The Eveillards’ Gift of Simplicity
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A quaint room on the fourth floor of the Breuer Building contains the Frick Collection’s newest exhibit, The Eveillard Gift. Its collection of 15th- to 20th-century European drawings was gifted by two of the museum’s longtime donors, Elizabeth “Betty” and Jean-Marie Eveillard. The exhibit features pastels, prints, oil sketches, and drawings, contrasting with the museum’s more traditional works; though they were sold as completed pieces, these drawings’ sketch-like style was considered “unfinished” for their time.
The Eveillard Gift is not tied to one specific artist. The exhibit features iconic Frick staples like Degas and Fragonard as well as underrepresented artists like Gustave Caillebotte. These pieces, which span numerous eras of European history, are tied together by their medium: sketches. One notable example is Fragonard’s Young Woman (1770-1773), a light sketch of a standing woman wearing a dress with intricate, textured shading. Fragonard’s thoughtful strokes on the woman’s clothing create details that capture the gaze of passersby. To contrast, Jean Baptiste Greuze’s Head of a Boy (1777) presents a magnified portrait with bold red pencil strokes. The work depicts a solemn young boy watching his older brother go off to war. Though the two pieces are undeniably different, they are united by the fact that both are rough sketches. The exhibit’s works are largely small-scale sketches—pencil and pastels on canvas. Displayed with no chronology, The Eveillard Gift is arranged so that museum-goers can tour the diverse exhibit at their own pace, traveling from Italy to Spain to the Netherlands and onward.
On the left wall of the museum’s exhibit is Giandomenico Tiepolo’s Christ and the Centurion of Capernaum (1786-1790), an untraditional representation of a Christian scene: a man pleading with Christ to cure his sick servant. Its use of pen and brown ink covers the piece in a yellow tone, allowing Tiepolo to harness light and shadow in their totality. The drawing is monochromatic, with dark yellows creating shadows and bright, buttery yellows serving as highlights. All of its figures—Jesus, the begging man, and the soldiers in the background—lack detail, defined only by the scene’s dramatic lighting, but Tiepolo still manages to form a distinct image. This piece captures the exhibit’s general trend: valuing simplistic techniques over traditionalism to create powerful art.
Surrounded by sketches hangs a rare sight for the exhibit: a traditional painting. The dramatic presentation of Maurice Quentin de La Tour’s Anne Marguerite Perrinet de Longuefin Madame Rouille (1738) is designed to grab viewers’ attention. It is a realistic painting of a woman in a bright red coat, with shining white highlights that make the canvas appear illuminated. Its most striking feature is its portrayal of the subject. While other works in the exhibit, like Guido Reni’s Head of a Woman (1620s-1630s), objectify female subjects, idealizing their figures in the male gaze and favoring superficiality over depth, La Tour challenges these depictions by showing a woman surrounded by books and lost in thought. The woman is intentionally portrayed as an ambitious intellectual, contradicting the era’s societal expectation for women to solely occupy the domestic sphere. While the painting is not completely devoid of the male gaze, La Tour’s work does not try to comply with 18th-century societal norms, instead providing a raw portrait of a real woman.
Hanging by the exhibit’s entrance is A Man with an Umbrella Stepping onto a Sidewalk (1876-1877) by Gustave Caillebotte. Its subject matter is simple: a side profile of a man in a dark coat with a bowler hat, walking down a wet street while holding a light gray umbrella. It is merely a pencil sketch, and it is less complex than some of the room’s other sketches. There is minimal shading and blending, especially considering the subject is clothed in dark gray, from head to toe. Though the man’s features are imperceptible in his darkened face, his shadow has the air of a gruff, sad man. This piece was intended to be a preparation model for Caillebotte’s more famous work, currently held by the Art Institute of Chicago—Paris Street; Rainy Weather (1877)—in which the man’s features become more defined, revealing that he is smoking a cigarette. However, the sketch’s simplicity makes it special. Its roughness makes it look as though it could be an illustration for a magazine cartoon, giving it a unique character that is arguably lost in the final painting.
Overall, The Eveillard Gift exhibitis about appreciating nuance. Its pieces are intentionally geared away from polished masterpieces, instead using a simple medium to focus all attention on the subject matter. The exhibit reinforces the importance of foundational art and finding meaning in casual sketching; it recognizes an artist’s process as a masterpiece within itself. The Eveillard Gift creates a powerful new perspective on how art can be defined by challenging long-standing artistic traditions and finding beauty in simplicity.