Three centuries of drawings

Flinner Gallery show covers 300 years


August 04, 2005|By Glen McNatt | Glen McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Legend has it that as a young shepherd boy Giotto amused himself by drawing images of his flock in the sand using a long, pointed stick.

One day, the artist Cimabue passed by and noticed the boy's extraordinary talent for likenesses.

Cimabue got permission to take the youngster on as his apprentice and taught him everything he knew.

And that, so the story goes, is how the first great painter of the Renaissance got his start.

This perhaps apocryphal tale, first related by Vasari in the 16th century, 200 years after Giotto's death, has nevertheless been passed down through the generations as an example of the supreme importance of what the Italians called disegno, or drawing.

Until quite recently, the precise coordination of hand and eye that lies at the heart of the drawing process was an essential skill for any aspiring young artist.

Now examples from three centuries of that noble tradition are on display in a delightful, small-scale exhibition at Craig Flinner Gallery. The show, 300 Years of Master Drawings 1650-1950, includes works by artists ranging from Pietro da Cortona to Thomas Couture, Thomas Gainsborough to Raoul Dufy and Reginald Marsh.

Drawings have long been coveted by connoisseurs, both for their uniqueness, which makes them somewhat comparable to paintings, and for their rigorous economy of means, which in good drawing can result in marvelously concentrated expressiveness.

Drawings are artworks to be savored most deliciously during moments of private contemplation, when they can reveal an artist's innermost thoughts, as well as his most exuberant flights of fancy.

Their physical fragility only adds to their aura of a highly personal form of communication.

The Flinner show has about 50 drawings, including an exquisite watercolor landscape by Gainsborough, priced from about $1,000 to the tens of thousands.

But you don't necessarily have to own any drawing to enjoy and appreciate its magical, poetic qualities; even when you're on a budget, a few minutes of leisurely, careful looking can be reward enough for those with eyes to see.

The gallery is at 505 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Call 410-727-1863.

For more art events, see Page 35.

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