Scottish National Gallery the Mound Drawing Attention Rare Works on Paper 1400-1900



Drawing attention: Rare Works on Paper 1400-1900 is a new exhibition at The Scottish National Gallery at The Mound running from 24 September 2016 to 3 February 2017, and admission is free.  The exhibition covers two rooms and displays some of the rarely displayed drawing from the SNG’s print room, and there are some real treasures here.

There is something about a drawing that somehow brings you closer to the way an artist works than any other media, and somehow closer to their thoughts.  The works on display here cover a 500 year period and it is insightful to see drawings here by some artists that we normally associate far more with grand works in oils.  One such work is a study of the young Prince of Wales who grew up to be King George IV. Wonderful to see here the incredible draughtsmanship of Alan Ramsay on its own without anything else added.

The earliest work here “Christ and St Peter” by Gentile da Fabriano is from the early 1400s and looks as modern and well executed as any of the later works. Hard to believe that you are looking at work put on paper nearly 600 years ago, or that it has even survived the centuries.

“The Muleteer” by Frederick Goodall, a watercolour over pencil from 1866 is the exhibition’s promotional image, but there is just something about the original work on display that the reproduction somehow does not capture – maybe it is that intimacy with the artist that the works in this exhibition give you.

One of my favourite works from this exhibition – “Ivory, Apes and Peacocks” by John Duncan from the 1920s shows the arrival of the Queen of Sheba (oddly depicted here as a white woman) arriving in Jerusalem.  This is a colourful piece of work, so it does stand out more against many of the other works on display.

Colour is also very evident in a large study of three European rock pigeons by the great American naturalist John James.

Edinburgh itself of course is also represented here, and a panoramic view from the South East by Thomas Sandby circa 1745 still provides some recognisable landmarks.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable artists represented in this collection though is German artist Matthias Buchinger (1674 to 1740) who, born without hands or feet, became not only an outstanding artist of his day, but also an expert in the tradition of micrography, an ancient Jewish technique that builds up lines of microscopic text to create images.  The gallery’s rare drawing from 1728 depicts an Anglican altarpiece that incorporates texts of The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and The Creed, all rendered on a scale barely legible to the human eye.

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Review by Tom King


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