Phyllis Hattis, in her catalogue entry for the San Francisco drawings, remarks that the forty five sheets in their collection were probably once part of several albums of figure and animal studies, supposedly acquired by Joseph Green Cogswell (1786-1871) from the artist's widow circa 1830. Many of the studies represent individuals at work or in particular poses and were most certainly preparatory for figures in his paintings. The majority of drawings are executed in black and white chalks on sheets with a pastel-tone ground, like the present sheet, and as Hattis observes, this particular choice of preparation 'heightens the relief of his drawn figures and produces an effect analogous to silverpoint drawings and chiaroscuro prints of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.2
These studies, as mentioned above, were no doubt preparatory exercises for his painted works and the poses adopted in the present ensemble were probably re-used numerous times in many of Volaire's heavily populated landscapes. Volaire worked alongside his teacher, Joseph Vernet on the series, Ports of France and he also painted comparable scenes in Rome and Naples.
Many other comparable sheets can be found in various private and public collections.3
1. P. Hattis, Four Centuries of French Drawings in The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco 1977, nos. 136-180
2. P. Hattis, op.cit., p. 182
3. E. Beck Saiello, Pierre Jacques Volaire 1727-1799 dit le Chevalier Volaire, Paris 2010, pp. 309 - 372
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