Recent Acquisitions at the Fitz

Phoebe Juggins 29 October 2009

Phoebe Juggins sneaks a peek at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s display of new drawings and prints

The term ‘Recent Acquisitions’ is one which I find generally displeasing. When I enter a gallery I like to think that there is something else throwing the work together, not merely the fact that they all happen to have been purchase or donated at around the same time. However, I was more than willing to put my preconceptions aside and look at the art for its own sake.

Once I had found the exhibition (situated in the Shiba Gallery), I was slightly disappointed that there was no real information about it, other than a tiny, rather uninspiring placard. All of the work was placed in glass cases; this is obviously important to preserve the work but I find it much nicer to be able to get up close, especially with drawings and prints, where you can really see the artists’ marks. But this is just a small criticism, because I was surprised by the high quality and variety of what was on offer.

It felt as though, because the works were mostly small and slightly rough, that I was in the artist’s studio. There were big names such as Picasso, Gauguin, Goya, Hodgkin and Modigliani, which meant it was easy to be quickly impressed. It was fascinating to see early works by these artists, and also to see something more unusual and unknown. The feeling of discovery is abundant in this exhibition.

Most of the cases were selected clearly by theme or just artist, portraits were together, as were black and white works and so forth, but the highlight for me was the ‘sketchbook’ case. This featured three sketchbooks of preliminary or personal drawings by Frank Auerbach, Keith Grant and Gabriel Ferrier. These all showed drawings done in different styles with very different media. From Auerbach’s loose, colourful and free cityscapes of London executed in felt pen and wax crayon, to Grant’s soft pencil drawings of Antarctica and the 1875 sketches based on Italian paintings by Ferrier, a pleasing link was drawn across the work, in a subtle and clever way. The Auerbach work is really impressive, as one can see the definite progression from these quick and expressive drawings to his famous London Building Site paintings.

The most touching and emotional piece, that I feel everyone should pay special attention to is a beautiful (albeit small) Goya etching circa 1810. It is from the Disasters of War series and is entitled Sera Lo Mismo (‘It will be the same’). Neither soldiers nor battles are depicted; instead, the effect of war on civilians is powerfully conveyed. The facial expressions, although monochrome, are powerful and shocking. The title of the piece resonates in today’s world with its current world conflicts raging. It is impossible not to feel for the anonymous individuals in Goya’s dramatic etching.

Recent Acquisitions continues at the Fitzwilliam Museum until 24th Jan 2010.

Phoebe Juggins