An artist with Guido Reni’s ego would be horrified to learn that a mass-market lithograph had snuck into an exhibition where his rapturous Madonna and Child was also hanging. Yet there it is in Target Gallery, a yellowed print of the marauding French infantry, issued by P. F. Collier & Son, New York. If you missed it, it’s because curator Rachel McGarry preferred to display what was on the other side, Joseph Stella’s Pittsburgh Factory Scene.
This anachronism on the back of the Stella pastel probably meant Stella was too poor to buy fresh paper and had to use whatever was at hand. But other drawings in “Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings,” now on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, contain bona fide art secrets on their backsides—abandoned ideas, warm-up exercises, and personal sketches not meant for the public eye. All help explicate the creative mind, making these flip-side finds a curator’s dream.
The two sides of Baldassarre Franceschini’s chalk drawing are so dazzling, McGarry framed it to display them both. The recto (front) shows the Tuscan artist trying to draw the perfect swoon; the verso (back) depicts a winged Fame. (One has the feeling Franceschini’s fevered hand kept moving until it also covered the table and walls of his studio.) Visitors also get a rare look at an important altarpiece study on the verso of Giovanni Antonio Sogliani’s Head of a Bearded Saint.
Other instances of recycling in the exhibition remain hidden from view, such as the Bacchanalian procession on the verso of Pietro Fancelli’s Orpheus and Eurydice in Hades. The paper Georges Rouault used for Circus Performer began life as a study of three nudes, which the artist smeared with brown paint before turning the sheet over.
Canvas could also do double-duty, as two popular MIA paintings attest. As if the ethereal Gothic vaults of Robert Delaunay’s Saint-Séverin (1909) weren’t enough, the reverse contains an oil sketch of the Eiffel Tower—an early study for a work at London’s Tate Gallery. (Saint-Séverin is temporarily on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)
As assistant curator of paintings Erika Holmquist-Wall explains, new canvases were simply hard for Kirchner to come by. “He was out in a cottage in the middle of a German forest,” she says.
Stella was an Italian immigrant in the middle of a newly industrialized New York. He rarely dated his drawings, but the battle scene on which he drew Pittsburgh Factory Scene provided some unexpected assistance. McGarry noticed that the print had a 1915 copyright, proving Stella couldn’t have begun his pastel before that year.