Pierre-Jean Mariette and the Art of Collecting Drawings

Art dealer, collector, art historian, and connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694–1774) was widely revered in his time for the breadth of his knowledge, particularly in the field of drawings. He believed that drawings—to a greater extent than paintings— revealed an artist’s true spirit and their careful study and analysis were therefore indispensable to an accurate history of art.

Mariette assembled one of the finest and most renowned drawings collections. Comprising over nine thousand sheets, the collection was dispersed at auction in 1775, and the drawings are now found all over the world. The selection shown here, drawn primarily from the Morgan’s holdings, speaks to Mariette’s discerning taste and erudition.

The characteristic blue mounts that Mariette devised for his drawings attest to the great care he took in displaying each sheet. While these mounts have always been celebrated for their elegance and refinement, museums often conceal them under neutral, modern mats. The works in this exhibition have been framed in accordance with Mariette’s original presentation.

Examination reveals that Mariette often restored drawings— even from fragments—to render appealing and clearly legible compositions. Although by today’s standards the practice of cutting, pasting, and retouching old master drawings is unorthodox, such interventions were an essential part of Mariette’s art of collecting.

This online exhibition was created in conjunction with the exhibition Pierre-Jean Mariette and the Art of Collecting Drawings, on view January 22 through May 1, 2016 and organized by Giada Damen, Moore Curatorial Fellow.

This exhibition builds on the recent research into Mariette as a collector undertaken by Pierre Rosenberg de l’Académie française and the Association Mariette, Paris; Kristel Smentek, Associate Professor of Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; and the Société Frits Lugt pour l’Étude des Marques de Collections, Fondation Custodia, Paris.

This exhibition is a program of the Drawing Institute at the Morgan Library & Museum. Additional support is provided by Lowell Libson, Ltd.

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One of the most dramatic interventions performed by Mariette on drawings in his collection was the splitting of a single sheet of paper to separate the recto and the verso of double-sided drawings.

To gain a better understanding of how Mariette split his drawings, the Morgan’s Thaw Conservation Center attempted to separate a replica of an old master drawing with studies on both sides.

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