An Exhibition of Doodles by Renaissance Masters and Modern Artists Brings Idle Scribblings From the Margins to the Center


From childhood fridge masterpieces to those jottings one makes while on interminable hold with the utility company—there’s something instinctive and revealing about the doodles made by absentminded humans. And according to “Gribouillage / Scarabocchio,” an ongoing exhibition at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, it’s an art.

Borne out of a research project between Columbia University’s Diane Bodart and the Villa Medici’s Francesca Alberti, the exhibition debuted in a sprawling 300 work show in Rome in Spring 2022. Its Parisian companion stages half that number, but still succeeds in tracing six centuries’ worth of jottings, scribbles, doodles, and idle-minded sketches—and their constancy in art.

Drawing from the collection of the Beaux-Arts de Paris as well as a host of other European institutions, “Gribouillage / Scarabocchio”—French and Italian for doodling—is thematic rather than chronological in approach. It arranges work in sections such as “Drawing at Play,” “The Childhood of Art,” and “In the Shadow of the Workshop.”

This curatorial decision brings the often-preparatory work on the backs of canvases by Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini into conversation with modern and contemporary artists including Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Luigi Pericle. In doing so, the exhibition offers doodling as something inherent to and indivisible from artistic endeavors.

“By proposing new comparisons between the works of the masters of early modernity,” reads the show’s notes, “the exhibition blurs chronological classifications and traditional categories, and places the practice of doodling at the heart of art-making.”

See more images from the exhibition below.

Brassaï, Matisse in front of a drawing he executed with his eyes closed (1939). Photo: © Estate Brassaï Succession – Philippe Ribeyrolles.

Giovanni Francesco Caroto, (1515–20). Photo: © Archivio Fotografico dei Musei Civici, Verona (Gardaphoto, Salò).

Eugène Delacroix, (1815). Photo: © INHA.

Léonard de Vinci, (1481–86). Photo: © Beaux-Arts de Paris.

Jean Dubuffet, (1947). Photo: © Fondation Dubuffet / ADAGP, Paris.


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