Under Cover: Artists' Sketchbooks at Fogg

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Under Cover: Artists' Sketchbooks at Fogg
George Grosz (American, 1893–1959), Dead Mouse in a Trap ("Sketchbook: Manhattan Skyline and Mice," page 17), 1950. Graphite on off-white wove paper, 23.3 x 15.3 cm. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums. Anonymous gift in gratitude for the friendship and kindness of Dean Wilbur Joseph Bender, 1955.95.17. Photo: Allan Macintyre © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- Under Cover: Artists’ Sketchbooks, an exhibition of over 70 sketchbooks and 45 drawings that were originally part of sketchbooks, will be on display at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum through October 22, 2006. The exhibition will feature works from the Fogg collection of nearly 150 sketchbooks, ranging in date from the eighteenth century to the 1990s. Intact sketchbooks from this remarkable collection will be displayed by means of a single opening of each, including those by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jacques-Louis David, Sanford Gifford, Edward Burne-Jones, John Singer Sargent, Henri-Edmond Cross, Reginald Marsh, George Grosz, and Christopher Wilmarth. Also on view will be drawings that were removed from sketchbooks before they were acquired by the Fogg by artists such as John Constable, Paul Cézanne, Henry Moore, and Brice Marden, as well as sketchbooks and drawings on loan from Harvard’s Houghton Library and Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The exhibition was organized by Miriam Stewart, Assistant Curator in the Department of Drawings. “It’s almost as if we’re catching the artist unaware,” said Stewart. “In many cases, these sketchbooks resemble a diary. One can follow the artists on their travels or trace the progression of an idea. While the sketchbooks range in date, their use has remained surprisingly unchanged. Artists from all eras have confided their travel sketches, figure studies, and notes of every kind to their sketchbooks.”

Designed to be easily portable, sketchbooks are often kept in artists’ pockets and many reflect that in the permanent curvature of their covers. These distinctive characteristics, along with the nature of the drawings themselves, document an unusually personal view of the artist at work. The drawings and notes in these sketchbooks vary from nature and figure studies, to travel sketches, copies after old masters, expense accounts, and lists of pictures. Some sketchbooks are self-conscious and conceived as a whole, with every page signed, while others are more spontaneous and filled with a random assortment of hastily drawn sketches and doodles.

Intact sketchbooks are uncommon, as over the years the majority of them have been disbound and sold as individual sheets. Many of the sketchbooks in the Fogg collection may not be loaned or made available for study due to their fragility. Under Cover: Artists’ Sketchbooks gives visitors, students, and scholars an opportunity to see a selection of these unique works that are not often put on view.

“Sketchbooks have rarely been the sole subject of an exhibition, and ours have never been exhibited together,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “The Fogg has an important collection of sketchbooks that has been built over the past century, and we think audiences will find them fascinating. Much time has been devoted to the proper cataloguing and conservation of these works that play such a significant role in teaching, particularly in relation to artists’ working methods and investigations into artistic process.”

The exhibition comes on the heels of an extensive five-year cataloguing project in the Department of Drawings. Most of the sketchbooks in the Fogg collection have been carefully catalogued in the Harvard University Art Museums' collections management database, including detailed descriptions of every page and any relevant research on the role of the sketchbook in the artist’s career. Some of the larger sketchbooks have over 50 pages, and others contain numerous tangential items such as photos or notes, making the cataloguing process a time-consuming but important project.

Notable Works
The exhibition includes several outstanding sketchbooks, including Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Sketchbook from the First Italian Period (c. 1756–61), Jacques-Louis David’s two sketchbooks for The Coronation of Napoleon (1805–6), George Grosz’s Sketchbook: Manhattan Skyline and Mice (1950-51), and a selection of sketchbooks by Edward Burne-Jones, Sanford Gifford, and John Singer Sargent. Also featured are exceptional "orphans," drawings formerly part of sketchbooks, including Jan van Goyen’s Three Studies of a Cow and Landscape with Cottages and Figures (c. 1650), John Constable’s Warwick from Priory Park (1809), Edouard Manet’s Study for “Interior at Arcachon” (1871), Paul Cézanne’s Corner of the Studio and Portrait of a Man (Emile Zola?) (c. 1877–84), Brice Marden’s Untitled Work Book Drawings (1983–84), Henry Moore’s Ideas for Sculpture (1940), and several pages from a disbound sketchbook by David Smith, including studies for sculptures Pillar of Sunday, The Billiard Player, and Home of the Welder (1945).

The exhibition will be further enhanced by an interactive website that will focus on about ten sketchbooks, allowing users to scroll through images of every page along with accompanying text. The website can be found at: www.artmuseums.harvard.edu/sketchbooks.

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