The J. Paul Getty Museum is presenting “Finding an Audience: Nineteenth-Century Drawings,” an exhibition that highlights the intended audiences for works on paper produced by 19th-century European artists.
Presenting works from the Getty Museum’s collection by Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt, JMW Turner, and more, the exhibition is on view at the Getty Center from September 26 to January 7, 2024.
Featuring nearly 40 drawings with compelling compositions and often a rich use of color, the exhibition asks visitors to consider: Who originally got to see these extraordinary works of art?
“While many drawings and watercolors were made simply as sketches, this exhibition highlights those produced as finished works of art. Some were intended to impress at an exhibition or to be cherished by collectors, while others were treasures given to friends or family members,” says Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the Getty Museum. “Today’s audiences will no doubt be dazzled by them and intrigued by their stories.”
The exhibition showcases several “exhibition watercolors,” a genre that surged in popularity in the 19th century. Often large and ambitious, these watercolors could hold their own alongside oil paintings. An example is John Martin’s “Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host,” one of his powerful neo-apocalyptic landscapes.
“Exhibition watercolors” are paralleled with works destined for private collectors, including Albert Dubois-Pillet’s The Banks of the Marne at Dawn, which he signed at the lower right, indicating he likely intended to sell it or give it to a collector. The exhibition features a magnified, 10-by-10-foot version of the colorful watercolor, offering a rare opportunity to study Dubois-Pillet’s pointillist technique up close.
One drawing highlighted in the exhibition, “At the Circus: Entering the Ring” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was created for a less obvious reason. Lautrec was suffering from alcoholism and dementia and was admitted to a mental clinic by his mother due to his violent behavior. To prove his stability, he drew a series of circus scenes from memory, resulting in his release, after which he declared “I bought my freedom with my drawings.”
Another French artist, Théodore Géricault, suffered from disease and injuries from repeated horse riding accidents and could no longer create large paintings. To generate an income, he produced watercolors that could easily be sold to collectors, like “The Giaour,” which depicts the hero of an epic poem by Lord Byron and is included in the exhibition.
Two vibrant watercolors of birds by British artist Sarah Stone, “Cock of the Rock” (shown at top) and “Indian Roller,” also shine in the exhibition. Stone was a self-taught artist and successfully sold many such works to a small group of private patrons.
“Finding an Audience: Nineteenth-Century Drawings” is curated by Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the Getty Museum.