LET THE SCHOLARS worry about whether a certain sketch in "Leonardo to van Gogh: Master Drawings from Budapest" was a study for a fresco or an altarpiece, a painting or stained glass.
These drawings in themselves are utterly pleasing to the eye. Opening Sunday at the National Gallery, this exquisite show comes from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts.
"It's a very special opportunity," says Andrew Robison, the National Gallery's curator of prints and drawings. "We don't see so many from Eastern European countries." What's more, says Robison, "They really wanted to send their best, and not keep anything back."
From restrained architectural sketches to fluid, muscular contouring, the drawings are rich veins to be mined for masters' detail. Two studies of warriors' heads by Leonardo da Vinci would be great in any collection. They must have been done from life, for how else could he have captured such a call to battle?
For over two centuries, the aristocratic Esterhazy family amassed the core of the Budapest collection. The one hundred selections from it stress the early Italian, German and Netherlandish schools, with the most recent works a Cezanne landscape in delicate watercolors and van Gogh's bitter vision, "Winter Garden in Nuenen" with its demonic stick branches and haunted church. There are no Hungarian works here, as they belong to the Hungarian National Gallery.
LEONARDO TO VAN GOGH: MASTER DRAWINGS FROM BUDAPEST -- Opening Sunday at the National Gallery of Art, through July 14.