More than 100 drawings and sketchbooks are on display at the Portland Museum of Art. On view now through April 27, “Fine Lines: American Drawings from the Brooklyn Museum” features works from the late 18th to the mid-20th century.
Organized by theme, the exhibition takes viewers on a journey through various media and styles. The museum also provides magnifying glasses, available in handy caddies throughout the exhibition area, which is a great idea. There is so much fine detail in these drawings and the magnifying glasses allow you to get an intimate look at the art. It is such a wonderful experience to see up close not only the texture of the paper, but the evidence of an artist’s hand on a work.
Two crisply drawn portraits by Charles de Saint Memin were created using a mechanical device called a physiognotrace, which allowed the artist to precisely trace his subjects’ silhouettes. He later added the details that make the portraits come to life.
I loved the contrast of styles, techniques, and media throughout. For example, Charles Sprague Pearce’s “Study for the Beheading of St. John the Baptist” is an expressive charcoal on richly textured paper, whereas Elie Nadelman’s “Head” is a very minimalist graphite drawing on extremely smooth paper.
The drawings on display also reveal cultural modes and attitudes of the time in which they were created.
Louis Bouche’s portrait “The Three Sisters” depict Florine, Carrie, and Ettie Stettheimer in their fashionable New York City apartment. Their salon was frequented by avant garde artists of the day, including Bouche himself, Marcel Duchamp, and others. The cubist drawing fills the picture plane and conveys a sense of richness.
Charles Dana Gibson’s beautiful “Young Woman Struck with Cupid’s Arrows” and J. Carroll Beckwith’s 1890s portrait of Minnie Clark both portray the “Gibson Girl” ideal of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Gibson Girl was society’s idea of the perfect woman, with soft, rounded features, full lips, and rosy cheeks.
There is a great selection of nudes, including Gaston Lachaise’s voluptuous composition of a woman’s body. I think nudes are very well suited to the medium, as they are all about form, line, and shape.
Some of the drawings here are very quick sketches, like Louise Nevelson’s “Untitled (Standing Female Nude),” torn from a spiral notebook. Others are fully fleshed out, elaborate compositions, such as William J. Glackens’ “Merry Christmas (Yuletide Revels).” This drawing is filled with funny vignettes. It really tells a story, and it’s fun to discover all of the little moments of mischief and mayhem.
Since drawing materials are so portable, they are ideal for bringing along for plein air drawing expeditions. The landscapes and natural scenes on display illustrate how easily drawings can capture those fleeting moments – the changes in light and the sense of atmosphere outside.