Sky Studies: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection to Open at Morgan

  • NEW YORK, New York
  • /
  • April 14, 2014

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Jean-Michel Cels (1819–1894) Cloud Study, ca. 1838–42 Oil on cardboard Thaw Collection, jointly owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library & Museum; gift of Eugene Thaw, 2009.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, the practice of using oil paint on paper while working outdoors became popular among landscape artists. In a treatise offering advice to students of landscape painting, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) advocated that artists start with the sky, which determines the palette of the entire composition, and then complete their sketches swiftly, preferably in less than two hours.
Working quickly to capture changing effects of light, the subtle hues of the atmosphere, and the evanescent shapes of clouds, artists developed and refined their techniques in sky studies. Beginning April 15, the Morgan Library & Museum will explore the work of a number of artists from France, Germany, and Scandinavia active largely in the first half of the nineteenth century. The inaugural exhibition in a planned new series, the show’s fourteen works highlight the innovative approaches employed by artists working in conditions that varied according to time of day, season, and weather conditions. The series will be drawn from the collection of oil sketches acquired by Morgan Trustee Eugene V. Thaw, who is also an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his wife, Clare.
Oil sketches are a fertile field of art historical inquiry. Mostly executed on paper adhered to canvas, they occupy a place between paintings and drawings. Small in scale, oil sketches reveal artistic investigation of form and color and the challenge of capturing the elusiveness of the natural world.  Compositionally, many of the works in Sky Studies reject conventions of the landscape genre—reducing land to a mere strip in the foreground or eliminating it entirely.

Included in the exhibition are works by artists such as Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), Jean-Michel Cels (1819-1894), Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), Jean Charles Joseph Rémond (1795-1875), Johan Thomas Lundbye (1818-1848), Eugène Lous Boudin (1824-1898), and Eugène Isabey (1803-1886), among others.
In 2009, the Thaws gave a collection of more than 130 oil sketches jointly to the Morgan and the Metropolitan Museum. That same year the Morgan mounted an exhibition of work from the collection and held a symposium devoted to new research in the area of oil sketches. It has since published a catalogue of the collection. Sky Studies includes work from the 2009 gift as well as newly acquired pieces.

The Thaws are best known for having built one of the finest collections of drawings in private hands. In 1975, they promised this collection to the Morgan, which is internationally recognized for its holdings in works on paper. In the intervening years, the Morgan has mounted an ongoing series of critically acclaimed exhibitions of work from this collection.
“Gene and Clare Thaw have given generously to the Morgan for more than forty years and we are delighted to present this new exhibition from the Thaw Collection of oil sketches,” said William M. Griswold, Director of the Museum. “These works provide a glimpse into the style and methods of artists who took a new approach to painting outdoors. The compositions and palettes vary widely, yet each work displays a vibrancy that comes from a direct engagement with nature.”

Tags: european art

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