June 11, 2019

The J. Paul Getty Museum Presents Reading Between the Lines: Drawing Illustrations

Media Contact(s):

Valerie Tate
(310) 440 -6861
Getty Communications


At the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center
June 4 –September 15, 2019

Pl. I., Cloutiers Grossiers, 1762-1772, Chez Briasson. 40 cm. (fol.). Recueil de planches,

sur les sciences, les arts liberaux, et les arts mechaniques, avec leur explication.

Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (84-B31322). Public Domain.


LOS ANGELES—Today, illustrated books are generally associated with children’s literature, but pictures have long played a role in all sorts of reading matter. Reading Between the Lines: Drawing Illustrations (on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center through September 15) explores illustration during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, highlighting the flourishing of book art in France during the Enlightenment and revealing the role of literary inspiration for European artists of the Romantic era. Works on view derive primarily from the Getty Museum’s collection, along with loans from local private collections and the Getty Research Institute.

            “This exhibition showcases some of the most beautifully finished eighteenth and nineteenth-century French drawings and watercolors in the Museum’s collection,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Many of these works were made in preparation for printed books, and a substantial group of these will be reunited with the print publications for which they were originally made. The increasingly prominent role that images played in book publication during this period is a somewhat neglected, but important, aspect of its intellectual history, and one that I am sure will resonate with the hyper-visual literacy of our culture today.”

            In the eighteenth-century producing an illustrated book required a financial outlay much larger than most artists could afford. For this reason, artists seldom chose the texts they illustrated, working instead under contract to commercial publishers. Notable exceptions include Jean Baptiste Oudry, whose skills as an animalier inspired an extensive illustration campaign of a seemingly more personal nature for Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables, a collection of moralizing poems about animals and humans, and Jean Honoré Fragonard, who at the end of his career as a painter, turned to illustration with surprising vigor, producing some two hundred drawings for Ludovico Ariosto’s wild, sprawling epic, Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Roland).

            Jean Michel Moreau, called “le jeune” (the younger), was among the most prolific illustrators in eighteenth-century France. His ability to reinvent himself according to artistic and political fashion sustained him through a long and varied career, spanning the tumultuous half-century from 1760 to about 1810. Moreau contributed designs to new editions of literary classics by Ovid, Molière, and Racine as well as to books by his contemporaries Voltaire and Rousseau. A member of the Royal Academy, appointed draftsman and engraver to the king, he might easily have been targeted by the French Revolution at the end of the century, but a deft pivot in both style and subject matter—evident in his illustrations to the Aeneid—allowed him to blend in with the Neoclassical revolutionaries of the younger generation

            Nineteenth-century artists who illustrated scenes from literature often did so not as employees paid to faithfully translate words into images, but as readers moved and inspired by great writers such as Shakespeare, Goethe, or Byron. Many turned to watercolor—more intimate and spontaneous in its associations than oil paint—as the ideal medium for these deeply personal illustrations. For those artists who did wish to publish their illustrations, the evolution of print technologies in this period made the dissemination of images substantially cheaper. The advent of lithography, for instance, a technique that did not require the intervention of a trained engraver and that could produce many impressions from a single plate, helped spread Théodore Géricault’s and Eugène Delacroix’s literary illustrations across Europe in the 1820s. The development of more efficient techniques of wood engraving brought, for example, the biblical illustrations of Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld and Gustave Doré into households around the world by the 1860s.

            Reading Between the Lines: Drawing Illustrations will be on view through September 15, 2019, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition is curated by Emily Beeny, associate curator in the Department of Drawings. Related programming will include gallery talks, a drawings hour, and more. Additional information on these programs can be found at

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts to 1900, as well as photographs from around the world to the present day. The Museum’s mission is to display and interpret its collections, and present important loan exhibitions and publications for the enjoyment and education of visitors locally and internationally. This is supported by an active program of research, conservation, and public programs that seek to deepen our knowledge of and connection to works of art. Visiting the Getty Center The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking rates vary. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call (310) 440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is (310) 440-7305. The Getty Center is at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California. Same-day parking at both Museum locations (Getty Center and Getty Villa) is available for one fee through the Getty’s Pay Once, Park Twice program. Visit the Museum Information Desk at the Center or the Villa to obtain a coupon good for same-day complimentary parking at the other site. Additional information is available at Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit for a complete calendar of public programs.

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