The Huntington | ‘100 Great British Drawings’ is a must-see exhibition | South Pasadenan

PHOTO: Tina Kistinger | South News | “100 Great British Cartoons” at the Huntington

The Huntington is an essential cultural destination for young and old, locals and tourists. For younger generations, this is the cool place where you can see and feel the distinct aroma of the blooming Corpse Flower. For older generations, it is synonymous with famous works of art – Pinkie and Blue Boy – and magnificent collections of rare books and manuscripts.

For this author, visit The Huntington is to see one of the most important collections of British art outside the UK. From grand manner paintings to silverware to graphic art, the collection is renowned for its breadth. But his vast collection of drawings from the 17e until the middle of the 20e century.

“100 Great British Drawings” is a major exhibition that traces the practice of drawing by highlighting rare treasures from the collection. The Huntington is the only venue for this exhibition.

PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens | Thomas Rowlandson (1756 or 1757–1827), A French frigate towing an English man-of-war into harbour, ca. 1790

“Drawing is the most spontaneous and intimate form of art, revealing the thoughts and mood of the artist through the stroke of a pen or the touch of a brush in watercolor”, has said Melinda McCurdy, curator of British art, curator of the exhibition, and author of the catalogue. “It is a practice particularly associated with British artists, whose serious engagement with the medium is evident in the works we highlight in this exhibition.”

Organized chronologically as well as by theme, this exhibition explores portraiture, historical subjects, landscape, still life, botanical illustration and caricature. These works represent a full range of styles, some lesser known than others, including rapid pencil sketches, fluid pen and ink studies, and highly refined watercolours.

When you enter the gallery, it’s like stepping into a watercolor painting. The walls are bathed in soothing purples and blues, allowing the designs to pop off the walls to grab your attention.

PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens | Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, ca. 1825-1836

Many of the works on display feature watercolours, which allow artists to create ethereal, luminous effects well-suited to capturing the hazy English climate. JMW Turner was a master of these atmospheric effects in both oil and watercolour, which is evident in Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey. This masterpiece has layers of color washes to create a soft haze that obscures objects blending the line between sea and land.

PHOTO: The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens | Matilda Conyers (c. 1698–1793), Wallflower and Tulip, 1767

All of the famous British artists we know and love have their place in this exhibition, but it’s the lesser-known artists that will intrigue you for further study. For example, the beautiful illustration titled Wallflower and Tulip by Mathilde Conyers. The rendered details bring the flowers to life as if they are currently in your hands to hold and admire.

With this exhibition spanning over 300 years of drawings, it should come as no surprise that there aren’t all pretty landscapes on display. Artists live life like all of us and their art is a reflection of life. The Industrial Revolution, World War I, and art styles such as Abstraction, French Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism are all represented in this exhibit.

For all lovers of British art or history, this exhibition is a must. For those who study art, this exhibition is a master class in drawing. The opportunity to view these rarely seen masterpieces in an intimate setting is priceless.

As Ann Bermingham, professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concludes in her essay for the catalog of the exhibition: “If Huntington’s drawings speak to us across the distances of time and space, it is because they still hold in their linear understanding the thrill and promise of endless creativity.

James C. Tibbs