Ackland Art Museum to feature French drawings from 1770 – 1830 in a new Exhibition

”Seated Male Nude,” Jean-Francois-Peyron, 1780. Black chalk on off-white laid paper from the Horvitz Collection, Wilmington.


By Michelle Cassell
Assignment Editor

CHAPEL HILL — The Ackland Art Museum will present over 80 drawings from a renowned private French art collection spanning the reigns of Louis XVI to Louis XVIII’s beginning July 21.

Reform to Restoration: French Drawings from Louis XVI to Louis XVII” is curated by Dana Cowen, who took the  museum’s exhibition “Drawn to Life: Master Drawings from the Age of Rembrandt from the Peck Collection” to Amsterdam in March.

“Jeffrey Horvitz and his wife Carol have an amazing art collection,” Cowen said. “He has amassed the most important private collection of French art in the United States. Our exhibition features works by well-known artists such as Jacques -Louis David, Jean- August-Dominique Ingres, and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, as well as other talented artists that are not as widely known today.”

This is the third show the Ackland has drawn from the Horvitz collections.. The museum has also received several gifts from the collectors over the years, including several examples of contemporary Japanese ceramics, which are a particular collecting interest of Carol Horvitz.

The drawings in this exhibition provide a glimpse into the artistic expression and cultural milieu through the French Revolution and the restoration of the monarchy. The works reflect the aesthetic sensibilities and changing socio-political landscapes during this turbulent period.

According to Cowen’s synopsis, artists at that time looked to the art, architecture and literature of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration in order to express their moral and civic values. They used their current unsettling events, history and mythology to express their moral and civic values.

Drawings will be arranged in thematic groupings devoted to themes of patriotism, love, honor, conflict and despair.

“The drawings provide a deep insight into the spirit and imagination, emotions and expressions of the French artists and people during this time period in history,” Cowen said.

The historical documentation of the art during this era began with the reign of Louis XVI and evolved into the reign of Louis XVIII. French artists gradually shifted from the opulent Rococo style to the more restrained Neoclassical movement.

Cowen explained that many of the drawings that encompass historical and moral themes, such as democracy, personal freedom, and the power of knowledge that stemmed from themes dominant from the Age of Enlightenment and precipitated and led to artists featured in the exhibit like Jacques-Louis David.

The art during this period conveyed virtue and civic duty, eventually evolving into political illustrations and depictions of the struggle for justice during the French Revolution from 1798 to 1799. Others touch on themes of love, sacrifice, conflict, and loss

Finally, the Romanticism movement is represented in the drawings. From the late Rococo period to the Enlightenment to the Revolution, and the return of the Bourbon monarchy to the advent of Romanticism, these drawings embody their time, spirit, aspirations, and struggles, Cowen explained.

The show is organized thematically, not in a linear fashion, because the overarching theme of Neoclassicism coexisted with Romanticism later in the eighteenth century, Cowen explained.

“You will see a mix of linear, very clear compositions alongside works that represent emotion, drama, and imagination, but at the same time, there are elements of Romanticism that are prevalent and emerging simultaneously,” she said.

Neoclassicism is very staid, very clear, very much like Greek and Roman sculpture. And then Romanticism is all about emotion, drama and imagination. There are elements of both in each category, Cowen said.

The works document the cultural as well as political transitions that France underwent during this period. Cowen said the drawings continue to captivate art enthusiasts, providing a unique window into the styles, themes, and techniques of French artists of that era.

The program exhibition’s programs will include live French musical performances by the UNC Baroque Ensemble. There will be a number of curator tours and programs for families and a number of interpretive tools, such as a guide about drawing tools. Exact dates will be announced soon.

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2 Comments on "Ackland Art Museum to feature French drawings from 1770 – 1830 in a new Exhibition"

  1. Robert M. Lewis | July 6, 2023 at 11:08 pm | Reply

    Wonderful article on the upcoming drawing exhibit at the Ackland! Just a simple mistake at the beginning of one paragraph..see below

    Neoclassicism is very stayed (believe the word is “staid” in this context), very clear, very much like Greek and Roman sculpture.

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