 June 2014)

Every spring, Paris goes a little bit crazy for drawings. The dealers’ galleries put on displays; there’s an art fair at the Bourse; and the museums and libraries hold exhibitions giving us a glimpse of the beautiful things which spend most of the year tucked away in print rooms. This year, the Fondation Custodia triumphs with a real treat of a show.

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Masterpieces of Chinese Painting: 700-1900

Emperor Huizong: Ladies preparing silk

(Victoria & Albert Museum, London, closed on 19 January 2014)

This exhibition was the hit of the autumn in London. Many people told me how wonderful it was, but for various reasons I only managed to get there on the final weekend, when a friend and I realised that we were in danger of missing it altogether. How I wish I’d managed to go a little sooner! It would have been great to read the catalogue and then go back again to savour it all from a more informed perspective. As it was, I was almost completely ignorant of what to expect, and found myself bowled over.

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The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure

Dürer: A Wise Virgin

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 12 January 2013)

In 1490 the nineteen-year-old Albrecht Dürer left his native Nuremberg and set off on his Wanderjahre, effectively the equivalent of an extended gap year for a Renaissance German artist. He had completed his apprenticeship with the painter Michael Wolgemut but, before setting up as a master in his own right, he wanted to spend some time travelling in Germany and studying in artistic centres other than Nuremberg. His trip would turn into a four-year journey, during which he even made a pilgrimage to Colmar in the hope of learning at the feet of his hero Martin Schongauer; only to find that Schongauer had died the previous year.

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Temptations to Devotion

Attributed to Ligozzi: The Body of Christ

Creating the Italian Altarpiece in the Renaissance and Baroque

(Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford, until 14 October 2013)

Since I was in Oxford to see the Ashmolean exhibition, I took the opportunity to pop in to see the current display at Christ Church Picture Gallery. I’m very fond of the gallery because, despite their limited resources, they make a real effort to keep the College’s drawings accessible through a frequently changing programme of displays. The collection isn’t digitised (which is something it would be great to change, if any Oxford students are looking for a bit of volunteering for their CV?), and James Byam Shaw’s famous catalogue doesn’t illustrate all the sheets, so these displays are the only practical way to see the lesser-known drawings.

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Master Drawings

Raphael: Heads of Apostles

(Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 18 August 2013)

The Ashmolean Museum’s collection of Old Master drawings began with a bang in 1843 when the newly-fledged institution managed to acquire a group of Raphael and Michelangelo drawings from the collection of the late Sir Thomas Lawrence. Sheets by Rembrandt, Leonardo and Claude followed in 1855, as part of a bequest from the collector Chambers Hall and further Northern drawings were added in 1863 from the collection of the antiquarian and connoisseur Francis Douce. By having had the good fortune to be founded at a time when it was still possible to purchase great sheets by the Old Masters, the Ashmolean has built up one of the greatest collections of drawings in the country.

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Fantasy and Invention

Vasari: Lorenzo de' Medici

Rosso Fiorentino and Sixteenth-Century Florentine Drawing

(The Morgan Library, New York, until 3 February 2013)

Current service has been temporarily interrupted by a business trip to New York, but even there I did my best to keep up the ‘idle’ spirit. On the afternoon of my arrival, I hotfooted it down Madison Avenue to the Morgan, hoping to keep the jetlag at bay by looking at some wonderful drawings. This January’s crop of exhibitions in New York aren’t as focused on the Old Masters as they were last year, and so the show at the Morgan was the one that bore the brunt of my expectations. I was a little disappointed to find that it took up only one room and there was no catalogue; but, nevertheless, that one room contained some beautiful things, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The purpose of the exhibition was to trace the development of Florentine drawing as it grew out of the Renaissance tradition into the full, eccentric bloom of Mannerism.

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Late Raphael

Raphael: Self Portrait with a friend

(Musée du Louvre, Paris, until 14 January 2013)

The things I do for art! Yesterday I got up horrendously early and went to Paris for the day, to visit the Louvre’s Late Raphael exhibition before it closed (yes, I took the Eurostar from London, went to the Louvre, saw the exhibition and took the train right back home again: there’s something faintly surreal about it). Previously at the Prado, this is the natural successor of the National Gallery’s 2004-5 show Raphael: From Urbino to Rome.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

Leonardo: Study of a skull

(The Queen’s Gallery, London, until 7 October 2012)

We’ve been well and truly spoiled for Leonardo this year and it’s only six months in.  There has been the blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery, the exhibition in Turin at the same time, the Louvre’s show based around The Virgin and Child with St Anne, the touring exhibition of Leonardo’s drawings around Britain in celebration of Prince Charles’s 60th birthday, and now this show of his anatomical drawings at the Queen’s Gallery.

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Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan

Leonardo: Madonna and Child with St Anne

Yesterday morning, at 8:30am, a full hour and a half before the gallery opened, I joined the queue which was already snaking around the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing.  The hype in the press about this exhibition has been cranked up to fever-pitch and all advance tickets have now been sold.  The only way to get in to see it is to queue on a morning in the hope of getting one of 500 tickets released every day.  The anticipation and excitement in the queue were electric, and it was wonderful to be there with people who had gone to such great extremes to get tickets.  One woman had come down from Nottingham and had got up at 3:30am in order to get to London on time to queue.

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