Throughout history, artists have sought new ways to tell stories through visual means. Comprised of works from collections at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin, Storied Past presents French perspectives on dramatic narrative from the 16th through 19th centuries. Biblical, historical, mythological, and contemporary characters abound in drawings by artists such as Jacques Callot, François Boucher, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Louis Forain and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen. Featuring more than fifty works, the exhibition reveals the expressive and technical range of French drawing through preliminary sketches, figure studies, and finished compositions—executed in a variety of media on paper.
Tracing shifts in the history of French drawing, Storied Past explores the role of the Academy, the influence of Italian art, and the development of distinctive tastes in style and subject matter. In the 17th and 18th centuries, French artists flocked to Rome, a mecca of artistic experimentation and patronage. Italy’s allure permeates much of the subject matter and aesthetics on view in Storied Past. Classical iconography proliferates: Venus and Cupid luxuriate among river gods; Neptune commands the seas; and Hercules arrives triumphantly at Mount Olympus. In the 19th century—a time of great industrial, political, and artistic transformation—many artists abandoned idealism and classicism for realist approaches. Scenes of everyday life took prece- dence over the previously popular religious and heroic themes.
The “storied past” of the show’s title refers not only to the narrative subjects favored by French artists and their patrons, but also to the individual histories of the works on view: The exhibition labels present curators and conservators’ analyses of the works’ techniques, materials, and provenance. By illuminating the narratives of the drawings as well as in their subject matter, Storied Past offers insight into the fundamental relationship between the visual arts and storytelling.