- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

“Six Centuries of Prints and Drawings: Recent Acquisitions,” is the somewhat dry title of the National Gallery of Art’s handsome but uneven and ultimately themeless new exhibit of graphic arts by Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso, among other masters.

Showcasing what he deems the finest 136 works-on-paper from the roughly 5,000 amassed by the museum during the past five years, exhibit curator Andrew Robison has mapped out a short, mostly chronological, journey through the Renaissance and Baroque periods to the 19th and 20th centuries.

Many of the works here provide a revealing window into the religious, philosophical and political spirit of their times. Albrecht Altdorfer’s “Christ Nailed to the Cross,” c. 1512, for example, is infused with the religious passions of the late Gothic-early Renaissance period in Germany. By contrast, Andrea Mantegna’s (or his school’s) engraving after Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s “Battle of Naked Men” (1460s) reflects the Italian Renaissance’s interest in human anatomy.

A varied exhibition like this one lacking a unified theme is always difficult to put together and mount. By organizing the show chronologically, Mr. Robison has succeeded in giving it at least historical coherence.

The curator is justifiably proud of the first “Renaissance” gallery, which is filled with early drawings and prints by both northern Europeans — Altdorfer, Erhard Reuwich (the Housebook Master), Durer and Lucas van Leyden — and southern Europeans Mantegna, Pietro Perugino and Cherubino Alberti .

“Christ Kneeling in Prayer” (1425), drawn by an anonymous German artist, shows Christ’s conflicting emotions as he prays in Gethsemane just before his crucifixion. “It’s the earliest drawing in any collection outside of Europe,” Mr. Robison says.

Progressing to the “Baroque and Rococo” galleries, visitors discover fine impressions of 17th-century etchings by Rembrandt, the transplanted Spaniard Jusepe de Ribera, Claude Lorrain, and by the famous 18th-century etcher Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Mr. Robison next devotes much of the “Nineteenth Century” space to romantic Swiss and German landscapes.

While a superb impression of Picasso’s 1904 “Frugal Repast” leads off the “Twentieth Century” section, the other images by modern masters — Louise Nevelson, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Diebenkorn and Georgia O’Keeffe, among others — are by and large disappointing.

Visitors who want to explore the graphic arts more thoroughly can find the gallery’s entire collection in its Print Study Rooms. Just call 202/842-6380 for an appointment.

WHAT: “Six Centuries of Prints and Drawings: Recent Acquisitions”

WHERE: West Building, National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Sundays. Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Through May 30

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/737-4215

WEB SITE: www.nga.gov

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