COME CLOSE. Closer. "Works on Paper: French Drawings from the Phillips Collection" offers intimate views of differing artistic natures. But Duncan and Marjorie Phillips collected these drawings not for their variety but for what they had in common -- as the underpinnings of modernism.
Although French drawings bring to mind the romantic effulgence of a Fragonard, that artist is merely the starting point of this selection. With impressionistic verve, the drawings sketch their way to the 1950s and include the work of expatriate artists who came to live in France. Some never having been in a frame before, these works on paper reach such stellar heights as Renoir's chalk-and-pastel "The Judgment of Paris," a study of the human form; and Edgar Degas' "Seated Violin Player," an insight into the human condition.
Some are less moving. Constantin Guys, for example, chose for his watercolors the theme of fashionable women in horse-and-buggy days, and Prendergast said it better. A Toulouse-Lautrec landscape is disappointing.
With a handful of drawings of ants, cows and other backyard breeds, Bonnard sums up how much may be said with a few lines. Take, for example, his evanescent "Grasshoppers." He stroked light, skittish dashes on a flat perspective, and the sum of its parts is grasshoppers poised on a small tree. But it is clear that, at the slightest noise, the grasshoppers will surely hop away -- and the tree will vanish with them.
WORKS ON PAPER: FRENCH DRAWINGS FROM THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION -- Through January 12, 1986, at 1600 21st Street NW.