Anonymous, Book of the Dead: the final judgement scene, about 940 BC, red and black ink on papyrus. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The RISD Museum presents Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now: from the British Museum, which explores the vital role of drawing as a continual and active process of discovery. The exhibition is on view from October 6, 2017, through January 7, 2018, and is one of only two U.S. presentations for this remarkable show. 

Lines of Thought features a selection from the British Museum’s exceptional collection of drawings, renowned for its depth. The exhibition spans more than 500 years of drawings, creating fresh contexts for historical works and making connections between old masters and modern and contemporary artists. Featuring seventy works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Bridget Riley, Peter Doig, and Rachel Whiteread, among others, this show provides visitors with an unprecedented opportunity to view many works never before shown in the U.S. 


Master of the Drapery Studies, Figure and drapery studies, about 1470–1497, pen and ink. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.

We are proud to present such a compelling collection of drawings,” says John Smith, director of the RISD Museum. “This exhibition solidifies the Museum’s position on the primacy of this medium not only as cornerstones of a comprehensive collection, but also as key educational materials. Drawing is a core principle of any art practice and has informed the evolution of artmaking from traditional to contemporary multi-media works. It is an honor to show this exhibition alongside our collection.” 

Rather than a chronological survey of the medium arranged by period or school, Lines of Thought focuses on the thought processes that motivate drawing: brainstorming, experimentation, insight, association, and decision-making. The first section, Likeness of a Thought, explores drawings as a process of externalizing thinking, giving visible and concrete form to the inchoate, almost as “working notes to self.” Brainstorming dives into how artists think through doing, and how their ideas laid down on the page often build upon one another, while Inquiry and Experiment investigates the act of drawing as a problem-solving tool that can make the invisible seen. Insight and Association considers thinking that is neither linear, observational, nor mechanical. Insight can occur when drawing is used associatively, as a space to explore and dream. Lastly, Development and Decisions shows how drawing is often used as a way to refine ideas through elimination, modification, and sometimes destruction or erasure. 


Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452–1519), The Virgin and Christ Child With a Cat, about 1478–81, pen and brown ink over stylus underdrawing. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Jan Howard, chief curator and the Houghton P. Metcalf Jr. Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the RISD Museum, states: “As one of the foundation methods for art practice and education, drawing has the power to impart a deeper understanding of both artistic process and thematic focus. Having such an incredible collection on view in Providence is a great privilege for our community, and their presentation perfectly exemplifies how we think and talk about drawings here at the RISD Museum.” 

Lines of Thought is an opportunity for the RISD Museum to add exemplary drawings from its own collection to the discussion. Works on paper by Elizabeth Catlett, Shirazeh Houshiary, Robert Rauschenberg, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are among the selection that will be on view in the Granoff Modern and Contemporary Galleries. 


Albrecht Dürer, Studies for Adam and Eve, 1504, pen and brown and black ink. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The exhibition corresponds with a robust suite of public programming that explores the importance of drawing as a medium and tool for thinking and discovery. A study day will be organized to bring in broader perspectives on drawing and pedagogy. A variety of approaches to drawing processes, both historical and contemporary, will be explored and experienced with RISD faculty members and guest educators, practitioners, and scholars across a variety of disciplines. The exhibition is accompanied by an open studio space for all. Daily prompts, demonstrations, collaborations, and other creative experiments will offer hands-on opportunities to use drawing as a tool to imagine, discover, and explore. Out of Line, a special issue of Manual, the Museum’s twice-yearly journal about art and its making, will be published concurrent with the exhibition and focus on how line is employed across media–for better or worse–to honor particular traditions or histories, establish boundaries and order, inspire dissent and disruption, and create new forms and spaces. 

Lines of Thought was developed and toured the UK with the support of the Bridget Riley Art Foundation. Curated by Isabel Seligman, it was conceived to speak directly to artists and art and design students. This premise coincides with RISD’s (Rhode Island School of Design) Experimental and Foundation Studies Department offering for the first time, in the academic year 2017–18, a drawing concentration for undergraduate students. Drawing courses comprised of students from different majors who are working, discussing, and critiquing together is the ideal environment for investigating the potential drawing holds as a primary, cross-disciplinary practice. 


Melchior Lorck, Tortoise and view of a walled, coastal town, 1555, charcoal, heightened with white on blue paper. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Isabel Seligman, lead curator of the British Museum exhibition said, “It is hugely exciting to see Lines of Thought open at the RISD Museum, the final chance to see this exhibition outside the UK. As part of our commitment to share the British Museum’s collection across the world, we are particularly delighted to partner with the RISD Museum to support and encourage drawing in arts education. Over a thousand students have now attended British Museum workshops supported by the Bridget Riley Art Foundation in the UK, and I look forward to taking part in sessions for students at the RISD Museum in November.” 

October 6, 2017 – January 7, 2018


Jacopo Tintoretto, A nude man flying, around 1560–1590, charcoal. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum


Jacques Callot, Anatomical studies after Lodovico Cigoli and studies of figures and horses, around 1616, red chalk, pen and ink, and graphite. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Peter Paul Rubens, Dancing figures, all linking hands, about 1627–1628, pen and brown ink. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum. 


Attributed to Frans Snyders, Animal studies, about 1594–1657, brush and pen drawing in brown ink, over graphite. Image ©The Trustees of the British Museum.


Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606-1669), A Clump of Trees in a Fenced Enclosure, about 1645, black chalkImage ©The Trustees of the British Museum


Sébastien Leclerc I, The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts, 1698, pen and black and grey ink, with grey wash over red chalk, on two joined pieces of paper, with many smaller pieces inlaid and overlaid. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Antoine Watteau, Plants and grasses with buildings in the background, about 1714–1715, black chalk, with grey wash. Image ©The Trustees of the British Museum.


Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Interior of a circular building, 1752–1760, pen and brown ink. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


James Gillray, His Royal Highness, 1802–1810, pen and brown ink. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Study for Pindar in the Apotheosis of Homer, about  1826–1827, graphite and black chalk, squared for transfer. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Victor Hugo, Landscape with a castle, 1857, brush and brown wash, with stencilling, pen and ink and touches of white gouache. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 


Honoré Daumier, Study for The Troubadour, about 1868–1872, pen and grey ink, with grey wash and black chalk. Image ©The Trustees of the British Museum.


Paul Cézanne, Study of a plaster Cupid, about 1890, graphite. Image ©The Trustees of the British Museum.


Edgar Degas, Nude woman bathing, about 1896–1898, charcoal. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Piet Mondrian, Tree study, 1913, graphite. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Stephen Willats, Conceptual still-life, 1962, graphite, blue ball-point pen, brush drawing in black ink and collage. ©Stephen Willats. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Bridget Riley, Untitled, study for ‘Arrest’ series, 1965, gouache and graphite on graph paper. © 2017 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


William Kentridge, Arc Procession 9, 1989, charcoal and pastel. © William Kentridge. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Rachel Whiteread, Study for Floor, 1993, red ink and correction fluid on graph paper. © Rachel Whiteread. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum


Frank Auerbach, Head of Ruth, 1994–95, charcoal and graphite. © Frank Auerbach (Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art). Image ©The Trustees of the British Museum


Julie Mehretu, Untitled, 2002, pen and ink, and brush drawing on vellum and Mylar. © Julie Mehretu. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.