The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is exhibiting some forty British drawings from its permanent collection in its Graphic Arts Centre. It includes works by Beerbohm, Burne-Jones, Chadwick, Cotman, Cox, Flaxman, Gainsborough, Gilpin, Moore, Mortimer, Nash, Nicholson, Richardson, Romney, Rowlandson, Ruskin, Sandby and Solomon, as well as a magnificent monumental watercolour by Turner.

It is also be an opportunity to see the Museum’s most recent acquisitions, dating from the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.

Since works on paper are fragile and their exposure to light must be limited, this is one of the few times visitors will be able to view this prestigious collection of works.

The variety of styles and subjects reflect British art and culture from the mid-eighteenth to the late twentieth century. While landscapes understandably dominate the exhibition, portraits, figure studies, genre scenes, caricatures and religious subjects are also presented.

Here is an overview of the MMFA’s recent acquisitions:

Oedipus and his Daughters by John Flaxman

One of the most influential artists of the neoclassical movement, John Flaxman was the most famous sculptor in England during his lifetime, with monuments in Saint Paul’s and Westminster Abbey and throughout the kingdom. By the early nineteenth century, Flaxman’s designs had become standard illustrations, even in English schoolbooks. The outline style of his sheets influenced artists across Europe, including Blake (a close friend since his youth with whom he shared unorthodox but profound spiritual yearnings), Géricault, Goya and the young Ingres, as well as German artists Runge and Overbeck. His work even inspired artists like Picasso and Matisse over a century later. Our drawing illustrates Oedipus at Colonus, the second play in Sophocles’s Oedipal trilogy. Oedipus is seated at centre, rejected by the men of the village of Colonus over his tragic, unwitting marriage to his own mother, Jocasta, who hanged herself upon realizing the truth. Having blinded himself, Oedipus sits with his two devoted daughters, Ismene and Antigone.

John Flaxman (1755-1826), Oedipus and His Daughters (detail), about 1803, pen and ink, ink wash. 18.6 x 24.6 cm. MMFA, gift of Susan Watterson. Photo MMFA

Portrait of a Gentleman by Arthur Pond

After initially training with the portrait painter John Vanderbank in London, Arthur Pond travelled to Rome in 1725, returning to London via Paris in 1727. By about 1735-1736, he had established a successful practice in pastel and oil portraiture. He further supplemented his income as an active and respected art dealer and expert in Rembrandt prints. Ultimately, he built a highly influential reputation as a connoisseur. While Pond’s works lack the finesse of his finer continental contemporaries, the freshness and directness of his portraiture is notable and even arresting when at his best, as in this finely preserved pastel. It is thanks to Neil Jeffares, the foremost expert on British eighteenth-century pastels, a fellow at the Tate Gallery and the author of the scholarly Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, that the attribution of our pastel was confirmed. This pastel is a remarkably important acquisition for the Museum, as it is the first eighteenth-century British pastel to enter the collection.

Arthur Pond (1701-1758), Portrait of a Gentleman (detail), about 1740, pastel and gouache on paper mounted on canvas. 58.5 x 45.9 cm. MMFA, gift of Dr. Paul D. Leblanc. Photo MMFA

Luisa Strozzi by Marie Spartali Stillman

This magnificent drawing by the British Pre-Raphaelite artist Marie Spartali Stillman was donated to the Museum by Henry B. Yates, grandson of Edward Maxwell, one of the architects of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion. Marie Spartali was born in Middlesex (England) in 1844, into a family whose social circle included James McNeil Whistler and Julia Margaret Cameron. A Pre-Raphaelite beauty, she was known first as a model – sitting for Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It is only recently that the scope of her artistic output has come to light (the first monograph exhibition of the artist will be presented this year in the United States and England). This drawing is inspired by the city of Florence, where the artist lived in the early 1880s with her husband, the American journalist William J. Stillman. A young woman with loosely styled red hair tied with a flower, echoing the bouquet of roses she holds in one hand, draws open a purple curtain, revealing a stone courtyard behind her. Careful attention is paid to textures throughout, from the delicate, translucent lace at the edge of the cuffs of the fanciful gown to the folds of the velvet curtain. The artist achieves this great subtlety by a using a very fine technique of interweaving short, delicate brushstrokes of gouache and watercolour, a medium considered at the time to be more appropriate for her gender than oils. The work was presented under the title Luisa Strozzi at the exhibition presented in London on 1884 by the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.

Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927), Luisa Strozzi (detail), 1884, watercolour, gouache, gum arabic, gold, graphite. 78.8 x 61.1 cm. MMFA, promised gift of Henry B. Yates in memory of Edward Maxwell (1867-1923). Photo MMFA

Credits :

1 – Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) Wooded Landscape with Distant House. Early 1780s. Black, white and red chalk. 24.9 x 31.3 cm. MMFA, purchase, anonymous fund

2 – Henry Charles Fox (1860-about 1925) At Oatlands in Surrey, 1882. Watercolour, gouache. 27.6 x 38.6 cm. MMFA, John W. Tempest Bequest

3 – Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) South View of the Gothic Abbey, Evening, under Construction at Fonthill. About 1800. Watercolour over traces of graphite. 70.8 x 104.2 cm. MMFA, purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest