These delicate works on paper illustrate the wealth of drama inherent in prints and drawings especially drawings. Drawings pull us closer, our breath touching the glass as we strain to feel the artist's hand in the line on the paper. That is the pleasure and the satisfaction of drawings.
William Blake's "Let Loose the Dogs of War" (1795) is an apocalyptic piece in which Death, in a heroic pose, stands sentinel, wielding a sword over a dog mauling a human. Drawn as grim book illustration (as many of Blake's works were), it packs a theatrical punch. In another early work, Théodore Géricault's "Study of a Male Nude With a Rearing Horse" (1817) depicts a beautifully rendered male nude, whose horse Géricault merely suggests. Though it's a study rather than a finished work, the drawing feels whole because of Géricault's ability to strike an active and spectacular scene with only a few lines.
It's uncanny how work from the 19th and early 20th centuries can seem so contemporary. Austrian Egon Schiele has always been an artist whose tense, tight and hard-edged drawings feel right here and now. His work is usually aggressive and confrontationally sexual, so it's not that surprising to learn of his 1912 imprisonment for "obscenity" whatever that might have meant then. Drawn that same year, his jagged "Nude" is essential Schiele, direct and jarring. Drawn in crayon with heavy, hard lines, the woman has a deliberate sexuality a dark scrabble of pubic hair charges the body that contrasts with the soft sensuality of Edgar Degas' similarly modern work.
Degas provides the exciting zenith of the exhibition with his spectacularly modern "Standing Male Nude," a two-sided drawing framed to allow us to see both sides. Done during his 1856-58 stay in Rome, the red-chalk drawing eagerly conveys the sensual male body. Degas drew his subject with a soft, frugal hand, simply and with graceful minimalist lines. The figure stands informally, his hands resting casually above his head, his elbows out, displaying his body as open and vulnerable to our gaze which he meets. His face flickers with immediacy because Degas drew it with loving and intimate clarity. This direct exchange of gazes makes the drawing feel modern, immediate, as if 200 years simply have not passed.