How Preparatory Drawings Reveal an Artist's Creative Process

How Preparatory Drawings Reveal an Artist's Creative Process

B efore artists began working on a panel or canvas, they usually explored ideas on paper. These preparatory sketches provide a useful insight into the artist’s creative process. They also demonstrate the importance of the preparatory stages of a project and often reveal the effort put into developing the composition into its finished state in oil.

Clockwise from top: Follower of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Daniel in the Lions' Den. Estimate £60,000–80,000; Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Lioness, c.1612-13, black and yellow chalk, with grey wash, heightened with white bodycolour, 39.6 x 23.5 cm, British Museum, London, © British Museum; Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Lion, c. 1612-1613, black chalk, heightened with white, yellow chalk in the background, 25.2 x 28.3 cm., Alisa Mellon Bruce Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC © National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Sir Peter Paul Rubens, A seated lion, c. 1612-13, black and yellow chalk, with grey-brown wash, touched with watercolour and heightened with white, on light buff paper, 28.1 x 42.7 cm., British Museum, London © British Museum.

The above work is a near-contemporary copy after Rubens' prototype, today in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which was painted in 1614-16. Dominating the canvas, the lions are depicted with a combination of startling realism and a stately sense of the Antique. Not only had Rubens made studies of Classical sculptures during his time in Italy between 1600 and 1609, he also had the opportunity to observe lions first-hand at the royal menagerie in Brussels in 1613-15, making sketches of the animals (and turning some into more highly-finished drawings), a number of which he used to inform this composition. These include: Study of a lioness, on which the prowling lioness on the right is based (British Museum, London); Study of a lion, which depicts the lion next to Daniel with its intent, arresting stare (National Gallery of Art, Washington); and the dignified lion sitting on the left, its head turned to show its mane to full advantage (British Museum, London).

Lot 184, Anton Raphael Mengs, The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth, the infant Saint John the Baptist and two angels, in a landscape. Estimate £60,000–80,000; Workshop of Raphael, The Holy Family of Francis I, 1518, oil on canvas transferred from wood, 207 x 140 cm, Louvre, Paris © Wikimedia; Anton Raphael Mengs, The Holy Family with Saint Elisabeth and Saint John the Baptist, c.1749, black chalk, pen and brown ink, squared in black chalk, edging in pen and brown ink, 17.5 x 13.8 cm, Louvre, Paris, © Musée du Louvre.

There are several related preparatory works for this painting. A design sketch for the composition is in the Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris; a detailed chalk study for the head of Saint Elizabeth is in the Albertina, Vienna; and a cartoon of the painting (presumably made for the execution of the second version), now lost, was likewise purchased by Catherine the Great.

Left to Right: Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called Il Grechetto and Workshop, Omnia Vanitas. Estimate £60,000–80,000; Benedetto Castiglione, Omnia Vanitas, dark reddish-brown oil paint on paper, 39.2 x 54.4 cm., Royal Collection, inv. RCIN 904050.

This is a painting by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and his workshop, of which the prime, signed version, painted between 1647-49, is today in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. A related drawing exists, which shows the dancing maenad in the same pose in reverse. In this case, like most of Castiglione’s other brush drawings executed on canvas, this highly worked up drawing appears to have been conceived as an independent version and not as a study for the painting.

Left to Right: Pietro Longhi, An elegant lady at her morning ritual. Estimate £30,000–40,000; Pietro Longhi, Study for a seated male, charcoal and white chalk, 26.7 x 38.4 cm., Museo Correr, inv. no. 563.

This drawing shows Pietro Longhi working out how to compose the man seated in the lower left corner of the accompanying painting. Longhi focuses on the positioning of the sheet of music and how it is being held. The drapery is also well studied. In the finished painting, Longhi alters the way the drapery falls over the man’s thigh and he also covers up his knee.

Old Master Paintings

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