- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

“Oohs” and “ahs” greet the 116-image National Gallery of Art’s “Touch of the Artist: Master Drawings From the Woodner Collections,” a new take on the late Ian Woodner’s famed collections.

This exhibit is a special treat even though museums such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles’ Getty Museum, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum, Madrid’s El Prado Museum and Vienna’s Albertina as well as the National Gallery have previously displayed other segments.

A celebration of the arrival of the gift to the National Gallery by Mr. Woodner’s daughters Dian and Andrea Woodner, the show marks the 15th anniversary of the extraordinary donation.

It’s also an honoring of Ian Woodner (1903-1990), born Israel Woodner-Silverman to a dirt-poor Polish immigrant family of eight in New York City. His mother, Eva Woodner, was the driving force of the family — perhaps because, as scholar Noel Annesley writes in the exhibit catalog, she was “possibly toughened by the experience at age three of seeing her own mother killed by a Russian soldier.”

The family subsequently moved to Minneapolis, where the future collector sold newspapers, shined shoes and sold bruised fruit.

A brilliant student, he graduated first in his class at the School of Architecture of the University of Minnesota, worked with the prominent architect John Russell Pope on the design of the Roosevelt Memorial, studied at Harvard University, helped design the zoo in New York’s Central Park and worked as a designer at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

He later became a bicoastal real estate developer but always considered architecture his first love.

Where else at this moment can you see four drawings by Raphael; two by Albrecht Durer; four by Leonardo da Vinci; sculptor Benvenuto Cellini’s powerfully drawn red-chalk male “Satyr”; and a page from the “Libro de’ Disegni” with drawings by Filippino Lippi, Sandro Botticelli and Raffaellino del Garbo? The page is part of the legendary book put together by Giorgio Vasari, one of the Western world’s first systematic private collectors.

Where else can visitors see not only major drawings from 1340 to the 17th century but also first-class examples of 17th- and 18th-century greats such as Rembrandt van Rijn — who literally “drew” with light in the landscapes shown here — and the comparably light-filled brown penned- and washed-works by the 18th-century Italian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo?

The last room, with the latest and most painterly of these drawings, gives us a strangely beautiful “Cactus Man” portrait by Odilon Redon and Francisco Goya’s grotesque “Mascaras Crueles (Cruel Masks).” They’re actually linearly conceived works on paper, as they are described by Margaret Morgan Grasselli, exhibit curator and National Galley curator of drawings.

The exhibit cools down a bit with Edgar Degas’ lively “Spanish Dancers and Musicians,” three exquisitely rendered Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ portraits and Pablo Picasso’s moving Blue Period “Head of a Woman.”

Moreover, Andrew Robison, the National Gallery’s Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator, clearly enjoys reminiscing about Mr. Woodner’s determined collecting escapades.

In an interview, Mr. Robison says, “Woodner collected like a drunken sailor when he wanted something.”

Hence his coup in outbidding the Getty Museum for the Vasari “Page.” He paid $4.5 million dollars for it in 1994. In today’s market, it would cost him almost twice as much.

“It was the crown jewel of his collection,” the curator exults, “and we got it.”

WHAT: “The Touch of the Artist: Master Drawings From the Woodner Collections”

WHERE: National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street at Constitution Avenue Northwest

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 1

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/842-6176

ONLINE: www.nga.gov


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