Ashmolean museum

How flabby our ideas of draughtsmanship have become

The term drawing is a broad umbrella, so in an exhibition of 120 works it helps to outline some distinctions. A good place to start is to ask what drawings are for, and that is what Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has done with its current show of sketches by Flemish masters – staged in collaboration with Antwerp’s Museum Plantin-Moretus – dividing them into studies, designs and stand-alone finished works. Van Dyck’s teenage studies are a measure of how flabby our ideas of draughtsmanship have become If you’ve ever had the chance to visit it, you’ll know what a special place the Plantin-Moretus is. Still occupying the original premises in which it

How good is he? Pissarro: Father of Impressionism, at the Ashmolean Museum, reviewed

Two markers: ‘Cottages at Auvers-sur-Oise’ (c.1873) is a sweet especial rural scene of faintly slovenly thatched cottages with, at its centre, an outside privy, its door modestly shut. A discreet little detail. Second, early in the exhibition, Corot’s ‘Duck-Pond’ (1855–60), an indicator of the tradition to which Pissarro belongs — a world of unconsidered trifles, granted a quiet importance. Linda Whiteley’s excellent, informative catalogue essay quotes Pissarro on Corot: ‘Happy are those who see beauty in modest places where others see nothing. Everything is beautiful, the whole secret lies in knowing how to interpret.’ He is writing this credo to his son Lucien in 1893. Later, Cézanne described Pissarro as