A New Show at the Royal Academy Celebrates Rarely Seen Impressionist Drawings, Including a Recovered Van Gogh

See works on paper from the likes of Degas, Monet and Cézanne.

Edgar Degas, Dancers on a Bench (c. 1898). Photo: © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

It is little wonder that an art movement like Impressionism, popular for capturing the elusive immediacy of everyday life, would be drawn to drawing. Works on paper, historically relegated to the status of a preparatory sketch, soon became masterpieces in their own right. Emancipated from the formal rigor and slick stylisations of Rococo and Neoclassicist painting, the Impressionists were able to reveal something that felt much truer to real life. The course of modern art would never turn back.

A new show at the Royal Academy in London brings together 77 drawings in pastel, charcoal and watercolor by Impressionists like Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, and Augustus Renoir, as well as prominent post-Impressionists like Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Georges Seurat. Many of these works are rarely exhibited in public because they are privately owned and their fragile materials can be vulnerable to the damaging effects of daylight.

One highlight of the show, Van Gogh’s The Fortifications of Paris with Houses (1887), was nearly lost forever after it was stolen from Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in 2003. The watercolor sketch and two other works by Gauguin and Picasso were miraculously recovered a day later, stashed by a public bathroom on the edge of Whitworth Park some 200 yards away. Having been removed from its frame and exposed to the elements on a particularly cold and damp day, the Van Gogh showed some signs of damage including a 5 inch tear on one side that has since been repaired. It was found with a smudged note stating: “The intention was not to steal. Only to highlight the woeful security.”

The avant-garde compositions on view see their authors experiment with unusual vantage points, emotional expression, and greater spontaneity to create intimate figure studies, lively vignettes, and sensitive landscapes that capture something of nature’s ephemerality. These unrehearsed and unrestricted discoveries made on paper would go on to inform some of the best-loved canvases of the late 19th century and beyond.

Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” runs through March 10, 2024. Check out more works from the show below.

Vincent van Gogh, The Fortifications of Paris with Houses (1887).

Vincent van Gogh, The Fortifications of Paris with Houses (1887). Photo: Michael Pollard, © The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

Odilon Redon, Ophelia Among the Flowers (c. 1905-08).

Odilon Redon, Ophelia Among the Flowers (c. 1905-08). Photo: © The National Gallery, London.

Installation view of “Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, showing Edgar Degas, Dancer Seen from Behind (c. 1873). Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry. Artwork: The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

Mary Cassatt, Portrait de Marie-Thérèse Gaillard (1894).

Mary Cassatt, Portrait de Marie-Thérèse Gaillard (1894). Photo: © 2007 Christie’s Images Limited.

Installation view of “Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, showing Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself (c.1890-95). Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry. Artwork: The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

Georges Seurat, Seated Youth, Study for "Bathers at Asnières" (1883)

Georges Seurat, Seated Youth, Study for “Bathers at Asnières” (1883). Photo courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Circus: The Encore (1899).

Installation view of "Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec," at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 25 November 2023 – 10 March 2024, showing Camille Pissarro, The Market Stall (1884). Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry.

Installation view of “Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, showing Camille Pissarro, The Market Stall (1884). Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry. Artwork: The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

Installation view of "Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec" at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 25 November 2023 – 10 March 2024. Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry.

Installation view of “Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo: Royal Academy of Arts, London / David Parry.

 

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