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Spotlight on… Master Drawings New York

Exhibitions to seek out at Manhattan's annual gallery trail, which now embraces paintings and sculptures

Three Studies of a Young Woman (around 1615) by Jacob Jordaens Mireille Mosler

27 January-3 February, various venues

New York in January calls for snow boots and bourbon, especially if you plan to tackle the many fairs, exhibitions and auctions that traditionally pepper Manhattan at the end of the month. With the art market still quiet in the UK and Europe, this has traditionally been a time when dealers in more historical art, antiques and, particularly, Old Master drawings have hit the Big Apple.

The Winter Antiques Show (19-28 January), the 64-year-old grand dame of the New York fair scene known for its mix of Americana and European art and antiques, is the crucible. Huddled around it are the Old Master and Americana sales, and a clutch of other fairs catering to collecting niches, such as the Outsider Art Fair (18-21 January) and the New York Ceramics and Glass Fair, now in its 19th year (18-21 January). Also coinciding is the 12th edition of Master Drawings New York (MDNY, 27 January-3 February), a gallery trail of 21 selling exhibitions, of works from Tiepolo to Twombly.

This year, for the first time, MDNY allows paintings and sculptures into the fold, mirroring how its older sibling, Master Drawings London, eventually morphed into the all-encompassing London Art Week. With warm coat and hip flask, visit these highlights.

Davis & Langdale Company

Charles Prendergast

This first-time MDNY participant will exhibit a watercolour by the US artist Charles Prendergast (1863-1948). Prendergast only started painting later in life and is lesser known as a painter than his brother, Maurice, but he did have a strong following as a designer of ornately carved, painted and gilded wooden panels and frames—his clients for the latter included John Singer Sargent. Prendergast only started painting later in life and his watercolour, Frieze of Figures (1946), was painted just two years before he died. As the title suggests, the rhythmic study of four black women has a frieze-like quality, reminiscent of Prendergast’s design work.

Découvert Fine Art, at Lois Wagner Fine Arts

Masculine Observed: 16th to 20th Century

The Massachusetts-based gallery examines how men have been depicted in Western art with a show titled Masculine Observed: 16th to 20th Century. Included is this deft ink sketch, a study for Combat de Nazareth (1801) by the French artist Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), which is fresh to the market after being in Newark Museum from the 1950s until last year. Swiftly rendered, capturing the ferocity of battle in just a few lines, this sketch was entered into a competition at the Salon, held at Napoleon’s request, to produce a painting commemorating the battle of Nazareth. Gros won and his finished painting now hangs in the Musée de Nantes. The Gros expert Gerard Auguier best describes his drawings as “whirlpools and interlacings, a kind of symphonic and impressionist vision”.

Mireille Mosler

Painting vs Drawing: Dutch Art 1569-2007

Mosler’s exhibition, Painting vs Drawing: Dutch Art 1569-2007, is inspired by MDNY’s decision to include paintings for the first time. “In the past, works on paper were bought by collectors to put away, unframed, in maps or drawers, whereas now they are adorning walls and are integrated in the rest of the collection,” Mosler says. “New preservation methods such as proper mounting on acid-free backing and the affordable pricing of UV-protective glazing allow this.” A drawing “shows an artist’s hand, whereas a finished painting could have workshop participation”, Mosler says. At the tipping point between painting and drawing is an oil sketch by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Three Studies of a Young Woman (around 1615), which will be hung alongside a nude drawing by Leo Gestel from 1911 of his then mistress, which, Mosler says, shows “the same directness as the Jordaens three centuries earlier.” Never intended for sale, such sketches of one head seen from different angles were produced as both painting exercises and tools, often used as templates for passages of commissions.

Hilda May Gordon’s Cremation of King Rama IV of Siam (1924) Martyn Gregory

Martyn Gregory, at Leigh Morse Fine Arts

Hilda May Gordon: A Colourist Abroad

In 1922, armed with paints and brushes, Hilda May Gordon (1874-1972) set off from her Isle of Wight home on a six-year journey around the world. After visiting 22 countries, staying with maharajahs, kings and queens, and selling paintings to get by, she alighted in New York in 1928, where she held an exhibition of her sketches. Marking the 90th anniversary of her last show in the city, the London gallery Martyn Gregory will mount a show, Hilda May Gordon: A Colourist Abroad, comprising around 50 works including views of Tibet, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. Martyn Gregory bought a large group of Gordon’s work from her estate 45 years ago and says: “It seemed appropriate to show this indomitable woman’s work in the very city she ended her epic journey.” Among the works is the Cremation of King Rama IV of Siam, a sombre gouache depicting the cremation of the king on her arrival in Bangkok in 1924. Gordon was allowed to watch as a member of the British diplomatic party. With few surviving photos, her sketches provide an important historical record.