Pure Drawing: Seven Centuries of Art from the Gray Collection

Saturday, Jan 25 – Oct 12, 2020

111 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603

Galleries 124–27

One of America’s foremost art dealers, Richard Gray, along with his wife, the art historian Mary L. Gray, amassed over the course of nearly 50 years a remarkable collection of drawings representing 700 years of Western art.

Focusing on key periods and places—15th- to 18th-century Italy, 17th- to 20th-century France, 17th-century Holland, and 20th- and 21st-century America—the Grays sought out works of the highest quality, defined by beauty, visual power, and boldness of execution.

 While the most celebrated names appear throughout their collection—Rubens, Boucher, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Seurat, Van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, de Kooning, and Hockney, among others—the Grays were less interested in celebrity than in greatness, and many of their exceptional drawings bear the names of lesser-known artists. With the addition of works by important Italian Renaissance artists such as Giorgio Vasari, Annibale Carracci, and Livio Orsi, or French artists Nicolas Poussin, Francois Lemoyne, or Charles le Brun, as well as many others less familiar to the public, the collection became a kind of stimulating stroll through a long and distinguished history of art making via one medium: drawing.

A work made of watercolor and touches of opaque watercolor on ivory wove paper.

Untitled, c. 1915

Vasily Kandinsky

Although landscapes, still lifes, and the occasional abstraction are to be found in their collection, including Vassily Kandinsky’s vertiginous Untitled (about 1915) (see previous page), notably filled with recognizable images derived from the natural world, the Grays largely concentrated on one of the great subjects in Western art: the human figure—nude and clothed, still and active, seated, standing, running, reclining, orating, singing, at play and at work, alone and in groups. For the Grays, the endless and myriad attempts by artists across centuries to render the human form, and by doing so to comment upon the human condition, were of profound importance, indeed a kind of humanistic endeavor. This endeavor was that much more effective, the Grays believed, when expressed through the probing medium of drawing, the most immediate, exploratory, and intimate of art forms.

Exhibitions are free with museum admission.


Top Image: Giuseppe Porta,  Bearded Man with his Right Arm Raised, 1562/64