A review by Guest Reviewer

Fernand Léger (1881–1955) Mother and Child (Mère et Enfant) c. 1949 Gouache, 58.5 x 50 cm Private Collection. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016



“The Ashmolean Museum’s splendid new exhibition, Degas to Picasso: Creating Modernism in France offers considerably more than some of its visitors may be expecting.  If they are counting on seeing a tasteful selection of highly finished canvases from the masters of Impressionism and Cubism they may be initially disappointed, for there are comparatively few on these walls, but they will be richly rewarded in other ways, particularly if they can afford the handsome catalogue at £25.  This will reveal that the works on display here are the fruit of over 60 years of shrewd collecting by the American dealers, Ursula and R.Stanley Johnson. Commenced in the late ‘50s when they were students together, huddling in a Parisian garret, their purchases necessarily began with unconsidered trifles – tentative sketches, discarded drafts and, above all, drawings of all kinds.  And, what riches they have found across 250 years of French art – from Fragonard (born 1732) to André-Aimé-René Masson (died 1987)!   An exquisite drawing by J-B. Isabey (1767-1853) was acquired as recently as 2015, for this exhibition records a lifelong devotion to a well-informed connoisseurship, highly respected in the professional collecting world.

Thus, the real rewards of Degas to Picasso will come, not from a pedantic lesson in French painting between the 1880s and 1960s, but from  astonishingly revealing glimpses of artistry in gestation – such as Picasso’s first sketches for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and similar preliminary essays by Cezanne,  Renoir, Degas, Matisse and many others.  Works on paper may not be highly regarded but, as the Johnsons have proved, they are vibrant with creativity. “

  1. Exhibition: DEGAS TO PICASSO Creating Modernism in France Dates: 10 February–7 May 2017
  2.  Venue: The John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries
  3. Tickets: £10/£9 concessions
  4. Publication: a fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition with essays by Colin Harrison, Jon Whiteley and others accompanies the exhibition. £25 available at the Museum and online at www.ashmolean.org/shop
  5. The exhibition is supported by the Patrons and Friends of the Ashmolean.

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