Master drawings from the collection of Horace Wood Brock

Other animal drawings by various hands in the Brock Collection include the one in Figure 11. Contemporary with Tiepolo’s monkeys, this wash drawing by the French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze shows an infant tenderly embracing a large dog, a traditional symbol of fidelity. The artist used this image as a moralizing footnote in his drawing The Reconciliation of about 1785(Phoenix Art Museum), one of his complicated family dramas with a multitude of melodramatically gesticulating figures.

A number of works in the Brock Collection—Tiepolo’s Resurrection of Christ is but one—are characterized by unusually dramatic uses of light. These generally date from the late eighteenth century, a period when artists of the emerging romantic movement favored mysterious nocturnal moods accompanied by sublime or magical lighting effects. The Genoese artist Giovanni David’s Nightmare (Fig. 2), a macabre gothic thriller illuminated by flickering brazier light—in which a terrified young woman is threatened with death and damnation by the Fates, the Furies, and the denizens of Hell—is a splendid example of such imaginative illumination.  

Like Tiepolo’s New Testament drawings, works in the collection by the eighteenth-century French artists Jean-Baptiste Oudry and Jean-Honoré Fragonard are also from extended series of illustrations. Five of Brock’s eight drawings by Oudry, an animal and still-life painter, are illustrations to the cynical fables of the seventeenth-century author Jean de La Fontaine (see Fig. 6). Executed with brush and black, gray, and white wash on blue paper, the drawings, which date from the 1730s, were translated into black-and-white engravings and published in a luxurious edition in Paris between 1755 and 1759. Numbering 275 sheets, they were originally preserved in bound albums that were only broken up in 1970. Thus the blue paper, so essential to the decorative impact of these lively illustrations, is in pristine condition.

As a painter of animals, Oudry was obviously drawn to La Fontaine’s moralizing fables because so many of the principal actors are animals, as in The Rat and the Elephant (Fig. 6). The rat is distinctly unimpressed with the great bulk and ponderous pace of the sultan’s elephant until the claws and jaws of the sultan’s pouncing cat convince him otherwise. 

Fragonard produced in the 1780s a series of more than 175 drawings illustrating Orlando Furioso (Roland Enraged), the epic poem set in the crusades at the time of Charlemagne (r. 768–814) written by the sixteenth-century Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533). In the sheet in Figure 9, we see the knight Ruggiero seeking the beautiful Angelica, who has eluded his amorous advances. The most notable aspect of these illustrations is the remarkable openness and scribbling freedom with which the strokes of chalk and ink wash intertwine. Ruggiero’s impetuous movement is echoed in the furious energy of the artist’s marks. Imaginative suggestion triumphs over detail, encouraging the viewer to participate in the final creation of the image.

Studies of the human figure are also prominent in Brock’s collection of drawings. A number of these are studies or “academies” of single models posing. Historically, drawing from nude models has been an integral part of the young artist’s training, but mature artists have also posed models to better study the actions of single figures in multi-figure compositions. A model study in chalk and charcoal by the eighteenth-century Bolognese artist Francesco Monti is a fine example of the latter type (Fig. 8). Poles, as here, or slings of cord were often used to enable the model to hold a difficult pose over extended periods of time. 

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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