PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION FORMED BY KING WILLIAM II OF THE NETHERLANDS AND ANNA PAVLOVNA
Guercino executed many drawings and paintings of the Italian Catholic Friar, to whom he was particularly devoted, throughout his career and this moving representation of St Francis stands out amongst these works for its exceptional mastery of red chalk to convey deep emotion.
Guercino has depicted St Francis kneeling before a stone ledge, holding a crucifix in his left hand. The Saint’s gaze is purely focused on the cross in front of him and his intense reflection is further emphasized by his head resting on his right hand. The mood created is one of quiet devotion and Guercino has masterfully captured this by his expert application of red chalk, producing soft and delicate lines and gently peppering his figure with the right amount of light and shade, creating subtle nuances of tones in the face which make his Saint so tangible and human.
The drawing does not directly relate to any known painting by Guercino but there are other drawings where the saint is represented kneeling before a crucifix. Two similarly composed drawings, also executed in red chalk, represent the saint in his hooded habit and with his rosary, kneeling before a crucifix: the first is at the British Museum and the other is in an American Private Collection.2 Guercino depicted Saint Francis in numerous paintings and many of his drawings are surely preparatory studies for specific projects. One example, that can be securely connected to a commission, is the pen and ink and wash drawing of Saint Francis at Windsor, which is preparatory for Guercino’s altarpiece, St Francis meditating in a landscape, for the church of S. Giovanni in Monte in Bologna, executed in 1645.3
When the present drawing was exhibited at the Teylers Museum in 1991 (see Exhibited), it was dated to circa 1650. Stylistically, however, this appears to be rather too late in Guercino’s career and seems to be more characteristic of the drawings produced in the 1640s. In terms of the application of chalk it can be closely compared with his highly finished composition of The Madonna of the Rosary, with Sts Dominic and Catherine of Siena, preserved at Chatsworth, which is dated to 1640.4 The British Museum red chalk study mentioned above has also been dated to circa 1640 and was once, like this remarkable drawing, in the illustrious collection of Jonathan Richardson Senior (see Provenance).
1. William & Mary and their House, exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1979, p. 138, under 119
2. N. Turner & C. Plazzotta, Drawings by Guercino from British Collections, London 1991, p. 257, no. 42, not reproduced (BM Inv. No. Ff,2.129) and Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 23 January 2008, lot 146
3. N. Turner & C. Plazzotta, op.cit., p. 170. no. 139, reproduced p. 169
4. Ibid., no. 129, reproduced p. 156
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