The great majority of De Gheyn's figure studies are executed either very calligraphically in pure pen and ink, or in a highly distinctive combination of that technique with black chalk, as seen, for example, in the famous series of drawings of female nudes, including those in Brussels and in the Lugt Collection.1 Just occasionally though, the artist made figure studies in the combination of black and white chalk on buff paper that we see here. One such drawing is the sheet, in the Rijksmuseum, with three studies of standing shepherds, but even there, where the line work is very comparable to what we see here, there is not much of the softness of shading that we find in this old man's beard.2 But just like his early teacher Hendrick Goltzius, and other masters of early Dutch Mannerism such as Cornelis van Haarlem, De Ghyen was a highly inventive artist, always exploring new modes of expression. His surviving drawings range widely in terms of technique, from exquisite natural history miniatures drawn in watercolour on fine vellum with what would seem to be a single hair brush, to spectacularly broad and wild pen drawings. It is really no surprise that in making this rather pensive, introspective life study, a very new kind of image in early 17th-century Dutch art, he should have chosen a less extravagant, more refined technique than in most of his other drawings.
Other chalk studies of bearded old men, much smaller in scale but somewhat comparable in other respects, are in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem.3
1. Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, inv. 1346; Paris, Fondation Custodia, inv. 1195; I.Q. van Regteren Altena, Jacques de Gheyn, Three Generations, The Hague/Boston/London 1983, vol. II, p. 128, nos. 800, 803 respectively, reproduced vol. III, figs. 276, 278
2. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. no. A 473; Van Regteren Altena, op. cit., vol. II, no. 30, vol. III, fig. 245
3. Inv. nos. N86, N87; Van Regteren Altena, op. cit., vol. II, nos. 691-2, vol. III, figs. 316-7
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