The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century

The eighteenth century in Britain witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of the practice of drawing, among both professional artists and amateurs. This exhibition of one hundred outstanding drawings and watercolors from the Yale Center for British Art celebrated the richness and diversity of its eighteenth century holdings—rivaled only by the great national collections in London—and examined the professional and social roles played by draftsmanship during the period. Among the highlights were works by William Blake, Alexander and John Robert Cozens, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Gainsborough, Allan Ramsay, Paul Sandby, and William Hogarth (whose controversial and innovative theory of the “Line of Beauty” suggested the title for the exhibition).

Ranging from large-scale highly finished exhibition watercolors to informal sketches intended for private use and enjoyment, the drawings were arranged in illuminating thematic and contextual groupings: the portrait, landscape, the city, science and natural history, sports and amusements, and the life of the artist.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


Curated at the Center by Scott Wilcox, Curator of Prints and Drawings, and Gillian Forrester, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, The Line of Beauty also featured drawing manuals and instructional literature of the period, selected from the Center’s rich collection of rare books. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanied the exhibition.

Top image
Paul Sandby, Roslin Castle, Midlothian (detail), ca. 1780, gouache on medium laid paper, mounted on board, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection